PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger is returning for an 18th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and is taking a pay cut to do it.

The team and the two-time Super Bowl winner announced on Thursday they have agreed on a new contract that assures the 39-year-old will be back in 2021.

Financial details were not immediately available, though the Steelers made no secret of the need for Roethlisberger to take a pay cut to ease some of the burden of his NFL-high $41.25-million salary-cap hit scheduled for 2021.

NFL Network, citing anonymous sources, said Roethlisberger’s new deal will essentially pay him $14 million this season – $5 million less than he was scheduled to make – and adds four voidable years to spread out the dead money. The cap hit for 2021 would drop to $26.2 million.

“I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success,” Roethlisberger said in a statement. “I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go.”

Roethlisberger passed for 3,803 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games in 2020 after missing almost all of 2019 with a right elbow injury. The Steelers won their first 11 games on their way to a 12-4 record and captured the AFC North title but were stunned at home by Cleveland in the first-round of the playoff game thanks in part to four Roethlisberger interceptions.

Steelers President Art Rooney II, Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert all expressed the desire to keep Roethlisberger, stressing the need to do it in a way that gives the Steelers some financial flexibility. The new contract does offer a bit more freedom, but Pittsburgh is facing several high-profile departures in free agency.

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, outside linebacker Bud Dupree, running back James Conner and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva are among more than a dozen Steelers who will hit the open market this month. Conner and Villanueva are unlikely to be brought back after underwhelming play in 2020. Smith-Schuster and Dupree have likely priced themselves out of a return.

Throw in the retirements of center Maurkice Pouncey and tight end Vance McDonald and the decision to part with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner – all three of whom have a close relationship with Roethlisberger – and the veteran quarterback will find himself in the midst of an overhaul.

The franchise’s leader in just about every major statistical passing category remains, he was at the controls of an offense that finished last in the NFL in yards rushing and yards per rushing attempt. Those are numbers the front office said it will spend the offseason trying to improve.

Pittsburgh has the 24th pick in the draft and several glaring needs, particularly along the offensive line. If left guard Matt Feiler — also a free agent — doesn’t come back, Roethlisberger could find himself playing behind a line with three new starters and a running back that isn’t Conner for the first time since 2017. Include the imminent departure of the reliable Smith-Schuster and the absence of McDonald — in essence a third tackle in 2020 when he was on the field — and the Steelers will have a very different look in 2021.

Yet rather than nudge Roethlisberger toward retirement and see what the club has in backup Mason Rudolph — who is entering the final year of his rookie deal — the Steelers will run it back hoping their late-season fade was a one-off.

“We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team,” Colbert said. “Our goal remains the same, to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.”

SAINTS: New Orleans restructured the contract of kicker Wil Lutz to save $1.7 million in salary-cap space, according to The Times-Picayune.

Lutz signed a five-year, $20.25 million extension prior to the 2019 season. He was due to count $4.7 million against the cap in each of the next two seasons and $4.75 million in 2023. Since he joined the Saints in 2016, only Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (694) has been responsible for more points scored than Lutz (679).

In the last two days, the Saints have restructured the contracts of Lutz and defensive tackle David Onyemata and released tight ends Josh Hill and Jared Cook to free up cap space. But the team is still more than $50 million over the projected cap of about $185 million.

PANTHERS: Linebacker Thomas Davis and tight end Greg Olsen are signing one-day contracts to retire as members of the Panthers.

Davis spent 14 seasons with the Panthers before playing for Washington last year. He’s the team’s franchise leaders in tackles with 1,258 and played more games than any defensive player in team history. He also had 28 sacks and 24 takeaways.

Olsen spent nine of his 14 NFL seasons with the Panthers. He had 524 catches for 6,463 and 39 touchdowns during his time in Carolina, including three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Olsen played last season with the Seattle Seahawks.

The former team captains helped the Panthers win three straight NFC South titles and reach the Super Bowl in 2015.

CHIEFS: The home of the Kansas City Chiefs will have a new name when the upcoming season begins.

The team announced that it had reached a naming rights deal with Government Employees Health Association, based in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

The stadium’s full name will be GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.


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