Ben Roethlisberger was the human embodiment of the How It Started-How It's Going meme last season, leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to 11 straight wins out of the gate, then falling apart both metaphorically and physically — a painful process that culminated in playoff stinker against the Cleveland Browns.
He'll be 39 next season. If he plays next season. And if he plays next season, the Steelers are going to have to — Bill Lumbergh voice here — ask him to take a nice, meaty pay cut for the opportunity.
A $41.25 million cap hit has a way to linger in the air uncomfortably. Roethlisberger loves to play and will be fighting the human instinct of collecting a $15 million roster bonus, among other incentives. There's bound to be friction unless Roethlisberger generously leaves a bunch of money on the table for the good of the franchise. One small hope for that is his decreased fair-market value.
To that point, the Steelers find themselves in the situation of appreciating everything Big Ben has done over his Hall of Fame career and yet hoping he opts to do the best thing for the team. Which is retire.
Of course, no one associated with the franchise can say that out loud and with earnest right now. But in silent nods and shared exasperated sighs, they know that would be the best path forward. With more than half the league's capable quarterbacks potentially on the move, the time has never been better to shop around.
So, uh, it will be interesting to see just how invested the Steelers' side of the table is in getting a more financially viable version of Roethlisberger back. Or if it'll be quite clear that they're sorry they couldn't make it work without trying too hard to make it work.