Spring 2021 Magazine

Spiritual leader Ben Roethlisberger reworks contract to return to Steelers for 18th season

After missing most of 2019 due to elbow surgery, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came back in 2020 on a mission. He and the team came up short of their goal, so the 39-year-old is coming back for his 18th season.

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He and the team agreed to restructure the final year of his contract on Thursday so he could return to the only pro team he’s ever played for.

“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.”

Roethlisberger and the Steelers got off to a great start in 2020, with the QB throwing for 11 touchdowns and just one interception over the first five games, all victories. The team improved to 8-0, a first for the legendary franchise, and ultimately won its first 10 games before suffering a loss.

But the Steelers then lost four of their last five games and limped into the playoffs, where they fell to Cleveland, 48-37. That game left a sour taste in Roethlisberger’s mouth, as he threw three first-half interceptions and Pittsburgh fell behind 28-0. He ended up throwing for a personal playoff-best 501 yards, completing 47 of 68 passes (both career highs), including four touchdowns. But his four total interceptions put his team in a spot it could not recover from.

Roethlisberger took the blame for the loss, and it left many wondering if that was his last game in the NFL. He was asked in the postgame press conference how he would make a decision on whether or not to return for 2021.

“It’s going to start between me and God, a lot of praying,” Roethlisberger said. “And then a lot of it is talking with my family — discussions, decisions. I still have a year left on my contract. I hope the Steelers still want me back, if that’s the way we go. There will be a lot of discussions, but now is not the time for that.”

The Steelers wanted him back and those discussions led to a mutual decision on his contract restructuring. According to ESPN, Roethlisberger will reduce his pay to $14 million from $19 million and spread the cash payment through 2022, which lowers the team’s salary-cap hit by more than $15 million.

With Roethlisberger, the Steelers know they not only have their on-field leader coming back, but a spiritual leader as well. In the Fall 2020 edition of Sports Spectrum Magazine, Steelers chaplain Kent Chevalier talked about Roethlisberger’s influence.

“We’re discussing a passage and you’ve got dudes who are just at their locker, who are not followers of Christ, who are not interested at all, but they’re overhearing the conversation of their veteran players, their guys [in the Bible study]. Ben has been a part of those Bible studies and they’re hearing him share his perspective, his faith in those settings,” Chevalier said.

Opening up about his faith is a journey Roethlisberger had begun about three years earlier when he decided to get baptized.

“Three years ago I got baptized,” Roethlisberger said during a June 2020 ManUp Conference. “I was baptized as a kid; my parents took me as a baby. But I didn’t make that decision. So three years ago now I made the decision to be baptized because I felt like I needed to do that. I wanted to have a closer walk, a better relationship with Jesus, with my wife, with my kids, with my family — become a better person.

“So I think the person that brought me to Him was Jesus. Jesus is the One who brought me back to Him, and I’m so thankful for it because I feel I’m a better Christian, a better husband and a better father today because of His forgiveness of me.”

He went on to say he strives to be a better Christian than athlete.

“I want that to be known, especially to all you young men out there. It’s cool to be a Christian and be an athlete. Go ahead and be the best athlete you can possibly be, and see if you can be a better Christian,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to do now. I’m trying to be a better Christian than I am athlete and football player.”

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