Fear not, Steelers fans. Big Ben isn't going anywhere, yet.
His comments Tuesday about being unsure about what next season holds, about needing time to assess his career and life and then make a decision about football are the sounds of a superstar quarterback decompressing from another demanding season and struggling with the hollow feeling after a decisive loss at New England in the AFC Championship Game. Ben Roethlisberger further cemented himself in Steelers and NFL lore with another strong season. Pittsburgh marched deep into the playoffs for the first time in a while and that offense will be even more loaded with talent around him in 2017.
This is Ben being Ben.
He's venting a little, and he is entitled to. Drama tends to follow him, and much like the hoopla with some of his injury scares, this will add to the Roethlisberger mythology and give the football world offseason fodder. But inside that team headquarters and locker room, no one is flipping out. The Steelers aren't all of a sudden doubling down on evaluating college quarterbacks for the draft or fretting over windows closing. The future Hall of Famer is less than two years into a massive contract extension, he's certainly healthy and he isn't done chasing another Lombardi Trophy yet. Not by a long shot.
So when he let off some steam on CBS Radio's 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, it didn't come as a total shock.
"I'm going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options," Roethlisberger said during his weekly call in to "The Cook and Poni" show. "To consider health, and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there's going to be a next season ... I'm going to take some time and evaluate with my family and just do a lot of praying about it and make sure it's the right thing for me and my family."
It raised an eyebrow or two, but while those remarks are getting traction nationwide, it was some of Roethlisberger's other thoughts that had ears burning among those close to the team. The fact that Big Ben opined about the Steelers being outcoached and some of his discussion of the play-calling from offensive coordinator Todd Haley was what had people there talking.
That relationship, which grew to be very strong by training camp last season after a feeling-out process, has been a little more bumpy the past two seasons. There have been some blow-ups mostly undetected by cameras on Sundays and there has been a simmering undercurrent of tension between QB and OC.
The offense was not as consistent or robust as some expected, internally and outside the facility, and at times it seemed to take off most in do-or-die situations -- like the fourth-quarter comeback over Baltimore in a must-win Week 16 game -- when they went no-huddle, hurry-up with Roethlisberger orchestrating a lot of the blueprint from the huddle or improvising on the go.
So, when the topic on the radio turned to the play-calling around the goal line against the Patriots, and the fact Haley didn't call on the hulking quarterback to try to lean the ball in for a score the way, say, Tom Brady always seems to do, people were paying close attention to how the quarterback responded.
"I have no problem sneaking," Roethlisberger said. "I think my sneak percentage ... is pretty successful, in the high 90s. We've done it before. I've never, ever in my life expressed not wanting to do it, I have no problem doing it, I would have done it three or four times in a row if we had to. The plays come in from Coach Haley and I call them."
It's hardly the most explosive stuff, pretty innocuous on the surface. But given the way this relationship has played out the past few seasons, it seemed laced by some with a little more intent. The fact Roethlisberger made the comments a little while before Mike Tomlin's season-ending news conference didn't go unnoticed, either.
If you recall, Roethlisberger, who turns 35 in March (hardly geriatric territory in modern quarterbacking age), was less than thrilled about the Steelers discarding his former coordinator, Bruce Arians, in the first place. And he didn't exactly throw his arms around Haley upon his arrival. Perhaps, Big Ben was giving Tomlin some food for thought. Tuesday's radio remarks also further obscure Roethlisberger's up-and-down play this season, particularly his struggles on the road (he had 20 touchdown to five interceptions at home with a rating of 116.7; only nine touchdowns to eight interceptions on the road with a 78.4 rating). This was hardly his greatest season, though some of his best have come with Haley on board.
As great as Ben is, you can't have a player dictating your staff, even if it is passive-aggressive. And Tomlin isn't the kind of guy to take a change like that lightly. Haley has done an excellent job of massaging egos and keeping his bevy of stars relatively content with their roles and opportunities.
The last time the Steelers shook things up around Ben it took him well outside his comfort zone, it was when they picked Haley to replace Arians in the first place, but you're going to be hard pressed to upgrade at that spot now. I wouldn't be shuffling coordinators in late January under these circumstances. If Martavis Bryant is suspension-free next season and Ladarius Green can stay remotely healthy, this offense should be primed to be even more explosive next season.
I wouldn't expect a shake-up -- even if privately that might be what Roethlisberger would want to hear. I especially wouldn't expect an abrupt retirement announcement from the quarterback anytime soon. His deal included a record sum of money in the first three years, and he is signed through 2019. I'd wager far more money on this not being Roethlisberger's final contract with the Steelers than I would on his impending departure. Time will tell if Haley is along with him for the entire ride.