Ben Roethlisberger has had a front-row seat to some pretty big exits from past teammates. He watched Jerome Bettis receive the ultimate send-off after he chose to retire on the podium following Super Bowl XL. Several years later, Roethlisberger watched Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu choose to retire as Steelers instead of prolong their careers in other cities. He also saw James Harrison force his way out of Pittsburgh only to finish out his playing career with the rival Patriots.
It's clear that Roethlisberger wants to mimic Bettis, Ward and Polamalu as players who were career Steelers. Furthermore, Roethlisberger said Tuesday that he has no desire to become the next quarterback to join a new team during the twilight of his career.
"I'm black and gold through and through," Roethlisberger told reporters in his first offseason interview session, via NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala. "I want to be here. I don't want to be anywhere else."
That may very well mean that Roethlisberger is entering the final year of a career that will undoubtedly end up immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There were questions this offseason as it related to Roethlisberger's future in Pittsburgh given how the 2020 season ended along with Big Ben's substantial salary for the 2021 season. Ultimately, the Steelers decided they were better with Roethlisberger for the '21 season. And Roethlisberger decided to trim his salary in order to help the Steelers keep some of their own free agents.
As far as his future is concerned, Roethlisberger said he is going to approach the 2021 season "like I do every season, like it's my last." Roethlisberger also acknowledged that he has heard some of the outside criticism questioning whether or not a 39-year-old Roethlisberger is still an elite player.
"You let it motivate you but you don't let it drive you or push you crazy," Roethlisberger said. "At the end of the day you're just trying to win a football game."
It's easy to forget that Roethlisberger is still less than two years removed from major elbow surgery that forced him to miss the final 14 games of the 2019 season. It's also easy to forget that Roethlisberger returned and led the Steelers to an 11-0 start in 2020. But after outplaying expectations for the season's first 11 games, Roethlisberger and the Steelers fizzled down the stretch. They won just one of their final six games that included a 48-37 loss to the Browns in the wild card round.
The playoff loss was a microcosm of Roethlisberger's final six games of the 2020 season. While he threw for 501 yards and four touchdowns, Big Ben also threw four interceptions while attempting an absurd 68 passes. While there were several factors that contributed to the 2020 Steelers decline, mistakes and an overreliance on the passing game were two big reasons why Pittsburgh failed to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.
Pittsburgh responded by committing to improve its rushing attack. For the first time in 13 years, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert spent a first-round pick on a running back, selecting former Alabama standout Najee Harris with the 24th overall pick. The Steelers also brought back veteran center/guard B.J. Finney while spending third- and fourth-round picks on center Kendrick Green and tackle Dan Moore Jr.
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Roethlisberger didn't hide his positive first impressions of Harris after working with him during OTAs.
"He doesn't seem lost," Roethlisberger said of Harris while promising the rookie running back will be "something to see."
Roethlisberger is also embracing learning a new offense after the Steelers promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator. While his relationship with former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was well-documented, Roethlisberger is diving head first into learning the nuances of Canada's offense, one that is designed to take less of the burden off of the quarterback's plate.
"I think this offense is going to be completely different," Roethlisberger said, via Steelers.com's Missi Matthews. "You're going to see nothing that you've seen in the past ... it's new and taking some extra studying, but it's a fun new challenge."
Despite the pitfalls of 2020 and the uncertainty of 2022, there is a lot of optimism within the Steelers' building for 2021. Whether or not it will be Roethlisberger's last in Pittsburgh remains to be seen, but one thing Roethlisberger is sure of is his commitment to making the most of his 18th season in Pittsburgh.
"I felt [coming back] it was the right thing to do," Roethlisberger said. "I felt relatively healthy, all things considered at the end of the season ... I felt like I had more in the tank."