Around the AFC North: Steelers, Browns Also Face Quarterback Contract Decisions

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Left: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger; Right: Browns QB Baker Mayfield

Pittsburgh Steelers: Massive Ben Roethlisberger Contract Creates Issues

Ben Roethlisberger wants to return for his 18th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the organization faces a major challenge to make that work financially.

A decrease in the NFL's 2021 salary cap is expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Steelers need to dramatically reduce Roethlisberger's cap hit for next season, reportedly the highest in the league ($41.25 million). Steelers owner Art Rooney II addressed Roethlisberger's situation last week with a group of Pittsburgh reporters.

"We'd like to see Ben back for another year if that can work," Rooney said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "But there's a lot of work to be done to see if that can happen.

"Ben wants to come back. We've left that door open. We've been, I think, up front with Ben in letting him know that we couldn't have him back under the current contract, and so I think he understands we have some work to do there."

Roethlisberger responded by saying he doesn't want money to prevent him from playing another year with the Steelers. In fact, Roethlisberger told The Athletic that he didn't care about his pay "at all."

Roethlisberger, who will turn 39 on March 2, doesn't want his career to end with the bitter playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns in which he threw four interceptions. Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, told the Post-Gazette that his client still believes he can lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl, which is why he wants to return.

"Ben knows he has more left, but having key players back like (Maurkice) Pouncey, will be important," Tollner said. "Ben's contract won't hold things up. If Ben is back, it's for one purpose – to win."

Cleveland Browns: GM Remains Flexible on Baker Mayfield Contract Talks

Baker Mayfield had his best season leading the Browns to the playoffs and made a strong case that he should be their franchise quarterback long-term. Like Lamar Jackson of the Ravens, Mayfield has finished his third NFL season and is now eligible to negotiate a long-term contract.

Browns General Manager Andrew Berry praised Mayfield for his play in 2020, but stopped short of saying Cleveland would sign Mayfield to an extension this offseason.

"In terms of contracts, I don't think this is the appropriate forum to really talk about those decisions," Berry said during a videoconference last week. "He did an excellent job this year. He led us to our first playoff appearance in eons. He got us to 12 wins, played winning football all year, developed a really strong relationship with (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) and the offensive staff.

"We're really, really pleased with him. Look, we wouldn't be where we were at the end of the season without his performance."

Mayfield is already under contract for 2021, and the Browns can exercise a fifth-year option that would keep him under contract through 2022. Even if Mayfield signs a new deal this offseason, Berry is confident he will have leeway to add to a talented core led by Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb and Denzel Ward.

"We'll have plenty of flexibility regardless of how any of that shakes out," Berry said. "I'm really encouraged with what we'll be able to do this offseason."

Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow Would Love Reunion With Ja'Marr Chase

The Bengals have multiple options with the fifth pick in the draft, especially since their quarterback of the future is in place with Joe Burrow.

Cincinnati may target a top offensive line prospect like Penei Sewell of Oregon or Rashawn Slater of Northwestern to help protect Burrow. However, Burrow likes the idea of the Bengals drafting one of his former targets at LSU, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah ranks Chase as the No. 2 draft prospect behind Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

During the 2019 season when Burrow won the Heisman Trophy and led LSU to the National Championship, Chase caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. Chase opted out of last season to prepare for the draft, and now Burrow wouldn't mind being reunited with an explosive target he knows very well.

"I'd love to play with Ja'Marr," Burrow said via Sports Illustrated. "We're still in contact all the time. We talk every now and then. He's a great dude and a great player. I'd love to have him on the team."

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