Release or Extension for Big Ben in 2021?

The Pittsburgh Steelers brass has been operating for several months under the mindset that an extension for Ben Roethlisberger after the 2020 season was going to be inevitable compared to the alternative of being released or retired.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported prior to Monday Night’s game that Roethlisberger has all intentions of returning in 2021 and that’s how the Steelers internally have been operating.

However, has the last couple weeks completely changed the situation?

It’s a valid question as the Steelers brass see’s what everyone else see’s right now.   If the rest of the season plays out like the last couple weeks and Ben Roethlisberger holds firm on wanting to return in 2021, it’s a dire situation for the Steelers.

Bring back a fading 39 year old Roethlisberger and be forced to extend him, the only option at the Steelers disposal if they bring back Roethlisberger as they can’t manage a $41.250 million cap hit without extending Roethlisberger to lower the 2021 cap hit.

Or release Roethlisberger and still be tabbed with a $22 million dead cap hit.

There’s no way around the Big Ben dilemma as Roethlisberger’s due a $15 million roster bonus on the third day of the new league year in March. The 2020 season has to still play out but the off-season is coming fast and furious.

The NFL has so many loopholes to make cap maneuver moves but restructure after restructure will eventually catch up to you as it soon will for the Steelers.

— The three game losing streak has hit harder than just the outlook for this season. Squeezing out another good to great season from Ben Roethlisberger in 2021 is likely shot but it’s beyond Ben Roethlisberger that has led to a dose of reality.

2021 Cap Hits

QB Ben Roethlisberger | $41.250 million | $22.250 million dead cap hit
DE Stephon Tuitt | $14.940 million | $9.281 million dead cap hit
G David DeCastro | $14.297 million | $5.547 million dead cap hit
C Maurkice Pouncey | $14.475 million | $6.475 million dead cap hit
CB Steven Nelson | $14.420 million | $6.170 million dead cap hit

Beyond the bleak future for now at the quarterback position………..

The future of the offense line is in shambles.

Maurkice Pouncey is old and fading with a fat $14+ million cap hit in 2021….. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is 32 years old (pending free agent) and fading as a starter-level caliber LT…. And then there’s David DeCastro.

There hasn’t been a more stunning drop-off in play than from the all-pro DeCastro, a player who has been tracking towards potential Hall-of-Famer status.

It’s week after week where he’s getting manhandled and has absolutely no push in run blocking situations.

Just 30 years old, the Steelers never expected what has transpired with DeCastro this season. There’s some in the organization who feel DeCastro mentally checked out months ago, but there’s already some serious deliberations if this season was a mirage or not for DeCastro. Sources say the coaches just can’t believe the what the tape shows week after week.

Has he broken down physically?

With one year left on his contract, DeCastro enters extend or cut territory this season. Pittsburgh can save almost $9 million by moving on and that’s something no one in the organization would have ever imagined being a serious discussion.

It was always assumed DeCastro would get extended and the Steelers would get another 2-3 good to great seasons out of him.

With major holes long-term at quarterback, running back and the O-line, it has the organization willing to get as creative as they can to find a way to retain Bud DuPree, even at the expense of others.

As last season showed, a good to great defense can keep you competitive even if you get bottom-10 level QB play as last season showed. Even in the event of DuPree being out for the season with a torn ACL, there remains strong interest in not losing the combo of Watt/DuPree at the outside backer position.

Alex Highsmith has had his moments and there’s optimism about him in the organization long-term, but the Steelers feel the loss of DuPree has been crushing in how teams game plan around T.J. Watt and the top priority is finding a way to keep DuPree around. To read this insider news, subscribe to get “Inside Access”!