After 18 seasons as the Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger decided to hang up his cleats this offseason, retiring from the NFL.
In the 2004 NFL Draft, the Steelers were pleased to find Big Ben fall to the 11th spot, promptly selecting the 6-foot-5 quarterback out of Miami (OH). Six Pro Bowls, two Lombardi Trophies, and 64,008 passing yards later, he was done at the age of 40.
While Big Ben helped the team reach the playoffs in 12 of his 18 years in the league, including the last two seasons, it was clear, his arm strength and mobility were now regressing at an enormous rate, not to mention the litany of injuries the Ohio native had experienced as of late.
There’s no question Roethlisberger is among the best quarterbacks to ever put on the Steeler black and gold, but it was time for a change under center. Making the playoffs is great, but everyone in the stadium knew if the team found themselves in a shootout, Roethlisberger and the offense stood no chance of keeping up.
Perhaps this is why the Steelers essentially forced the veteran QB’s hand by sending him off into retirement instead of giving him a chance to come back for a 19th season. At least that’s the hint Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hinted at in his latest fan chat.
One fan asked the question, “Is there bad blood between the Steelers and Big Ben with how his career ended. Was he ready to retire or was it a Troy (Polamalu) type situation where he was forced into it?”
“I would say it’s very very safe to assume that.”Gerry Dulac responding to a fan inquiry about Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Well, that’s certainly an interesting take. Roethlisberger never really did get a farewell tour per se, but word did leak late in the year that he was expected to retire. Whether this came after contract extension talks during the season, or if he just saw the writing on the wall is unknown.
It’s worth noting that the Steelers did reduce Roethlisberger’s salary from $41 million down to $14 million during the 2020-21 offseason, which was a drastic change. Maybe this was an early attempt to gauge his seriousness in his annual threat to retire, hoping that he just might say goodbye.
We know now that Roethlisberger wasn’t ready to call it quits then, and it’s possible he’s still not quite fully ready, or happy with being on the sidelines now.
While we heard tons of QB rumors this offseason, one name that never came up was Roethlisberger’s. Even if he did have an interest in playing another season, it doesn’t appear as though any other team reciprocated that feeling. Or maybe he knew in his heart, that he only wanted to be a Steeler and nothing else.
Either way, the team has since moved on, but who knows, maybe Roethlisberger hasn’t?
Related: NFL insider suggests Mitch Trubisky knew Steelers might draft Kenny Pickett when he signed as a free agent
Steelers hoping to start a new dynasty with Kenny Pickett
Instead the Steelers chose to do what they did back in 2004 when they found Roethlisberger, by waiting until pick No. 20 to select Pitt’s Kenny Pickett. There’s hope he can supplant Mitchell Trubisky for the QB1 gig, but either way, there’s now a future at the QB position in Pittsburgh instead of the past standing in the pocket like a statue.
By all appearances, Pickett will receive every opportunity to earn the starting job from the start, but I don’t think anyone expects similar results from the rookie as they got out of Big Ben in his first year, going 13-0 to help the Steelers reach the AFC Conference Championship.
If Pickett can help get the Steelers back to the playoffs starting in 2023, fans should be thrilled with the outcome, but it’s not impossible to reach the postseason this year either. With Najee Harris paving the way, the Steelers offense should be much improved from a year ago, when they finished 21st in points per game.
Not to put any pressure on the kid, but Roethlisberger won his first Super Bowl in his second season, at the age of 23, Pickett is already 23 years old. Winning a Lombardi as a rookie starting quarterback has never been done in the NFL. Could Pickett become the first?
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