That’s right, future Hall of Fame QB Ben Roethlisberger returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers for another year will be bad news. I’m one of the most emotionally invested fans of the Steelers and yet I can stand behind this solid hot take. While there is little doubt that Big Ben himself can still play at a high level in 2021, his return will have major repercussions on the roster and organization.
Ben Roethlisberger Returning: A Problem for the Future?
Cheaper Options in the NFL Draft
For the last several seasons now, the NFL universe has been pondering on when exactly Ben Roethlisberger will hang up the black and gold uniform. It seemed very certain a few times, but he keeps coming back. He bounced back from a season-ending elbow injury and shed a little weight to return last year and have an impressive outing (He would have been a lock for the Comeback Player of the Year if it wasn’t for Alex Smith). This offseason, Ben once again took a long time to decide on his future but restructured his contract and will at least finish out the last year of his deal.
Is 2021 the last we see of Ben Roethlisberger on the field? 2022? 2023? Other than Tom Brady, Roethlisberger has the most skeptics on his retirement every year it seems. Similar to Brady, Ben has taken to the hometown discount money to have a solid team around him in his final years. The Pittsburgh Steelers currently have just under $9 million in available cap. Part of these funds came from heavily chopping down on the QB’s cap hit and saved around $15 million. There is still a $22.25 million cap hit from this deal that could be spent elsewhere.
Not having Ben Roethlisberger returning on the Steelers payroll would free up funds to possibly fix the offensive line, getting a solid starting running back, or adding another pass rusher. Not to mention, a rookie QB would cost at least half of what Ben costs. First-round picks make, on average, $16 million guaranteed, and second-rounders make an average of $3.75 million. 2019 first-round pick Devin Bush had just a $3.5 million cap hit as a rookie and was the 10th overall pick. Pittsburgh has the 284th pick in the coming up NFL draft and anyone selected here would have a slightly lower cap hit.
What About Mason Rudolph?
Before moving on, there has to be a mention of Mason Rudolph when speaking about the future of the Steelers. It’s been reported that many people inside the organization are Team Rudolph and it seems they won’t select a QB early in the draft. Rudolph has won nine of his 15 starts with 15 TDs and 10 INTs (over two years). Of course, there is the Myles Garrett controversy that seemingly derailed all of his momentum as a starter.
Outside of that, Rudolph has yet to show that he can be trusted with the future of the franchise. The more Ben Roethlisberger returns, the higher the chance that Pittsburgh gets stuck with Rudolph.
Roethlisberger is “predicted” to be officially done once the last year of his contract is over after the upcoming season. Mason Rudolph will be a free agent going into 2022. Dwayne Haskins could either be a nobody or a nice developmental piece. If any year was the best for Roethlisberger to step away for the good of the team, it was now. Mason Rudolph would enter a “prove it” year to win a second contract. Meanwhile, the team would bring in a talented QB prospect through the draft and have a nice training camp battle. That is how to start to rebuild and reset your team.
Instead, Ben Roethlisberger, barring another injury or playing like trash, will start at least 15 games next year. Rudolph would only see snaps in the final regular-season game if they clinch the playoffs again. Even if the Steelers do draft a decent QB, they won’t see any playing time either. Any other QBs on the roster will compete among themselves for the QB2 spot with the second and third-string teams. We don’t get to see how Rudolph can handle a full season as the starter before we decide to pay/cut him. All signs point to him getting a second contract at the end of the season right now.
While I mentioned that Roethlisberger could play like he did last year, he didn’t do that much. Yes, he is still one of the toughest men to bring to the dirt (depending on what his O-line looks like come Week One). And yes, he showed he could still throw the ball downfield and make a pass through narrow windows.
He was also one of the quickest to get the ball out of his hands. It was partly due to the game plan they had implemented. With receivers like Juju Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson, they do most of the grunt work. With the speed, there are tons of short passes, dump-offs, and screens that end up being huge plays with YAC. The WRs are a group that would help any new QB to the system get their feet wet and ease into the NFL. Add in a true three-down back and this could still be a top-level offense.
The “What Ifs” on Big Ben’s Return
So what if Ben Roethlisberger returning does succeed next year and there’s a deep playoff run or even a Super Bowl showing? He walks away afterward and the Steelers have Rudolph, who rode the bench with the clipboard in a pivotal year for him and you have Dwayne Haskins, who was outed in Washington but never had a chance to show his worth. Juju Smith-Schuster is due for a big contract along with James Washington.
One or both of them could leave and go elsewhere if there is no real QB option. Minkah Fitzpatrick and TJ Watt due money as well and are top priorities. A successful season means poor draft positioning. It’s too early to tell but the best Pittsburgh could get next year would be Bo Nix or JT Daniels.
Now, what if Ben comes back to show he’s just past his prime? You still have all of the contract issues but have a better draft position. Still, it’s too early to tell on the 2022 prospects and the defense is still good enough to keep them in close games. 7-9 would be the floor for the team and could pick around 16th overall in next year’s draft. Head Coach Mike Tomlin could feel some heat from the poor outing and you don’t want to lose your coach and franchise QB at once. If Ben struggles very badly and very early, we could at least get the live game scouting on Rudolph and Haskins.
Either way, there is no real win or right choice. 2021 should have been the blueprint for the future of the Steelers, whether good or bad. At least there was a plan though, but now those plans get delayed a year with so much on the line. Prospects like Kyle Trask and Mac Jones will be passed over for an unpredictable Mason Rudolph. Ben Roethlisberger has served the city of Pittsburgh and the state of Pennsylvania well, but you have to know the time to hang it up before you overstay your welcome.
Thanks for reading my article on Ben Roethlisberger Returning to Pittsburgh In 2021 Will Be a Fail!
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