Steelers on the hot seat this season? Ben Roethlisberger
The Oxford Dictionary describes “hot seat” as the following: the position of a person who carries full responsibility for something, including facing criticism or being answerable for decisions or actions. In this ongoing series our contributors will select a current member of the Steelers organization and ask the simple question: are they on the hot seat in 2020?
Can Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback with two Super Bowl rings who holds nearly every major passing statistic in Steelers franchise history, actually be on the hot seat in 2020?
Depends on who you talk to, but there are quite a few fans and analysts who are non-believers; the kind who are betting their money against Ben much like you’d bet your money in sport betting apps.
Those types have always been non-believers.
They’d have Big Ben on the hot seat for missing 14 games last season, which gave some critics who were unable to see beneath the surface at other underlying problems on the Steelers offense (namely injuries) as needing a vast overhaul and rebuild of the team. While those are the same folks who’d have Keith Butler fired a year too soon before the defense peaked or begged the organization to replace Todd Haley, and now get rid of his replacement Randy Ficthner, they also hold Roethlisberger responsible for many of the team’s moves.
Flashback a season ago and the yinzers were on Roethlisberger for Antonio Brown quitting the team and demanding a release. They were upset with Ben’s contract extension as well as comments on his radio show which were taken out of context to place blame on others for interceptions, mainly the one in Denver, which cost the Steelers critical games down the stretch that saw them out of the 2018 postseason.
In 2019, Roethlisberger was sidelined at halftime of their second game and never returned. Some fans weren’t on board with Mason Rudolph from the time he was drafted and then begged to see the “camp arm” Devlin Hodges in action. The problem is, neither of those quarterbacks really found a true rhythm with their teammates. First it was Rudolph sidelined with a scary knockout blow, then it was Hodges struggling without James Conner or JuJu Smith-Schuster, among other changes on the offense that often saw street free agents and fifth-string options in the starting lineup.
The call to arms came during this year’s draft, where many of the most vocal critics claimed Ben would never be the same again after his elbow injury and demanded Pittsburgh move on from him and his reserve options be picking a rookie in NFL Draft.
The picks came and went with the Steelers standing pat. The criticism still came and next was Ben’s physical condition.
Sporting a big beard and often wearing winter clothing on the sidelines, opponents of Big Ben claimed the thirty-eight year-old quarterback had gotten “fat”. Even FOX Sport analyst Jay Glazer alluded to the lax offseason conditioning of a younger, immature Roethlisberger.
That Roethlisberger is long gone, showing up leaner and potentially in the best physical condition of his life. While workout videos of crisp passes showed Ben progressing along fine, naysayers will always find something to detract from his success.
Again, this is a player who saw his fellow draft mates retire (Eli Manning) or move to a new team (Philip Rivers) this offseason. While Tom Brady continued to get praise, even moving to a team who has traditionally struggled, everyone else continues to sleep on the Steelers and the return of Roethlisberger.
But what if that blows up in the team’s face and Ben turns out to disappear suddenly such as Terry Bradshaw did in the early 80’s with his own lack of arm strength?
That’s the $33 million dollar question which turns into a $41 million cap hit in 2021, the last year on Roethlisberger’s current contract. While the passer has stated his desire to win Lombardis (i.e. more than one) others are concerned that the Steelers are too invested in one player and that Ben’s contract has handcuffed the team’s ability to sign free agents, be it those from other teams or their own departures, such as Javon Hargrave and Le’Veon Bell.
Ben was also the smoke to the fire that was Todd Haley’s departure, and Randy Fichtner’s promotion: with the latter also on the hot seat for the offense’s poor performance in 2019.
Aside from Antonio Brown’s ugly split, Roethlisberger is also seen as advocating for others, such as Ryan Switzer, that even some locals in Pittsburgh media have an odd disdain for.
While Ben has laid low and said much of nothing, the narratives continue to come out during a slow sports news period exasperated by COVID-19 closures. Furthermore, the Steelers have missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons while watching the Baltimore Ravens rebuld and retake the division, alongside potential threats in other rebuilding teams within the AFC North such as the Browns and Bengals.
If Roethlisberger were to be bypassed by Heismman winners within his own division, the critics will be more vocal about him than ever, especially with Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes currently the only two quarterbacks earning mroe than Big Ben this season.
However, don’t be surprised to know that Roethlisberger knows everything that’s in this article; and has for months. That’s why he’s showed up in the best shape of his life and with a focus on leading the team to multiple championships.
The fire under his seat hasn’t gone unnoticed and if anything, it’s a major motivator for Big Ben to bounce back and prove all of his critics wrong on every angle this upcoming season.