Now that we are over the initial shock of Ben Roethlisberger being lost for the season, it’s time to think about what happens now. Generally, backup quarterbacks tend to struggle in the NFL. Add to this the fact that Mason Rudolph has about two quarters of experience in the league, and its not far fetched to think this could be a lost season. Judging by the recent trading of their first round pick, Mike Tomlin and company would disagree. Clearly they feel this team will continue to be competitive without their Hall of Fame quarterback.
So if the Steelers brass is right, and Mason Rudolph goes on to have a great season……then what? What if he plays really well and the team makes a playoff run? Ben Roethlisberger has made it very clear he intends to come back for the 2020 season and beyond. If thats the case, we then have the makings of a full blown quarterback controversy for next season. At first thought, you would say the team automatically gives Big Ben his starting job back. After all, we are talking about a two time Super Bowl champion, and sure fire Hall of Fame player here. The flip side of this however is they only have Mason Rudolph under contract for two more seasons, and now they would be wasting one (or both) of those with him on the bench. In today’s NFL, about how long would it take for Rudolph to start making trade demands?
This bings us to option B, the Steelers could choose to trade one of them and possibly recoup a first round pick. But which one? Going on the premise that Mason Rudolph is coming off a successful season, can Kevin Colbert risk trading away the next franchise quarterback in favor of the old one? With so many talented young players, it would seem logical to stick with the young quarterback and build from there. If they did decide to trade Roethlisberger, it would go against everything this team has done up to now. Whether its siding with him against AB (before we knew AB was crazy), or firing Todd Haley, this front office is squarely in Roehtlisberger’s corner. It would be quite a departure for them to then go ahead and trade a player the team has been so loyal to up to now. Then there’s an ugly cap hit situation to deal with once again. Trading Big Ben would leave the team with $25 million in dead cap money. That would be two years in a row with a huge dead cap hit to contend with. Roethlisberger is scheduled to have a cap hit of $33 milllion however. If the team did end up making a trade, the Steelers would have eight million more to spend for 2020. It’s not ideal, but it is very similar to the Antonio Brown situation where the team is not totally handcuffed by a move like this.
The most likely outcome to the 2019 season is that Mason Rudolph struggles and the team ends up at 8-8 or worse. In that scenario, Ben comes back to his starting role next year and nobody bats an eye. If Mason Rudolph gets hot, and this team does the unthinkable by making the playoffs, prepare for some fireworks in the off-season. Why should next off-season be different than any other in Pittsburgh lately?