Ben Roethlisberger returns to Pittsburgh for his 18th season in what feels like a swan song for the 39-year-old, but the QB insists he is treating 2021 no different than any other season.
"I'm going to approach this like I do every season: like it's my last," Roethlisberger told reporters Tuesday. "I think that's the approach you have to take, and you don't approach it that way because it could be your last, but you approach it because every single play in the game of football could be your last. Every game could be your last game. That just means I'm going out to give it everything I have. I've never looked toward the future. I've always looked toward the right here and now. That's what's important for me for this season is giving everything I have right here and right now for this group of guys."
Roethlisberger has stumbled toward the end of his career. After two Super Bowl victories within his first five years, four straight Pro Bowls from 2014-2017, and leading the league in passing in 2018, Big Ben has struggled the past two years. His 2019 season lasted just two games, and in 2020 he looked every bit like a 38-year-old QB coming off elbow surgery.
His decline in play in part led the Steelers to rework his contract. The QB took a $5 million pay cut in 2021, the final year of his contract. Big Ben said he wanted to take a pay decrease to help ensure the Steelers could remain competitive.
"(The pay cut) was my idea," he said. "I told them I wanted to help the team out however we can, and so I went to them and told them I would do whatever I could to help the team sign the guys that are going to help us win football games. I've been extremely blessed to play this game for a long time. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to come back because I knew we had obviously a great defense, some amazing weapons on offense, so I wanted to come back to be a part of what I think is a special football team that everyone's overlooking, which is kind of cool too. In order to do that, to help get guys here, I felt that it was necessary to do that."
Despite being pressed against the salary cap, the Steelers were able to retain several of their key pieces like JuJu Smith-Schuster, whom the club anticipated losing to free agency.
Roethlisberger said he didn't "want to be anywhere else" when asked if he'd have switched clubs at this stage of his career. The Steelers are likely the only club that would have valued Big Ben after his injury issues and struggles to stretch the field last season.
The veteran QB admitted that he needs to play better to get the Steelers back to the playoffs and further than the Wild Card Round.
"I didn't play well enough at the end of the season," he said. "It's no secret. I'll be the first to point the thumb at myself. You know, when the ball is in your hand every play, you have to make plays, and you have to play better football. If the quarterback, myself, is not playing good football, especially late in the season, it's directly related to winning and losing. I'll take that playoff and those games on me. It's just feeling worn down and not playing good enough football at the end of the season."
Entering his 18th campaign, Roethlisberger is now confronted with a 17-game season. If he feels "worn down" at the end of this season, it could spell another disappointing year for Pittsburgh.