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NFL rumors: Pittsburgh Steelers could replace Ben Roethlisberger with Mason Rudolph

Sep 15, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) talks with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner before playing the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Given Ben Roethlisberger’s bloated $41 million salary cap figure in 2021, NFL rumors continue to suggest that the Pittsburgh Steelers could move on from their longtime quarterback.

Big Ben met with the Steelers’ brass back in January, shortly after they were eliminated from playoff contention by the division-rival Cleveland Browns. There’s absolutely no telling whether Roethlisberger will return in 2021 after spending his first 17 NFL seasons with Pittsburgh. An upcoming meeting with team president Art Rooney II will tell us the biggest story.

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Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Browns won 48-37. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In about a month, Pittsburgh will have to make a decision on Big Ben’s $15 million roster bonus. That has to come before the start of the new league year. Hence, why the meeting with Rooney is so important.

Even after the retirement of center Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers find themselves $20.76 million over the cap. Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster are all slated to hit free agency come March. See the quagmire here from Pittsburgh’s perspective? General manager Kevin Colbert needs to have an idea of what Roethlisberger plans to do before he can even jump into the offseason.

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Jan 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) walks off the field after throwing an interception to Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Sione Takitaki (not pictured) in the fourth quarter of an AFC Wild Card playoff game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

“Roethlisberger saw his closest friend on the team retire last week, center Maurkice Pouncey, whom he reportedly tried to persuade to return. That came after another friend, tight end Vance McDonald, retired and his offensive coordinator and former quarterbacks coach, Randy Fichtner, essentially was fired,” Ed Bouchette of The Athletic reported on Monday. “There could be more retirements, voluntary and involuntary, along with a gaggle of departing free agents. NFL Network reported Roethlisberger told the Steelers he would like JuJu Smith-Schuster to return.”

The Steelers’ insider goes on to note that it’s highly unlikely Smith-Schuster returns due to Pittsburgh’s less-than-ideal salary cap situation and what promises to be a strong market for his services. Bouchette also suggests that this could lead to a further rift between Big Ben and the Steelers’ organization.

It almost seems absurd to believe that the 38-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion will suit up for another team moving forward. That’s until we realize both Philip Rivers and Tom Brady left the only organizations that they have played for last offseason. Anything is possible.

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If not Ben Roethlisberger, who?

NFL rumors: Mason Rudolph could be Pittsburgh Steelers QB in 2021.
Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) warms up before the game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Shockingly, NFL rumors point to incumbent backup Mason Rudolph replacing Roethlisberger should a divorce between the longtime quarterback and his organization be in the cards.

“The assumption is Rudolph will start and there is little reason to think otherwise,” Bouchette noted. “While the absence of Roethlisberger would seem to leave the Steelers in a precarious position at quarterback, it at least would allow them to find out about Rudolph. Some in the organization believe he remains a possible starter beyond 2021, but they won’t know that unless he plays more.”

That’s eye-opening stuff right there. Rudolph, 25, joined Devlin Hodges in replacing an injured Ben Roethlisberger during the 2019 season. While he led Pittsburgh to a 5-3 record in eight starts, the former Oklahoma State standout threw just 13 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He’s better known for a spat with Cleveland Browns star Myles Garrett.

Again, it could be all about the Steelers’ cap situation. Big Ben will not be returning at his $41 million cap hit for the 2021 season. That’s already known. Should there be some issues behind the scenes between the future Hall of Fame quarterback and his team, a potential divorce could be in the cards.

Click here for more NFL rumors as the offseason gets going in a big way.