Now, Big Ben has to earn that mammoth salary
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There never was any doubt that the Ben Roethlisberger contract would be done. Teams don't allow a franchise quarterback to leave in today's NFL. They are too precious. Look at what the Dallas Cowboys did with Tony Romo. They rushed to sign him to a mega-deal in October even though he had made just 17 regular-season starts and hadn't won a playoff game.
Of course, Big Ben was staying.
He's one of the most accomplished young quarterbacks in NFL history, having won a Super Bowl and played in another AFC championship game in his first four seasons.
The kid didn't even turn 26 until Sunday.
But how much would it cost to keep him?
Would Roethlisberger pull a Peyton Manning and take every dollar on the table? Or would he do a Tom Brady and take less so the team could sign some good players to put around him?
From this angle, it looks as if Roethlisberger did the money grab.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, to quote a famous Seinfeld episode.
Forget any sort of loyalty. Pro football is nothing but a big business. The Steelers always are going to do what's in their best interests. They proved that again last summer when they offered guard Alan Faneca -- a Super Bowl hero and one of their all-time greats -- a lot less than he ended up getting from the New York Jets the other day. Don't misunderstand; don't hold that against the club. Management made what it felt was a smart business decision. But don't blame Big Ben for going after every dollar. We're talking about a two-way street here.
Sure, it would have been nice if Roethlisberger had followed Brady's lead. Brady signed a six-year, $60 million deal -- well below market value -- after the 2004 season, after he had won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. That enabled the team to add, among others, wide receiver Randy Moss. Brady and Moss had a record-breaking season in 2007 and nearly made NFL history, falling just short of an unbeaten season in Super Bowl XLII.
But Roethlisberger's eight-year, $102 million contract -- including a $25.2 million signing bonus -- is more like Manning's seven-year, $98 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts after the 2003 season. Who knows? Maybe the Steelers didn't push harder for Faneca because they knew their day of reckoning with Roethlisberger was coming. Certainly, it's fair to assume the team won't be able to sign a veteran offensive lineman who even approaches Faneca's skill as a replacement or the tall wide receiver that Roethlisberger had on his wish list after last season.
Not that Big Ben was in a complaining mood yesterday.
After this contract, he should be ashamed of himself if he complains about the Steelers' personnel anytime soon.
"I believe that the guys we have on this team right now are exceptional players," Roethlisberger said. "I believe that we have all of the pieces to the puzzle that we can be a championship football team."
How Roethlisberger performs will go a long way toward determining the Steelers' chances. The scrutiny on him next season and beyond will be unlike any that any Pittsburgh athlete has faced. The biggest contract in Steelers' history assures that, although he was right on when he said, with a wry grin, "In this town, there is always pressure [on the quarterback] to play well."
It would be nice if Roethlisberger doesn't have a serious injury during the next eight seasons, which might be a challenge unless his offensive line gets better in a hurry. (Sleep easy: There's no indication Big Ben will ride a motorcycle again.) It would be nice if he doesn't have another 23-interception season, as he did in 2006. It also would nice if he doesn't throw three interceptions in the first half of the Steelers' next playoff game, as he did against the Jacksonville Jaguars in January.
The Steelers clearly are counting on none of those things happening.
"The kid has done tremendous things," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "He has a chance to do some really special things in his career. He probably hasn't played his best football yet."
Regardless of how the Roethlisberger era turns out, this was a contract the Steelers had to do. Team owner Dan Rooney knows it. That's why he looked remarkably robust yesterday despite being potentially $102 million lighter.
"He's a Steeler. He always will be a Steeler," Rooney said of Roethlisberger.
Said a humbled Big Ben, "Hopefully, I can pay [that faith] back with championships."
For $102 million, nothing less will be expected.
First Published March 4, 2008 12:00 am