Whenever Ben Roethlisberger sits down with a member of the media, we are guaranteed there will be plenty to talk about.  His recent interview with Ron Cook is no exception.  https://www.post-gazette.com/sports/ron-cook/2022/07/22/pittsburgh-steelers-training-camp-ben-roethlisberger-kenny-pickett-kevin-colbert-mike-tomlin-mitch-trubisky/stories/202207220014

One part in particular got are attention. About halfway through the interview it was brought up that certain members of management were ready to move on from Ben Roethlisberger.  Here is Roethlisberger’s exact quote from the interview:

“It was mostly Kevin (Colbert).  He was ready to move on.  I think Mike (Tomlin) was a little ready to move on, but I think he was ok with me coming back.  I think Mr. (Art) Rooney really wanted me to come back last year to play”

This quote is quite shocking to hear. There wasn’t a single person who thought anyone inside the Steelers organization wanted to move without Ben Roethlisberger in 2021.  This certainly would have had serious ramifications on last season had Kevin Colbert gotten his way. Let’s take a look at how different 2021 could have been:

Salary Cap:

Everyone knows the Steelers were in a bind over the salary cap heading into last off-season.  In fact, Roethlisberger ended up agreeing to a slight pay cut in order to help the team become cap compliant.  What wasn’t talked about enough was the team actually would have saved $19 million under the cap if they had cut Big Ben.  This added cap space would have allowed Colbert to start rebuilding by signing young free agents like he did with James Daniels this off-season.  A shrewd general manager like Colbert could have worked wonders with that kind of salary cap space.

Free agency and Trades:

It’s very unlikely the Steelers would have made any blockbuster trades like the Rams did for Matt Stafford.  The team just wasn’t ready to compete at that level in 2021.  We could have seen the team sign Mitch Trubisky one year earlier however.  And it would have cost them significantly less as Trubisky signed a one year, $2.5 million deal with the Buffalo Bills last season.  Pittsburgh would have had a pretty good idea what they had in this quarterback, and could have planned accordingly for 2022.

The Draft:

Not having Ben Roethlisberger as the starting quarterback certainly would have affected the 2021 draft for the Steelers.  This draft was far deeper at quarterback than in 2022, a fact we are sure Kevin Colbert was keenly aware of.  While Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson were unattainable, other quarterbacks were available.  Trey Lance, Justin Feilds, and even Mac Jones were certainly within striking distance for a trade up.

One can’t help but think Justin Fields is a much better fit in Matt Canada’s offense than Kenny Pickett.  He certainly was a far better prospect coming out of college.  The trade off for getting a player like Fields is of course no Najee Harris.  While many would balk at this idea, there is no question getting the right quarterback trumps any running back.

Not being forced into a quarterback in the 2022 draft opens up several possibilities as well.  The Steelers could have addressed their needs in the secondary with players like Daxton Hill or Lewis Cine.  Upgraded the line by drafting Tyler Linderbaum, or traded back and taken an almost equally talented running back like Kenneth Walker. All outcomes that would have been acceptable in this alternate reality.

Conclusion:

We railed for months that the Steelers should move on from Ben Roethlisberger during the off-season of 2021.  The Steelers made a mistake with the Ben Roethlisberger extension

We were under the impression that no one in the Steelers organization was in agreement with our opinion.  Kevin Colbert apparently shared our view that it was time to start the next chapter in Pittsburgh.  Colbert knew the 2021 draft was the time to strike if they wanted to draft the next quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He also knew there was no way he would be able to field a playoff caliber team with the salary cap restraints he had to deal with. Colbert knew all this, and his instincts from being one of the top general managers in the game led him to decide it was time to move on.

Unfortunately for this franchise, Art Rooney II is far too sentimental and over ruled Colbert’s assessment.  We will never know for sure what this team would have looked like if Ben Roethlisberger had been let go in 2021.  We do know this team has fallen behind several of it’s rivals in the AFC.  If Kenny Pickett does not pan out, this could go down as one of the worst decisions in team history.