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Art Rooney II: Steelers always expected to bring back Ben Roethlisberger

There was no shortage of uncertainty regarding Ben Roethlisberger’s future with the Pittsburgh Steelers after the team was humiliated by the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field in the playoffs. Despite the conjecture that the Steelers could cut ties with the longtime franchise quarterback — for a handful of reasons — the team’s owner insists the plan was always to bring back Big Ben in 2021.

Art Rooney II conducted a chat with fans Thursday, during which the topic of Roethlisberger unsurprisingly arose. According to Rooney, the Steelers expected Roethlisberger to return to the team, especially after the veteran signal-caller agreed to a $5 million pay cut in a contract restructuring that provided the team much-needed relief from a staggeringly high salary-cap hit.

What’s more, Rooney added the team felt Roethlisberger enjoyed a solid enough 2020 season that moving on from the quarterback was not viewed as a viable option.

“We wanted Ben back,” Rooney said, per the Steelers’ official website. “The key to it was to be able to restructure his contract in a way that allowed us to keep Ben and be able to sign some other players. Ben cooperated with that, was willing to make some changes in his contract, and that allowed us to keep him on the team this year which was always our goal.

“I thought Ben had a very good year last year for somebody that was coming off of arm surgery. Hopefully, he will have an even better year this year with another year under his belt in terms of recovering from that arm surgery. It was a very serious surgery, and we were uncertain how well he would be able to recover from it. He did a great job rehabbing and we are excited to have him back for this season.”

After opening the season with 11 straight victories, the Steelers staggered into the postseason, losing four of the team’s last five games to finish 12-4. Then came the debacle against the Browns, a game that quickly got out of hand with Cleveland storming to a 28-0 first quarter lead before Pittsburgh rallied in a brutal 48-37 loss.

Roethlisberger colorfully admitted during the team’s December slide that he bore a brunt of the responsibility for the Steelers’ season going so stunningly sideways so fast. All told, however, Roethlisberger put up a solid season, as Rooney alluded to in his comments. Statistically speaking, Big Ben completed 65.6% of his passes for 3,803 yards to go along with 33 touchdowns against 10 INTs.

That said, it appeared that Father Time had finally caught up with the the then-38-year-old during the 2020 campaign. A perceived lack of arm strength led to at times awful accuracy on deep balls, which could be attributed to some extent how Roethlisberger was coming off elbow surgery, contributed to the offense’s overall ineffectiveness down the stretch.

Now, with all the offseason business settled, the Steelers will roll with Roethlisberger going forward, at least in the short term.