Steelers' Rooney 'not expecting a problem' with new Big Ben deal
Steelers team president and owner Art Rooney II said before the start of training camp in late July that the organization planned on working on a contract extension with Ben Roethlisberger following the season.
Nearly six months later, the plans haven't changed even though the time frame is yet to be determined.
Talking to select members of the print media Wednesday, Rooney called the departure of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau a difficult situation; said the team will use the offseason to focus on how to improve the defense; whether or not a transition tag is in play again for Jason Worilds; and the futures of veterans Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.
But it was Roethlisberger's impending contract situation that was front and center — a process Rooney would like to have happen as soon as possible, but stopped short of putting a drop-dead date on it even if it means lugging Roethlisberger's $18.4 million cap hit into free agency in early March.
“I think it is fair to say the sooner the better,” Rooney said about the urgency of getting a deal in place. “But I am not going to put any particular time frame on these things. It is kind of hard to predict how long it takes to get something done. But we certainly want to get something done this offseason. That's for sure.”
The $102 million contract Roethlisberger signed in 2008 runs through next year. The Steelers typically re-sign quarterbacks two years out, but they informed Roethlisberger over the summer that they would re-do his deal with a year left because of impending free agents they liked to sign in Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert and Cortez Allen.
Rooney doesn't anticipate any snags with Roethlisberger's negotiations even if the new deal is expected to put him among the elite-paid quarterbacks in excess of $20 million per year.
However, Rooney also said it takes “two to tango” when it comes to contract negotiations.
“You never know,” Rooney said. “I am not expecting a problem.”
Rooney doesn't have a problem that the price tag on Roethlisberger's new deal likely increased significantly by waiting a year.
Roethlisberger is coming off his best statistical season of his career. He became the first player in Steelers history to win at least a share of the NFL passing title and established franchise single-season marks in passing yards and completions (408) and tied his Steelers record with 32 touchdown passes.
“I will take that problem,” Rooney said. “I am not complaining about it. I would rather have that situation than the reverse.”
While Rooney acknowledged it was “fun to watch” the Steelers' No. 2-ranked offense led by Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown piling up huge numbers but acknowledges the defense fell short in a number of areas last year.
Playing with a hodge-podge lineup at times due to injuries, the Steelers defense put together a strong final month to help the team to a division title and their first playoff game in three years. But Rooney isn't about to ignore their shortcomings.
The Steelers defense finished 18th this year and 20th last year and had two of its lowest sack totals (33 and 34) in franchise history. That was on the heels of four No. 1 rankings in a six-year span from 2007-12.
“We have some good, young players I think we can build around,” Rooney said, pointing out Cam Heyward and Lawrence Timmons. “That's going to be the key. There's no question we need to get better.”
The Steelers are hoping new defensive coordinator Keith Butler will help that along. The organization decided to move on from LeBeau and promote Butler last week to lead the defense. Rooney called it a difficult decision.
“Personally, I would've love to see Dick stay,” Rooney said. “Dick made a decision. The words he used to describe what he wanted to do were his words. I am not going to dispute that. But as we all know, things happen in this business.”
The Steelers have to make a decision on four not-so-young guys in Polamalu, Harrison, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor. Polamalu and Keisel are under contract but might not want to come back. Rooney said those decisions — whether theirs or the players' — will come at a later time.
“That's something that will play out over the next several weeks and months,” Rooney said.
So will the direction the Steelers go with Worilds.
Worilds led the Steelers in sacks for the second straight year but is an unrestricted free agent for the second consecutive year. Worilds played last year under the transition tag that guaranteed him $9.754 million. Rooney said that could happen again, but it would depend on cap space available.
“I can say that I would like to have Jason back,” Rooney said.
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.