Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will be forced out if cap goes down in 2021

Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

Ben Roethlisberger is set to be the highest-paid player in the NFL in 2021. Here’s why the Steelers can’t afford him if the cap goes down next year.

As reality sets in on what could be a devastating financial hit to a number of NFL teams in 2021, it’s becoming clear that the Steelers are not going to be able to keep a number of their star players. According to Adam Schefter via his podcast, it’s possible that the salary cap (which normally increases by about $10 million each year) could drop by $70 to 80 million in 2021 if teams aren’t able to fill their seats this season.

Currently, the Steelers have just 38 players under contract for the 2021 season, according to Over the Cap, and just over $28 million to work with. Even with a cap increase, the Steelers couldn’t afford to sign all of their players with expiring contracts like Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, and Mike Hilton.

Now, if the salary cap in 2021 drastically reduces, it will not only be hard to sign the aforementioned players, but it will be nearly impossible to justify keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Because of the way his contract was restructured, Ben is set to be the NFL’s highest-paid player in 2021 with a cap hit of $41.25 million. If the cap drops as far as Schefter claims it could, this means that Roethlisberger’s deal alone could equate to one-third of Pittsburgh’s total cap space.

Keeping Ben would not only mean that the Steelers would be forced to let players like Heyward, Dupree, Smith-Schuster,  Villanueva, and Conner walk next offseason, they would also be forced to cut many of the players currently on their roster. Some potential cap casualties based on the way their contracts are structured may include players like Maurkice Pouncey, Joe Haden, Vance McDonald, and Vince Williams.

If this major cap deduction actually comes to fruition and the Steelers elect to keep Roethlisberger, he could potentially end up with one of the NFL’s worst supporting casts next season with all of the talented players Pittsburgh will be forced to let go of.

As a player who will be 39 years old and with the biggest cap hit in the NFL in 2021, the Steelers would truly have no choice but to either cut Ben Roethlisberger next offseason or force his hand to retire.

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The Steelers have always been a team that has liked to restructure and backload contracts, but they never could have predicted they would get caught in a devastating scenario like this. Perhaps NFL stadiums will be able to fill their seats and business in 2021 could resume as usual. If not, a handful of NFL teams, including the Steelers, will be required to cut back, and Ben Roethlisberger could be forced off the team.