What are Steelers’ options beyond Ben Roethlisberger?
If it’s time for goodbye, who says hello?
At 39 years old, Ben Roethlisberger isn’t what he used to be. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback of the past 17 seasons can no longer drive the ball between the safeties, and the deep ball has a looping, dramatic arc to it. Pittsburgh remembers the days of Big Ben slinging the pigskin into tight windows, but those days are over.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talked to the media last week and was cryptic about Roethlisberger’s future, giving the dreaded “he’s on the team right now” talk. It reeked of someone ready to be moved on from, largely because the salary cap hit and production are so far apart on value.
Additionally, Pittsburgh has major cap issues, especially if the threshold ends up around $180 million. The Steelers are more than $19 million over the cap if it settles at the aforementioned number, only in a better spot than five teams. However, that’s not factoring in the amount of talented free agents Colbert has hitting the market including edge rusher Bud Dupree, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, corners Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton, and running back James Conner.
By cutting Roethlisberger, Colbert would recoup exactly $19 million, putting the Steelers at level before the start of free agency. This wouldn’t allow for some sudden spending spree, but if would have Pittsburgh cap compliant and able, with a few other restructures or extensions, to keep a few of the top-line free agents around.
However, without Roethlisberger, another problem presents itself. While Big Ben is nowhere near his prime, he managed to help Pittsburgh win 12 games, the AFC North and host a playoff game while throwing for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. Is a rookie, Mason Rudolph or a retread in free agency going to put up those numbers? Not likely.
Pittsburgh is trying to hold off the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns within the division after both won 11 games last year, but went 1-3 against the Steelers head-to-head. If that’s going to happen, having Roethlisberger, aging and all, is probably the best bet.
If the team goes with a rookie quarterback — perhaps the right hello for the long haul — than the rebuild in Pittsburgh starts now.