Ben Roethlisberger expected to return as Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback in 2021

Dec 27, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) embrace at mid-field after their game at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As Ben Roethlisberger sat on the bench in an emotional state following the team’s playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, many wondered if the future Hall of Fame quarterback would retire. While his 2021 started on a rough note, it seems his NFL career may not be over.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are still reeling from the painful memories of the disastrous start that cost them in the Wild Card Round. While the team boasts a Super Bowl-caliber defense, its offense largely disappointed and the evident decline of Roethlisberger played a significant role.

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Changes are coming this offseason. However, the focus has centered on Big Ben’s future. It now seems like we know what fate has in store at quarterback for the Steelers in 2021.

Pittsburgh Steelers anticipate Ben Roethlisberger starting next season

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Steelers are optimistic that Ben Roethlisberger will return for the 2021 NFL season. Given he expressed a desire to return if the team wanted him back next season, it would come as a surprise if Big Ben isn’t under center when Week 1 kicks off.

The Steelers are already making significant changes on the offensive side. Following the team’s disastrous performance this year, especially late in the season, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner won’t return.

There won’t just be turnover on the coaching staff. Both left tackle Alejandro Villaneuva and star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are headed for free agency. While there’s a chance Villanueva could return, JuJu’s time in Pittsburgh is reportedly over.

This offense will look a lot different next season, but some of those changes might require sacrifice from Roethlisberger. He carries a $1.25 million cap hit next year and Pittsburgh is projected to be $21 million over the salary cap. So, per Garafolo, the Steelers are expected to pursue a reworked contract with their legendary quarterback.

While Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards and four touchdowns against the Browns, it also came with five turnovers and a 66.8 QBR. The 38-year-old dealt with a persistent knee injury, causing long-term concerns for the organization, and averaged just 5.6 yards per attempt with an 81.9 quarterback rating and 9/5 TD/INT ratio in December.

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With Big Ben likely returning in 2021, everyone can expect him to be the starter in his 18th NFL season. As the Steelers prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, though, it would be wise to find a viable backup and long-term solution for him.