The end is coming quickly for Ben Roethlisberger, and we know the why.
His arm is cooked. His mobility is nil. His patchwork offensive line, put together in the draft and free agency with very little money to spend, can neither support an average run game nor sustain a pass block for longer than 2.5 seconds.
The "how" is going to be more difficult.
The way this ends in Pittsburgh will be difficult. I spent this week asking sources around the league why this didn't end back in March, when the Steelers could have cut Roethlisberger and moved on.
"It's hard to see good players get old," one league source said.
"They have never moved on from their players at the right time and their contingency plan isn't the answer," another texted.
"Because they really believe he can still play," one said. "He has way too much control over there."
Roethlisberger has the Steelers at 1-2 heading into Green Bay this weekend. With Denver, Seattle and Cleveland following, it's possible the Steelers don't see another win until November.
It's easy to pile on the Steelers right now and dance on Roethlisberger's career grave. That's not what I'm trying to do here. The signs were obvious last year that Roethlisberger didn't have the physical traits capable of carrying Pittsburgh any longer, but he was their best option on a depth chart with Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs.
The Steelers could have cut Roethlisberger back in March but instead agreed to a significant pay cut for him to return as the unquestioned starter. It was a mistake then and it's even more clearly a mistake now.
Roethlisberger has lost six of his past eight starts and is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt in that span. The Steelers offense hasn't scored points in the first quarter of a game dating to Week 11 of last season. And Pittsburgh is the only team in the NFL this season to not have first-quarter points when holding the time of possession advantage.
But what can they do? If there was too much fear in cutting Roethlisberger following a playoff season, there's probably too much fear in benching him midseason. The Rooneys saw how that went over in the twilight of Eli Manning's career within a proud Giants organization and won't want to repeat that, even if it's the right thing to do.
There's no starting quarterback the Steelers could reasonably trade for right now. The 2022 draft class doesn't exactly scream "Day 1 starter." And with how rookie quarterbacks from a much better 2021 class are currently struggling, thinking the answer is in the first round of 2022 looks even more foolish right now.
Roethlisberger has played through endless injuries in his career, and if this season continues to spiral, the Steelers could place Big Ben on injured reserve with a real or conceived injury. It'd be the most gracious thing the team could do to its first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, especially since appearances are important.
Rodgers waxed about the city, the people, the team's defense and a head coach in Mike Tomlin whom "players love playing for." Yes, the Packers are playing the Steelers, but you'd have to be blind not to see how intentional the question and answer were.
Bucs, Patriots stay focused on game ... with some help
In case you haven't heard, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick face off Sunday night for the first and perhaps only time. A win for Brady and he joins Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees as the only quarterbacks to have beaten all 32 NFL teams. A win for Belichick and perhaps the scales tilt back in his favor of whether he or Brady had more to do with the dynasty.
By this point you know the stakes. No regular-season game has had this much attention in years. But I've noticed that both the Buccaneers and Patriots have done their all to treat this like any other week.
More specifically, the communications staffs of both teams have done their all to treat this like any other week. Stacey James' staff in New England and Nelson Luis' staff in Tampa have both treated this week like normal to help their respective teams stay as focused as possible.
The Pats PR staff is handling the lion's share of responsibilities as the home team. ESPN and NFL Network will broadcast from the stadium all day Sunday. The "TODAY Show" will broadcast out of Gillette Stadium on Friday morning. CBS Sports HQ will be there Sunday night as well.
But the PR staffs didn't do anything differently with the players or coaches, as far as I can tell. Luis told me his staff "cleared the deck early" with national reporters back in training camp who may have wanted a crack at a Brady interview this week. Brady does his podcast with Jim Gray, his league-mandated interview on Thursday and does a Zoom production meeting Saturday night from the team hotel. That's it.
NBC, who is broadcasting the game, didn't even get a sit-down with Brady leading up to the game. Rob Gronkowski had to swat away some requests, including one with a late-night talk show this week. The ESPN sit-down interview with Brady, that will premiere Sunday, was shot over the summer, I'm told.
The players and coaches will say the game is just another game. They'll want to talk only ball and not narratives. And it takes a great communications staff — like the ones in New England and Tampa — to make all of that actually possible for their teams.
Where we're going we don't need ... roads
The momentum for NFTs (non-fungible tokens) seems to have slowed from the ludicrous speed it reached in the earlier part of this year, and that may mean it's a great time for the NFL to get involved.
After months of surveying the market and learning lessons from competitors, the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to partner with NBA Top Shot creator Dapper Labs to make official digital video highlights into NFTs for fans.
The NFL NFTs are set to launch in November, sometime around Thanksgiving, though that can be pushed a little later as details get ironed out. I'm told NFTs of some of the top plays of the week will be released that same week, and of course the superstars of the league will have higher-tiered tokens.
Players will also see a cut of the profits much in the same way they do with jersey sales. Of course NFTs of Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady will go for more, just like their jerseys sell for more. And of course, no one is buying -- or for that matter, creating -- NFTs of a pancake by the right guard. In that sense, the NFLPA deal will be more similar to the Madden deal where every player ultimately gets a piece.
The massive dollars being spent on rookie cards will be used to pitch NFL players on the upside to NFTs, I'm told. Mahomes' rookie card just sold this summer for a record-breaking $4.3 million, and the Chiefs quarterback likely didn't see a penny of that. If NFTs are the way of the future and hold value that can approach physical trading cards, then at least these players will be seeing some of the profits off their name, image and likeness.
What gets a little fuzzy -- as if this entire world of NFTs isn't already fuzzy enough -- is what will happen with historic moments. How do you split the profits of an NFT of the "Immaculate Reception" between Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris? Or Joe Montana and Dwight Clark's estate for "The Catch"? The list goes on and on.
All that will have to be worked out over the next few months. And I wouldn't expect all the historic moments, or even moments from the first few weeks of this season, to be dropped all at the same time. The NFL will roll out these NFTs over time to heighten awareness and maximize the bidding.
What a world.
Twitter had some fun with our headline last week when Matt Ryan told me he felt the Falcons could be in the mix come December. I get it, but I appreciated Ryan's honesty about where the team was and what their realistic goals were. And that confidence helped me pick the Falcons heading into last Sunday's game against the Giants.
I think GM Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith are rebuilding this program in the right way. In speaking with folks down there this week, I got the sense that the Falcons getting that fourth-quarter stop of the Giants and scoring in their two-minute offense has given the team a fresh start.
Smith has done a good job of not throwing young players like Jalen Mayfield and Cam Nizialek into the doghouse early. He's creating a culture of accountability while still allowing players to learn from the mistakes they'll inevitably make.
I think that's what this team needed coming off a couple of disappointing seasons where there may have been more... ahem, CYA going on within the locker room. That has more to do with the situation a desperate Falcons team was in more than the differences in head coaching, but the fact remains that there seems to be a good cultural foundation being laid in Atlanta if it can keep this up.
Looking for love in the NFL
My girlfriend watches "The Bachelor/Bachelorette" series, which means that I watch "The Bachelor/Bachelorette" series. And former NFL quarterback (and former Bachelor) Jesse Palmer made news this week when he was picked as the next host of the series.
But scrolling through the list of contestants this week, I saw NFL journeyman Bryan Witzmann on there. Witzmann was just on the Falcons practice squad not even two weeks ago, and the latest season of the Bachelorette will premiere Oct. 19.
If you're going to place your bets on Witzmann finding love with Bachelorette Michelle Young, don't. Filming for the show was taking place in August, and he signed with the Chiefs on Aug. 8 and was released on Aug. 23. He signed with the Falcons practice squad on Sept. 15 and was released a week later.
Piecing things together, it seems Witzmann didn't make it past the first week or so of filming. Either he didn't get a rose early or he got the call from the Chiefs and decided he was more romantic about football than this particular opportunity.
Wish I had the answer for you, but I'm sure he was there for the right reasons. He's very likely bound by an NDA to not speak about the show publicly until episodes air. I did reach out to his agent but have yet to hear back.
Draft rule change
We told you earlier in the week about the small tweak to the CBA regarding the 2022 NFL Draft, and I wanted to dive in a little more here.
It essentially boils down to this: because the 2020 college football season was wacky with some schools playing, some not, some players opting out and some playing, there are a lot of four-year athletes with an extra year of eligibility. If you are a four-year athlete, your name is automatically entered into the 2022 NFL Draft. But if you want to use that extra year you have, you have to inform the league that you're opting out of the draft by Feb. 4.
That may seem like a quick decision, but it's necessary. It's three and a half weeks after the national championship game and one day before the Senior Bowl. The NFL scouting combine should take place later in February, and the league needs to know who will be in that pool for 300 or so players.
The form itself is simple, where players just have to write their name and school and sign under "I hereby notify the NFL that I do not wish to be considered eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft."
As I wrote two weeks ago, there's a hope that the anomalous 2020 season means fewer underclassmen who are on the fringe won't put their name into the draft hat.
Week 4 picks
I have to be honest. I picked the Packers in this space last week, but then I did something I never do and changed it on That Other Pregame Show to the 49ers for fear of what the offensive line would be without Elgton Jenkins. I'm going to honor that switch here and let the record reflect that I actually went 9-7 last week, bringing my season total to 30-18. I took the Bengals on Thursday night. To the picks!
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
The Lions are playing good, competitive football. The Bears, meanwhile, don't know who their quarterback will be. Detroit played the Niners tough in the second half, outplayed the Packers in the first half and did enough to beat the Ravens last week. They're due for their first win.
The pick: Lions
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
I picked the Buccaneers last week because I thought they had a better chance than any team to go 17-0. The Rams manhandled them. I expect the Cardinals to get more pressure on Matthew Stafford than the Bucs did, but I don't think Arizona is ready for this level of ball.
The pick: Rams
Buccaneers at Patriots
Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
TV: NBC | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
I can't say I expect this one to be entirely close by the fourth quarter. Tom Brady's knowledge of Bill Belichick's system is too great. And as well as Belichick knows Brady, you can only do so much when he's getting the ball out in less than 2.3 seconds. I think Brady wants to make a point Sunday night and he has the horses to do it.
The pick: Buccaneers
Football Team over Falcons
Bills over Texans
Cowboys over Panthers
Dolphins over Colts
Browns over Vikings
Saints over Giants
Titans over Jets
Chiefs over Eagles
49ers over Seahawks
Ravens over Broncos
Packers over Steelers
Chargers over Raiders
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