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USA Today

It had to end sometime, and after 18 seasons and 272 games, the Pittsburgh Steelers will finally begin life after Ben Roethlisberger. The future Hall of Fame quarterback all but confirmed his plans to retire following the Steelers' 42-21 loss to the Chiefs in the AFC wild card round on Sunday night, thus ending one of more memorable runs in franchise annals. 

Postgame questions were largely focused on Roethlisberger's career and enduring legacy in Pittsburgh. But there were also questions on the short-term future of the quarterback position. Defensive captain Cam Heyward discussed both the past and future when asked about Roethlisberger and the quarterback position moving forward. 

"Ever since I got here, we've had a guy in 7 that gave you a chance," said Heyward, who came to the Steelers in 2011. "When you started the season, you said, 'That's a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. There's not a lot of quarterbacks that can do what he does, to do it at that high of a level.

"Starting next year, we'll see. That's the front office. I know we've got great scouting, so we'll see what happens."

Diontae Johnson flourished this season as the Steelers' No. 1 receiver, with 107 receptions for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. Like Heyward, Johnson alluded to the Steelers bringing in outside help when he was asked about Pittsburgh's quarterback situation. 

"It's going to be different," Johnson said. "Obviously, whoever they bring in, we've got to get that connection down, right away. … It's just starting over. Whoever they bring in, we're going to work." 

It seems clear that the Steelers will bring in competition. That being said, one would expect that Mason Rudolph will get the chance to compete for the job after spending most of the last four years as Roethlisberger's backup. Johnson spoke glowingly when asked about Rudolph, who went 5-3 as Pittsburgh's starting quarterback in 2019 when Roethlisberger missed most of the year with an injury. 

"Mason's a great player, a great quarterback," Johnson said. "He's smart. Playing with him my rookie year, he's shown that he can win us games. In those tough moments, he can make plays. He's relaxed. When he was on the sideline this year, he was always on it, telling us what to look for, what coverages [defenses] mostly were in. Just throwing out plays where we could beat certain coverages. 

"He's a great player. I'm sure he's going to work his tail off to compete for the starting job. I'm pulling for him." 

Regardless of who is at quarterback, the Steelers will have to surround them with enough pieces to have success. The Steelers will certainly look to make upgrades to an offensive line that struggled to consistently protect Roethlisberger in 2021. Pittsburgh will also have to make personnel decisions at receiver, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud set to enter free agency. 

The cupboard won't be empty for the next quarterback, however, as the Steelers' offense next season is expected to include Johnson, fellow receiver Chase Claypool, tight end Pat Freiermuth and running back Najee Harris, who this season broke rookie franchise records set by Le'Veon Bell and Franco Harris. 

Pittsburgh's offense will be complemented by a defense that includes two All-Pros in Heyward and T.J. Watt, who is the front-runner to win Defensive Player of the Year after tying Michael Strahan's single-season sack record. The Steelers also have one of the league's best kickers in Chris Boswell and one of NFL's most consistent coaches in Mike Tomlin, who has never had a losing season in 15 years in Pittsburgh.