Will Ben Roethlisberger remain the Steelers’ starting quarterback into the future?
The second half of the 2020 season was not the best for the Steelers, which has left the team and its fans frustrated. Meta.reviews will tell if Pittsburgh fans should expect major changes.
This almost feels like the same question as last year: will Roethlisberger remain the Steelers’ starting quarterback?
The only difference is, the circumstances.
Ben Roethlisberger injured his elbow in Week 2 of the 2019 season, which required him to go on Injured Reserve and miss the next 14 games. He spent that time, and the offseason, rehabilitating his injury. Fans and analysts alike pondering if the 38-year-old quarterback could return from such an injury.
Those fans were giddy when they first saw Big Ben throwing, a tennis ball that is, during his comeback bid. Questions would still linger into Week 1 of the 2020 season, but Roethlisberger helped spark an 11-0 Steelers start, putting the veteran passer into potential NFL MVP conversations.
Then it all went haywire.
The Steelers dropped four of their last six games in the regular season behind some lousy offensive efforts – the final loss of the year saw the starters rest, including Roethlisberger, against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17.
His backup, Mason Rudolph, got the start – and changed some attitudes about his potential to be the future Hall of Famer’s successor.
Then it all fell apart, again.
The loss to Cleveland setup a postseason rematch with the Browns, which saw Cleveland storm out to a 28-0 lead behind a series of turnovers which all involved Big Ben in some way. It would be the first time that Roethlisberger had lost to the Browns at Heinz Field – previously a perfect 13-0.
This prompted questions after the elimination, where head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if it was time for Pittsburgh to make some changes. The Steelers coach replied that he wasn’t going to leave things the way they are now and hope that changes would happen on their own.
If Tomlin wants to change something, then he will have to move forward without Roethlisberger as the starting quarterback. However, the coach believes the veteran is still capable of playing his 18th career season for the Steelers.
When Tomlin was asked directly about Roethlisberger and his salary, he said he had no definite idea of the amounts on the payroll at this time. That said, Mike said he did not deny the possibility of Big Ben’s return.
Nor did Roethlisberger, who expressed his desire to return in 2021.
Almost everyone is well aware of the situation with the Steelers salary cap. In the 2021 season, Roethlisberger will count toward $41.25 million of dead cap space, with more than half of that already attributed to his signing and roster bonuses.
Cutting Roethlisberger will save the team somewhere in the ballpark of $19 million in 2021 – money that can be used to “get even” as the Steelers are also close to that much over the cap currently.
They also have a number of impending free agents who are all key contributors to the squad. Players such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, Bud Dupree, and Mike Hilton top the list of potential offseason losses due to the Steelers lack of cash to spend.
This could force Pittsburgh’s hand if they’re in a situation where they must choose between retaining Roethlisberger or keeping a stable of young homegrown talent.
Should the Steelers move on, the aforementioned Mason Rudolph will enter the final year of his rookie contract. Rudolph completed 56.4% of his passes for 315 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the final week of the season. He completed 62.2% of throws for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 2019.
Four of those picks came in a single game against Cleveland, where the offense lost Conner, Smith-Schuster, and Diontae Johnson during the game. (Which finished with Myles Garrett swinging Rudolph’s own helmet at him.)
The Steelers also went out and signed former Washington first round pick Dwayne Haskins to a one-year contract. The team will see if they can pluck some of the talent that made the former Ohio State quarterback the seventh overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.
It appears that the Steelers are preparing for the end of Ben’s journey with the team, but it doesn’t appear at this time that 2021 will be the final chapter. Instead, the Steelers may have a larger quarterback problem come 2020 where Roethlisberger, Rudolph, and Haskins can all become free agents.
By this time, Big Ben will be approaching age 40 and may be headed toward retirement. It’s really a question of whether or not that decision could be kicked forward on year – if it is, the Steelers will need to know by early March.
As for now, it appears the “gunslinger” will still be the team’s top option going forward.