Bob Smizik: Ben wants to stay; Steelers want Ben; but . . .


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You’ve heard it here, there and everywhere -- Ben Roethlisberger does not want to be traded. He wants to finish his career as a Steeler. He is angry at reports that say otherwise.

This information has come out in the past several weeks following multiple reports from the NFL Network -- and nowhere else -- that Roethlisberger is frustrated with the direction of the Steelers and with the offensive coaching staff and wants to be traded.

The Steelers have responded by saying they have no intention of trading Roethlisberger, nor have they sought to do so in the past, as the NFL Network reported.

It looks like these two sides can live happily ever after. And maybe not.

What Roethlisberger hasn’t said is this: I want to play for the Steelers the rest of my career -- no matter what they decide to pay me.

What the Steelers haven’t said is this: We want Roethlisberger to be our quarterback -- no matter how much we have to pay him to do that.

Talk is easy. Negotiating a contract is difficult.

There is probably no NFL organization more acutely aware of the value of a franchise-caliber quarterback than the Steelers. They won four Super Bowls in the 1970s with a franchise quarterback. They’ve won two more and went to a third in the past decade with Roethlisberger as their quarterback.

There’s no telling how many of the four AFC championship game losses in the Bill Cowher-era might have been wins if the Steelers had a better quarterback. Cowher is remembered fondly by the fan base today. But the criticisms he took for those losses -- when his team was badly outmanned at the most important position on the field -- were outrageously unfair.

But just because the Rooney family knows first-hand what a good quarterback means to a franchise doesn’t mean it would be willing to pay "anything" to keep one.

The Steelers have a big decision to make in the near future and it involves how they proceed at quarterback. They have a history of renegotiating with their quarterback two years before his current deal expires. In the case of Roethlisberger, who signed an eight-year, $102 million contract in March 2008, that would be after this season.

Considering their history, in almost all certainty they will want to keep Roethlisberger. But at what price?

The Steelers have made him and his heirs wealthy for life. But the Roethlisberger contract averages about $13 million annually. Lesser quarterbacks -- Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco -- have signed contracts more recently that pay an average salary of $18 million to $20 million.

Roethlisberger was asked the other day if he would take less money to stay in Pittsburgh. This was his answer.

''You know what, obviously I would do whatever I needed to do. But that’s something that can be discussed when the time comes. That’s not really my thing. I play football. I have people that deal with all the stuff. I’ll do whatever it takes to stay here and to be a part of this team, and help this team out.’’

He stood his ground, but not quite so firmly as in denying those NFL Network reports. The followup question that needed to be asked was this: Would you stay in Pittsburgh for less money than Dallas paid Tony Romo?

Roethlisberger can’t pledge undying loyalty to his team one day and hedge the next.

This isn’t to suggest he does not have a right to secure as much money from the Steelers as he can. One of the reasons I am opposed in principle to a salary cap in MLB is because I believe a person has the right to make as much money as the market bears and that right should not be bargained away by his union.

But he can’t have it both ways and neither can the Steelers.

Both sides can rhapsodize all they want about how much they want to be together. But we all know what talks the loudest: Money!

Money, not loyalty, will determine where Roethlisberger finishes his career.


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