The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been recognized as one of the truly great franchises in the National Football League. That’s what 643 total wins and 6 Super Bowl victories will earn a team over time, and the Steelers have enjoyed another stellar run for as long as Ben Roethlisberger has been employed as the team’s starting quarterback.
In recent years, talks of Roethlisberger’s potential retirement has come up on an annual basis, and many have presumed that this coming season is the final season for Big Ben in the Steel City. While the Steelers won 12 regular season games last year, one of the league’s best defense has been carrying the offense and Roethlisberger’s arm strength isn’t what it used to be.
On Tuesday, however, Steelers team president Art Rooney II made it clear that nothing is final just yet with Roethlisberger’s future.
The sound you heard in the background was the rest of the AFC rejoicing at the possibility.
The AFC would love to see Big Ben return for another year for the Steelers.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Big Ben is set to return at all. Anything is still possible for general manager Kevin Colbert to decide at the position going forward, but if ownership is involved and the powers-that-be become sentimental, then it could mean one of the league’s better franchises shooting themselves in their own foot instead of shooting for the moon of a seventh Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger has never shied away from the big throw in his career, as he’s led the league in interceptions on multiple occasions. However when arm strength is an issue, then such courage is actually a serious liability and becomes a stumbling block for the offense.
It doesn’t help that the Steelers offensive line is a shadow of what it used to be, but Roethlisberger’s average yards/attempt was a pitiful 6.3 yards last year—by far the worst mark of his career for a full season. That average was actually a bump over an injury-abbreviated 2019 campaign in which he averaged 5.7 yards/attempt in two starts.
While Big Ben is an imposing presence in the pocket, a man hard to bring down, and has proven himself over the course of nearly two decades in the league, the truth is that his ability to stretch the field is non-existent. For a team with Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool and James Washington (as well as a new second-round rookie in Pat Freiermuth at tight end), it’s not a primetime to have a quarterback with limited arm strength.
Of course, the rest of the AFC won’t mind this arrangement at all. The Steelers went 12-4 last year in the regular season because of their third-ranked defense. That’s not to say the offense was poor (12th in points in the NFL) at all. Roethlisberger, to his credit, had 33 touchdown passes—the second highest total of his career. But it’s also clear that Big Ben hit a wall last season, which is no surprise after taking so many hits, suffering so many injuries, and playing through so many long seasons.
What if Roethlisberger remains interested in returning and his numbers this season are just good enough to make the team’s leaders sentimental about putting him out to pasture? It’s the sort of slow decline that will cap the ceiling for a team at playoff appearances instead of championship hopes. And given just how good the Steelers defense is, as well as their cadre of pass catchers, the AFC would likely nod approvingly if Pittsburgh were to entertain another year with Roethlisberger under center.