PITTSBURGH (AP)—Talk about a comeback.
“He’s a Steeler and he’ll always be a Steeler,” team chairman Dan Rooney said.
The agreement comes after Roethlisberger re-established himself as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks last season, and nearly two years after his life and career were threatened by a motorcycle crash. The accident happened a few months after he led the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory.
Roethlisberger’s contract guarantees him $36 million and is easily the largest in the Steelers’ 76-season history. The quarterback, who turned 26 Sunday, gets $25 million immediately as a signing bonus.
“I told them I didn’t want to go anywhere the day I walked in (as a rookie in 2004),” Roethlisberger said Monday. “I love Pittsburgh, I love the fans. Got probably the best organization and fans in all of sport. I don’t want to go anywhere.”
Nor did the Steelers want to lose the club’s most successful quarterback since four-time Super Bowl winner Terry Bradshaw. Roethlisberger, drafted in 2004 as part of the same QB class as the Giants’ Eli Manning and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, won all 13 regular-season starts as a rookie, began his career 27-4 and already has appeared in two AFC title games and seven playoff games.
Last season, Roethlisberger threw 32 touchdown passes with only 11 interceptions in leading the Steelers to a 10-6 regular-season record and the playoffs, a major turnaround from his 23-interception season of 2006.
In four seasons, Roethlisberger has steered Pittsburgh to two AFC championship games, one Super Bowl and three playoff appearances. No Steelers quarterback, not even Bradshaw, had a better start to his career; Bradshaw didn’t win a Super Bowl until his fifth season.
Roethlisberger wants to be “like the Dan Marinos, like the John Elways, guys who played with one team their whole career.”
The Steelers, quiet in free agency until signing running back-kick returner Mewelde Moore on Monday, felt some urgency to get a deal done with Roethlisberger. Director of football operations Kevin Colbert called it his top offseason priority.
Roethlisberger was due a $2.95 million bonus this month that, if paid, would have put the Steelers over the salary cap. By reworking Roethlisberger’s contract now, the team rolled that bonus into his new contract and can prorate his signing bonus over the eight years of the contract.
“Ben never said, ‘I need a record-breaking contract.’ He never said, ‘I need the most money in the history of anything,”’ said Roethlisberger’s agent, Ryan Tollner. “He said, ‘I need a fair deal.”’
Roethlisberger, who played in his first Pro Bowl last month, is now focused on getting “a bunch more trophies.”
“I believe that the guys we have on this team right now are exceptional players,” he said. “I believe we all have the pieces of the puzzle, that we could be a championship football team, and I think that we know the history that we have of drafting well, we’ll be able to bring guys in that will hopefully do more.”
Roethlisberger was one of the leading vote-getters for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. By contrast, he never found a groove in 2006 after reporting to training camp only six weeks after his motorcycle crash in Pittsburgh, then needed an appendectomy the week of the season opener. The Steelers started 2-6 before finishing 8-8 during former coach Bill Cowher’s 15th and final season.
Moore, the Steelers’ only pickup during free agency, spent his first four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. A likely replacement for kick returner Allen Rossum, he returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 10.4 per return while returning 74 punts from 2003-07. He averaged 19.3 yards on 26 kickoff returns.