With Eli Manning's Philip Rivers' from the Chargers, that leaves Ben Roethlisberger as the only remaining quarterback from that fabled 2004 quarterback class that is still with his current team. Big Ben, who is coming off an elbow injury that sidelined him for the Steelers' final 14 games of the 2019 season, is looking to regain the form that saw him lead the NFL in passing yards in 2018, his last healthy season.and
While Roethlisberger "praying" that Roethlisberger, the team's all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and career victories by a starting quarterback decides to retire., outside rumblings have started to surface with regard to the Steelers' current commitment level to their soon-to-be 38 year old quarterback, who is signed through the 2021 season. A specific member of the national media recently went as far as to say that there are people within the Steelers' organization that are
With that narrative apparently gaining momentum, NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala stemmed the tide by tapping into her own sources within the Steelers' building. On Wednesday morning, Kinkhabwala reported that the recent narrative surrounding Big Ben and the Steelers simply isn't true.
Only b/c @JamesBoutros asked me: #Steelers saw what life w/out Ben Roethlisberger was like last year. They believe they have a champ-caliber defense, they have no 1st rd pick and GM Kevin Colbert just signed an extension. No one is rooting for Ben to retire. Not in Pittsburgh.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) February 12, 2020
As Kinkhabwala alluded to, the Steelers were reminded of what life without a franchise quarterback is like after losing Big Ben two weeks into the 2019 season. While Mason Rudolph showed signs of promise and progression during his first several starts, he never appeared to fully recover from a concussion sustained during Pittsburgh's Week 6 loss to Baltimore. His replacement, Devlin "Duck" Hodges, also showed promise before wilting during the final three games of the season. While the Steelers, mostly on the strength of their defense, were able to put together an 8-5 record through 13 games, their lack of stability at the quarterback position ultimately led to them dropping their final three games while missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year.
Earlier this month, Steelers president Art Rooney IIthat Roethlisberger will make a full recovery from his elbow surgery. The reported goal is that Big Ben will be able to participate in the team's offseason OTAs that will begin in May. Rooney, along with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, have also expressed confidence in Rudolph, stating that he will likely be the team's No. 2 quarterback behind Roethlisberger when the regular season begins, barring injury.
With regard to the rest of the team's quarterback room, Bob Labriola of the team's official website wrote on Wednesday that it is "highly, highly likely" that the current quarterbacks on Pittsburgh's current 90-man roster -- Roethlisberger, Rudolph, Hodges, Paxton Lynch, and J.T. Barrett -- will be the quarterbacks the Steelers take with them to Latrobe when they open training camp in mid-July. And while anything can happen, it appears that, barring an unforeseen circumstance, the Steelers will not sign a quarterback in free agency or select one with one of their five draft picks. While the Steelers will have to draft Big Ben's successor at some point, it doesn't appear that 2020 will be the year that happens, given Pittsburgh's lack of a first round pick as well as their needs to address other positions (tight end, defensive line, receiver, etc.).
When the Steelers extended Roethlisberger's contract last offseason, they were committing to him being their starting quarterback through the 2021 season, barring a significant injury or decline in play. While he spent the first year of his new deal on the sideline, Big Ben will now get the chance to show the organization that he is still capable of leading them on a deep playoff run, assuming the other facets of their team are strong enough. And after watching the emergence of their defense last season, Roethlisberger is probably feeling good about the Steelers' chances in 2020, assuming that the team does some things this offseason to replenish some of the talent his offense has lost in recent seasons. The Steelers are also expecting big seasons from former Pro Bowlers James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who are both coming off injury plagued seasons and are entering the final years of their rookie contracts.
When it comes to Roethlisberger, the 17-year veteran is just one year removed from leading the NFL with 5,129 yards. The 2018 season also saw Big Ben and the Steelers' offense break a 39-year-old franchise record for touchdowns in a season. Pittsburgh's offense also led the NFL in red zone efficiency, with many of Roethsliberger's 34 touchdown passes that season coming inside the opponent's 20-yard-line. And while he did lead the league with 16 interceptions, many of those were thrown trying to get the ball to Antonio Brown, as Roethlisberger would sometimes force the ball to Brown in order to get his former All-Pro receiver going.
In terms of his ability, there was no visual evidence of a decline in Big Ben's game the last time he was healthy. While his game has certainly evolved over the years, Roethlisberger is still one of the hardest quarterbacks to bring down, a skill that has allowed him to make a bevy of big plays over the years when most other quarterbacks would have taken a sack. His football IQ is only going to get better as he continues his career while he continues to build a rapport with third year offensive coordinator, Randy Ficthner. And while his elbow injury is certainly cause for concern, the Steelers are confident that Roethlisberger will be the Big Ben of old by the time the 2020 season begins.
Eventually, like Manning in New York and Rivers with the Chargers, the Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh will come to an end. But unlike his two draft classmates, that ending won't take place in 2020, as the Steelers remain committed to their future Hall of Fame quarterback.