The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Ben Roethlisberger to a contract extension in April of 2019, extending their franchise quarterback through the 2021 season.  This is a decision Kevin Colbert and company may ultimately regret.  Roethlisberger is coming off major elbow surgery, and his status for the 2020 season is still very much in doubt.  A much anticipated doctor’s visit at the end of February will give the Steelers a clearer picture on where their quarterback stands in his recovery.  Needless to say the Steelers entire 2020 season hinges on that 37 year old elbow.

The no extension scenario:

The Steelers sat at a crossroads at the end of the 2018 season.  The end of the “Killer B’s” era was a forgone conclusion at this point.  Le’Veon Bell had sat out the entire season, while Antonio Brown was busy shooting his way out of Pittsburgh.  The team had missed the playoffs for the first time in years, it was all a mess.  There seemed to be no better time to blow things up, and start all over. (It’s time for the Steelers to blow it up)

Trading Ben Roethlisberger at the end of the 2018 would have made all the sense in the world.  After all, they couldn’t manage an appearance in the Super Bowl with the likes of Bell and Brown, how could they expect to get there without them?  Teams like the Redskins, Buccaneers, and Broncos would have fallen over themselves to acquire a quarterback like Roehtlisberger.  

Imagine this scenario.  Instead of the package the Steelers sent to Denver to move up in the draft to select Devin Bush, just trade Roethlisberger straight up for the tenth overall pick.  Taking it a step further, how does a first round with Bush and Noah Fant sound?  The Broncos took Fant with the Steelers original first round pick.  Filling two glaring holes,  while hanging on to their second round pick is a pretty favorable outcome. It’s not as far fetched as it may seem considering Broncos president John Elway’s love of established veteran quarterbacks.

As far as the quarterback situation goes, well that gets better as well.  Assuming the Steelers stuck with the notion that Mason Rudolph was a viable option at quarterback, the team was unlikely to add more then a veteran backup type for 2019.  Without the Roethlisberger extension, the team would be free of his $33.5 million dollar cap hit for 2020.  What that in turn means the Steelers could basically afford to sign any of the free agent quarterbacks available this off-season.  Players like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Teddy Bridgewater, are just a few of the stellar names to choose from.

The easy way out:

Finding a quarterback good enough to win the Super Bowl is hard.  When you have one, it’s even harder to let that player go.  This is the situation the Steelers found themselves in last off-season.  In fairness, Big Ben was coming off a career year in passing yards and touchdowns in 2018.  In a vacuum that alone would merit a huge contract extension.  Who wouldn’t want to lock up a quarterback coming off a 5,000 yard, 34 touchdown season?

Dig deeper though, and the warning signs were there.  Roethlisberger’s deep ball had been failing him for some time.  He was at one time one of the best throwing the long ball, but there was a clear decline in this part of his game.  There was some evidence that they throwing arm wasn’t what it had been in the past.  Whether they thought it was injury, or just the gradual decline in age, there was still reason for concern.  Another concern was despite those impressive numbers in 2018, Roethlisberger threw a near career high 16 interceptions.  Turnovers were something that he had really buttoned up in the second half of his career.

Then there was the overall state of the team.  Pittsburgh was about to lose their two biggest offensive weapons in Bell and Brown.  There is no way the team could reasonably expect Roethlisberger to come close to repeating those numbers again in his career.  Especially when you consider how big a part Antonio Brown played in the overall success of the offense.  It was inevitable that some kind of downturn was coming, why not let the last year of the contract play out to see where he stood?

In hindsight, it is easy to say the Ben Roehtlisberger contract extension was a mistake.  The fact remains however that this was a risky move when it was made.  Giving a thirty eight year old quarterback a thirty-plus million per year contract has numerous pitfalls.  One of those is the increased risk of injury, which the team now faces.  It’s clear Kevin Colbert had hoped to squeeze one more Super Bowl run before he or Roehtlisberger moved on. (Do the Steelers have a two year plan?)  This upcoming season will be the last chance for the Steelers brass to justify this contract.  The odds are stacked heavily against them in the hopes of one last Super Bowl title.