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Ben Roethlisberger returns to the Steelers, but will he have a strong supporting cast for 2021?

After weeks of back and forth discussion among the front office and Ben Roethlisberger, an agreement was made on a new contract. According to ESPN’s NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Roethlisberger signed a one-year deal that lowered his salary from $19 million per season to $14 million.

“It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization,” Roethlisberger said in a statement issued by the team. “I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team address other players who are so vital to our success. I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. It all starts with great preparation, and I am ready to go.”

The purpose of Roethlisberger lowering his salary is to allow the team to remain competitive during the upcoming free agency period, which begins on March 17. The Steelers wanted Roethlisberger to return to the team, but not at the cost of a $41.2 million cap hit.

The decision to restructure the future Hall of Famer’s contract lowers his salary-cap hit by more than $15 million. Even with Roethlisberger’s reduced salary, the Steelers are still not clear enough to keep their core players going into the 2021 season. The team currently has 19 unrestricted free agents on the roster. Among them are key players such as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and linebacker Bud Dupree. Right now, the Steelers have an estimated $3.6 million in salary-cap space.

With so little room in cap space, the Steelers will need to make additional moves to keep a viable supporting cast around Roethlisberger. The Steelers ensured success for the first 11 weeks of the season by going 11-0 during the stretch. A big reason why they were dominant in those games was from contributions made by Smith-Schuster and Dupree.

Both players have market values in the range of 16 to 18 million dollars. Veteran left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is listed among the 19 Steelers that will become unrestricted free agents. On the show called “Get Up,” ESPN NFL Analyst Dan Graziano was adamant about what can be in store for this football team.

According to Spotrac, Villanueva’s market value is in the range of 16 million dollars as well. As you may have known by now, having a solid offensive line is vital for an aging quarterback. The possibility of losing the West Point graduate to the free agency could become one of the Steelers’ top priorities to fill the void left behind by Villanueva.

They can continuously pursue the cost-effective route by utilizing the draft. But if a team is trying to contend for a Super Bowl with an aging quarterback, they should surround him with the best talent at the position.

With the uncertainty of the coronavirus, some rookies have struggled to become acclimated at playing key roles such as left tackle. Like how Smith-Schuster took over for Antonio Brown being the lead receiver in Pittsburgh, the same could happen to Chase Claypool. In Claypool’s rookie season, he caught 62 passes for 873 and nine touchdown scores. During the beginning of the season, Claypool had the inside track to winning the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

However, as the 2020 campaign went by, the Steelers had regressed to a stagnant offense. Claypool’s production slipped, and the team went into the playoffs with little momentum. Without the presence of Smith-Schuster, Claypool could be the number one guy for Pittsburgh’s passing attack once the 2021 campaign begins. Without the presence of Smith-Schuster, it could lead to opposing defenses applying double teams to the second-year wideout.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a situation that is similar to other teams around the league trying to compete for a Super Bowl title. Only so little can be done with a salary cap whose growth was shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic. As we have learned from the New Orleans Saints, a team can surround an aging quarterback with the best talent available, and it still may not be enough.

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Meet Derrick Branch, the founder and chief wordsmith at Strike 7 Sports. With a sharp focus on the NFL and the NBA, Derrick's expertise in sports is matched only by his passion for sharing it with others. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communications from the prestigious University of Arizona Global. Let his insightful and engaging writing take you to the heart of the action.

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