Roethlisberger 'prays' he can stay with Steelers when deal expires
Ben Roethlisberger officially began his 11th Steelers training camp Saturday — can it possibly be that long? — yet he still is still getting accustomed to all this newness.
Many new receivers. A new-and-improved offense that might be the most diverse he has run, given all his new gadgets. And, personally, a newly revamped workout program complete with, for the first time, a personal trainer and nutritionist.
All that's missing is a new contract.
“Usually the Steelers do a quarterback deal with two years to go, which would be this year. … It's kind of a unique thing,” Roethlisberger said Saturday in a one-on-one interview with the Tribune-Review.
By announcing as camp opened Friday there will be no negotiations this year with their franchise quarterback, the Steelers are hoping Roethlisberger can play the season without distracting questions about how much money and how long a contract he wants.
It's play ball, then move on to moneyball.
“(It's) giving the Rooneys, the Steelers, the fans all of me, all I have, and leave it on the field, and then let the team figure out what to do from there,” he said.
Once contract talks begin between agent Ryan Tollner and team president Art Rooney II and his staff in 2015, Roethlisberger said he “prays” he can stay with the Steelers, even though he must “do what's best for his family” — the prerequisite comment for all such players who want to be fairly compensated.
However, he also believes that can happen as quarterback salaries push toward the $20 million-a-year stratosphere.
As evidence, Roethlisberger points to the Denver Broncos being among the most active teams in free agency after going to the Super Bowl, despite Peyton Manning's $15 million base salary and $17.5 million cap hit. Roethlisberger is making $12.1 million this season with a cap hit of $18.895 million, but is only the sixth-highest QB in base salary.
By willingly going along with the Steelers' wait-to-negotiate plan, Roethlisberger believes he is helping them financially, much as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Andrew McCutchen did in their team-friendly contracts.
“Playing this year at my current salary, it's kind of taking a hometown discount,” Roethlisberger said. “I've played seven years on my current contract, which is the most of any (NFL) player or any quarterback. … It is kind of taking a discount compared to maybe where it could be compared to other quarterbacks.”
Personally, the most extensive offseason program of the 32-year-old Roethlisberger's career, he said, left him “lighter and in better shape than I have been since my rookie year.” He didn't reveal his weight. The goal is to stay healthy and keep playing at a high level until his late 30s — or, as Rooney estimated, another five to six seasons.
“It's another step to keep getting better, and part of that is being healthy,” he said. Then, he said, “Maybe it's (a reflection of) getting old.”
Fatherhood — he's now a dad to a 15-month-old son and a four-month-old daughter — also has changed Roethlisberger, who is only four years removed from an embarrassing four-game suspension for off-field behavior.
He woke up Saturday morning in Latrobe by video chatting with Benjamin Jr. in Hampton, then stepped onto the practice field to begin working with a youngish receivers corps — and a set of skill position players — that is the most revamped of his career.
After watching Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders leave during the past two offseasons, the Steelers added Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey and drafted Martavis Bryant and the multi-dimensional Dri Archer. They also added signed running back LeGarrette Blount to provide Le'Veon Bell with a proven, and very physical, backup.
Roethlisberger is long removed from any initial disappointment the Steelers did not draft an elite wide receiver in the first two rounds, saying, “I have to put my faith and my trust in the Rooneys and Kevin Colbert and coach (Mike) Tomlin in that they're going to put the best team that they can possibly put on that field.”
Roethlisberger also is excited about getting to run his preferred no-huddle offense far more extensively — so much so, it's close to becoming a base offense for him and coordinator Todd Haley, with whom he has a close relationship following some early tension in 2012.
“Even when Coach (Haley) is calling plays (out of base formations), a lot of it is no-huddle plays,” he said.
So how does Roethlisberger juggle all these dissimilar components — the no-huddle, a power running game with Bell and Blount, and a speed element incorporating Archer as a change-up runner and receiver?
“That's the advantage we have of having those guys because we can do so many different things with them,” he said.
Despite being one of the NFL's most reliable and accomplished quarterbacks, Roethlisberger sometimes gets left out of the best-of-the-best discussion. This summer, ESPN didn't include him among its upper-tier quarterbacks, even though the Chargers' less-successful Philip Rivers was included, and Browns first-year coach Mike Pettine didn't rank him among the league's top five.
“Hopefully (at the end of his career), my Super Bowl numbers are up there and my top quarterback ratings are up there, and people can look back and say, ‘Wow, he was pretty good,' ” Roethlisberger said. “That's all I can do for now. I'm not going to sit here and argue with people who say I'm the sixth best or second tier. I'm going to go out there and play and give it everything I have.”
That legacy could be strengthened if the Steelers enjoy the bounce-back season Roethlisberger expects following the career-worst 8-8 records of 2012 and 2013.
“I had two bad (.500) years, now it's time to have a bunch of good years — have a run,” he said.