PITTSBURGH -- The ballooning quarterback market was already a factor in Ben Roethlisberger's negotiations with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a new deal. The numbers are too big to ignore, with seven quarterbacks signing deals worth $25 million or more annually in the past two years.
Then Russell Wilson popped that balloon with a massive $140 million deal over four years, dunking over previous QB cash king Aaron Rodgers with $35 million per year to stay with the Seattle Seahawks through 2023.
But Wilson's deal probably doesn't change much for Roethlisberger and the Steelers, who have taken their time on what will be Roethlisberger's last NFL contract. Roethlisberger is attending the Steelers' phase one of the offseason program this week.
Though Roethlisberger can use rising quarterback pay to his advantage and will land a sizable multiyear deal, he's not expected to surpass Wilson's per-year average, barring a new development, according to a source.
This isn't about the caliber of quarterback. Roethlisberger is still among the league's best. But the dynamics are different.
Roethlisberger is 37 years old and wants to retire with the franchise that drafted him 15 years ago. That something wasn't done in March shows that Roethlisberger and his agent, Ryan Tollner, have been willing to stay patient for the right deal.
"It's probably his last contract as an NFL player, so it's significant. It's significant for us," general manager Kevin Colbert said late last month from the NFL owners meetings. "We're in a different dynamic from a financial standpoint as far as the cap because we don't have a couple of players with us before. So we have to make sure it all makes sense. It has to make sense for both sides, and we're comfortable at some point we hope it does."
Once Roethlisberger's $5 million roster bonus paid out on March 15, neither side had an artificial deadline to expedite talks.
Unlike Wilson, who set a deadline of April 15, Big Ben and the Steelers haven't placed any known time constraints on their talks. Perhaps Wilson's splashy numbers will incentivize both parties to get ahead of the next quarterback contracts for Dak Prescott in Dallas, Carson Wentz in Philadelphia and others. But traditionally, the Steelers' only true deadline for players with one year left on a current deal is Week 1 kickoff. Recent big-money extensions for guard David DeCastro and defensive end Stephon Tuitt bled into that first week of regular-season practices.
Quarterback is a different beast, and the Steelers would like things wrapped up by then -- especially to solidify the most important position after a turbulent past six months with star departures Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
But both parties have maintained confidence in a new deal, so there's no full-court press to the finish line -- at least not yet.
The 2020 franchise tag number was estimated at around $28 million before Wilson's deal. Reaching or exceeding that number in per-year average would place Roethlisberger in the top tier. Roethlisberger can push for aggressive roster bonuses or more guarantees from the normally conservative Steelers.
Any long-term investment will take Roethlisberger into his 40s in the black and gold, which is the focus for both sides.