John Steigerwald

Column John Steigerwald

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

Roethlisberger should be in no hurry for new contract

Big Ben should be in no hurry for new contract

March 15, 2014
If Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers fail to produce a winning record in 2014, it will mark the first time since 1969-71 they posted three consecutive non-winning seasons. - Associated Press

If you were Ben Roethlisberger, would you be asking for a contract extension from the Steelers?

Roethlisberger has two years left on the six-year, $88-million contract that he signed in 2008. That means when his contract is up after the 2015 season, he will have made more than $100 million since coming into the NFL in 2004.

Not very many superstar, super-rich athletes are smart enough to make their life decisions based on something other than money after they’ve made enough of it to last five generations, but maybe Roethlisberger is.

He becomes a free agent in 2016, when he’ll be 34 years old. If he’s still healthy and playing as well as he played when he was 31, he’ll be a $25-million-a-year quarterback, which means he’ll sign a contract worth more than $100 million.

Roethlisberger has won a lot of games and had a lot of personal success since taking the league by storm in 2004, but he’s on a team now that is coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons and has gone three seasons without winning a playoff game.

He has one experienced wide receiver on the roster and one running back. The defense that helped him win so many of those games is being patched up with second- and third-tier free agents.

Why should he be in any hurry to sign a contract extension?

Wouldn’t it make more sense for him, assuming that he still has $40 or $50 million handy, to play out this season, see if the Steelers are the kind of team that can take advantage of a franchise quarterback and then negotiate from a position of strength next February?

If the Steelers improve on their 8-8 finishes and make the playoffs, then Roethlisberger will still be in a strong negotiating position by being one year away from free agency.

The Steelers will have no reason not to pay him the going rate for superstar quarterbacks and Roethlisberger will be able to use his impending free agency for maximum leverage.

But, what if the Steelers go 6-10, which is not a far-fetched notion? There will be lots of discussion inside and outside the organization about Mike Tomlin’s future as head coach and the old guys on defense will be one year older. Roethlisberger will be four seasons removed from his last playoff win and he’ll be 33.

That’s young enough to sign another $100-million contract with someone else, but too old to commit to a team that will be either in turmoil, rebuilding mode or both.

For all the same reasons, the only reason for the Steelers to offer Roethlisberger an extension would be to get out of salary cap hell. If the Steelers miss the playoffs again, they can justify taking a “we can miss the playoffs without you’’ stance with Roethlisberger. Franchise quarterbacks are wasted on bad teams.

If the Steelers don’t have a winning season in 2014, it will be the first time they’ve had three non-winning seasons in a row since Chuck Noll’s first three seasons (1969-71).

If that’s the case, by this time next year, Roethlisberger might have already been traded.

Maybe upon his request.

• The Pirates already have made the decision to send their top prospect, outfielder Gregory Polanco, back to Class AAA Indianpolis, even though he was having a good spring. General manager Neal Huntingon said before camp opened that Polanco would start the season there because he believes Polanco still needs to work on his approach at the plate.

That might be true but, since it’s the Pirates, there’s always the suspicion that it’s all about Polanco’s arbitration clock not starting until June. A team playing in a system as stupid as that of Major League Baseball, with a recent and not-so-recent past as pathetic as the one the Pirates have, loses the right to talk about moves made with the distant future in mind.

The best 25 players should be coming north in two weeks. And, even if Polanco needs work on his offense, what about his defense? By all accounts, he is already a major league-caliber right fielder. His presence in right field could mean the difference in a few games between April and mid-June. And those few games could determine whether the Pirates make the playoffs for the fifth time in 35 stinking years.

• Did Ziggy Hood actually play for the Steelers? If he did, then I must have missed it. Is there any proof?

• The 11th through 16th seeds are 190-729 in the NCAA basketball tournament. That’s a 21 percent winning percentage.

The 14th through 16th seeds are 26-341. That’s seven percent.

The 15th and 16th seeds are 7-225. That’s three percent.

The record of the No. 1 seeds is 437-120. That’s 79 percent.

The only seeds to have a winning record against the top seeds is the 11th seed. They have won three out of five meetings.

Keep those things in mind when filling out your bracket.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.



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