Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Steelers reach terms with Roethlisberger


Ex-Redhawk signs six-year deal

By Alan Robinson
The Associated Press

LATROBE, Pa. - No Pittsburgh Steelers rookie has ever made as much money as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He didn't take long to start earning it.

Roethlisberger, the 11th pick in the draft, signed a six-year contract Tuesday that could be worth as much as $40 million.

[img]
Pittsburgh Steelers first-round draft choice quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, left, and his agent Leigh Steinberg answer questions about his signing at a news conference at the team's training camp in Latrobe, Pa., Tuesday.
(AP photo)
The contract includes $22,269,500 worth of salaries and various bonuses and $17,730,500 in incentives - including $4,875,000 in playing time bonuses easily reachable for a starting quarterback.

The deal, reached following lengthy talks that began early Monday and extended into Tuesday morning, includes a Steelers record $9,009,000 in bonuses: $600,000 (signing bonus, payable immediately), $1,172,000 (roster bonus, payable by Aug. 10) and $7,237,000 (option bonus, payable March 5).

Three hours after arriving at camp, Roethlisberger attended a quarterbacks meeting. He will be on the field for two practices Wednesday, one at a high school before a crowd that could reach 10,000.

"I'm excited, nervous, all the same feelings I had at minicamp," he said. "Once I get out and throw the first couple of passes, it will be a relief and I'm sure it will come back to me."

Roethlisberger was the third quarterback drafted in April, behind the Giants' Eli Manning and the Chargers' Philip Rivers, but Roethlisberger's agent, Leigh Steinberg, predicted he will be the best.

"This is a franchise quarterback," Steinberg said. "I think he's a Troy Aikman, John Elway type of quarterback. He's that good."

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Roethlisberger completed 854 of 1,304 passes for 10,829 yards at Miami of the Mid-American Conference, with 84 touchdown passes and 34 interceptions.

The negotiations finally progressed when the Steelers agreed to pay Roethlisberger a larger bonus than the $8 million Houston gave cornerback Dunta Robinson, who was drafted No. 10 overall, one spot ahead of Roethlisberger.

To get a larger bonus, Roethlisberger agreed to play this season for the minimum salary of $230,000. Previously, the Steelers' largest bonus was $8.1 million to former starting quarterback Kordell Stewart in 1999.

"We felt that quarterbacks deserve a premium, and the Steelers ultimately agreed," said Steinberg, who flew to Pittsburgh on Sunday night to get the talks moving with Steelers negotiator Omar Khan and team president Art Rooney II. "A potential franchise quarterback always is a special sort of player to deal with."

Roethlisberger's base salaries will be $230,000 (2004), $305,000 (2005), $655,000 (2006), $1,026,000 (2007), $1,356,000 (2008) and $1,707,000 (2009), which is payable on March 5, 2009.

His bonuses include $250,000 for rookie of the year, $500,000 for the Pro Bowl and $4,750,000 for finishing in the top five in various QB statistical categories. His playing time bonuses increase with time played and could reach as much as $975,000 a year if the Steelers make the playoffs.

Roethlisberger was the first quarterback drafted by the Steelers in the first round since Mark Malone in 1980. He is expected to back up Tommy Maddox this season but could move into the starting job as early as 2005.

Earlier this year, Maddox signed an incentives-driven contract extension through 2007 that included a $2 million pay hike this season. Maddox will go back to making backup-type money if Roethlisberger becomes the starter.

Roethlisberger's deal leaves five NFL first-round draft picks unsigned but gives the Steelers a full complement of quarterbacks in camp, which opened Friday. Coach Bill Cowher suggested Monday that the three quarterbacks in camp might be getting too much work and he was thinking about bringing in a fourth to relieve the workload on Maddox, Charlie Batch and Brian St. Pierre.

Roethlisberger wound up missing four practices - one Sunday, two Monday and one Tuesday.

"Every meeting, every practice is invaluable, and hopefully he'll get caught up as much as possible," Cowher said. "Obviously, he'll need to spend some extra time getting caught up on the things we've put in, because there are new things every night."

Roethlisberger plans to use some of his bonus money to aid the police and fire departments in his native Findlay, Ohio, to fund a scholarship at Miami, and to aid youth football in Pittsburgh.




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