By: Michael Stiffler, @Stiffeezy_ on Twitter
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a flurry of news hit since the end of their season, but one question remains unanswered, will Ben Roethlisberger return for his 18th NFL season? Right now the Steelers are in a very tough situation as each year could be his very last and the big problem with Roethlisberger is he carries a large cap hit of $41M in 2021. The Steelers need to devise a plan on how they will ease that burden, but with his health in question and the recent moves the Steelers have made, is it now the end?
Time & Health
Time is undefeated in the battle against any athlete and Roethlisberger is no stranger to that. In 2019 his elbow finally gave out where he was required to have season-ending surgery. In 2020 it was quite apparent that Roethlisberger’s mobility had been hampered by reported arthritic knees. Now in 2021, what can happen next to the Steelers franchise quarterback? If he plays, this will be his 18th season in the NFL and he will be the second oldest quarterback at 39 years old, only behind Tom Brady (44). Just based on appearances, you would think the opposite because during Roethlisberger’s career fitness never seemed to be a top priority. To be honest, Roethlisberger’s body gave any regular dad out there hope that they could go outside and sling the pigskin around the yard. He never seemed to care too much until the past two seasons where criticism was heavily placed on his shoulders, then he put the revenge bod in overdrive. I don’t want to discredit the thought that the offseason was more than likely a time he was recovering from injuries sustained during the NFL season. Regularly known for extending the play well beyond any coach’s comfort, he was playing backyard football which resulted in an extensive injury history as listed by Sports Injury Predictor below.
Ben Roethlisberger Injury History
|2019-09-15||Arm Elbow Tear||Roethlisberger suffered an elbow injury in Week Two against the Seattle Seahawks. He had surgery and he is expected back for the 2020 season|
|2018-12-09||Chest Rib Fracture||Roethlisberger didn't miss any games, despite dealing with cracked ribs.|
|2016-10-16||Knee Meniscus Tear||Big Ben missed just 1 game following surgery.|
|2016-01-09||Shoulder A/C Joint Sprain||Roethlisberger had an AC sprain with torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder, yet he missed 0 games.|
|2015-11-29||Head Cranial Concussion Grade 1||Roethlisberger was concussed late in the 4th quarter. He suited up the following week.|
|2015-11-08||Pedal Foot Sprain||Big Ben sprained his left foot but returned to play the following week.|
|2015-09-27||Knee MCL Sprain Grade 2||Roethlisberger took a sack at an awkward angle and had to be carted off the field.|
|2013-09-29||Hand Finger Dislocation||In Week 4, Big Ben dislocated his right index finger but continued playing.|
|2012-11-12||Chest Rib Separation||Roethlisberger separated his throwing shoulder and dislocated a rib vs. Kansas City.|
|2012-11-12||Shoulder S/C Joint Separation||Big Ben dislocated a joint in his shoulder against the Chiefs, causing him to miss the next three weeks.|
|2012-08-04||Pedal Ankle Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1||Ben sprained an ankle when an offensive lineman stepped on him.|
|2011-12-08||Pedal Ankle Sprain/Pull Unspecified Grade 1||Roethlisberger sprained his left ankle around halftime against the Browns in Week 14 but returned for the second half.|
|2011-11-13||Hand Thumb Fracture||Roethlisberger didn't miss a snap in Week 10 action vs. the Bengals.|
|2011-10-02||Pedal Foot Sprain||In Week 4 against the Texans, Roethlisberger suffered a foot sprain but played through it.|
|2010-12-05||Head Nose Fracture||Big Ben didn't miss a snap despite his injury.|
|2010-11-28||Pedal Foot Fracture||What was first thought of as a sprain turned out to be a foot fracture for Big Ben. He played the following week and didn't miss any game time.|
|2009-11-22||Head Cranial Concussion Grade 1||Roethlisberger missed 1 game with his concussion.|
|2009-08-20||Pedal Achilles Pull Grade 1||Big Ben suffered a pulled achilles against the Bengals in the preseason and missed Week 1 as a result.|
|2006-10-22||Head Cranial Concussion Grade 1||Ben took a nasty helmet to helmet hit from Chauncey Davis.|
Coaching Changes & Roster Moves
The Steelers have been signaling a big shift offensively with the recent hires over the past few seasons. The Steelers have brought in new coaches like running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, who previously worked at North Carolina State, wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard, who was previously at Buffalo and Washington, and quarterbacks coach Matt Canada, who was an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at multiple colleges before coming to Pittsburgh and specifically tasked with teaching the younger quarterbacks. Fast forward to 2021 and the Steelers have let go of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, and tight ends coach James Daniel retired. This doesn’t account for the news of Hilliard possibly departing for Detroit’s offensive coordinator position as well. Also the biggest and most confusing news was about Canada, who was reportedly interviewing for the Miami offensive coordinator role, only later to be reported he had been promoted to offensive coordinator for the Steelers. No official news of his promotion has been stated by the Steelers, but reports came out that the delay is due to the hiring of a new offensive line coach because the Steelers want to make sure they have the same vision for the running game. All in all that could bring the Steelers three new coaches or worst case scenario, five new coaches on the offensive staff. That is quite a bit of change to take into account for a 39 year old quarterback, the biggest one being Fichtner’s departure.
Roethlisberger was Fichtner’s biggest cheerleader to become the Steelers new offensive coordinator in 2018 after Todd Haley’s departure. He and Fichtner were close as Fichtner was his quarterbacks coach since 2010. It was no secret Roethlisberger had his hands all over the play calling when Fichtner took over, it was a clear indication that if the Steelers offense was going to succeed, it was going to be because of Roethlisberger’s arm. In the two years Fichtner had Roethlisberger at quarterback, the Steelers led the NFL in pass attempts completely neglecting the run game. During his tenure, the Steelers never ranked better than 29th in rushing yards and 20th in attempts (2019 Roethlisberger-less year). Now that relationship is gone and the presumed incumbent Canada doesn’t have those strong ties to Roethlisberger. Canada tried to influence the Steelers offense this season using different motions and concepts similar to that of the college game, but by the middle of the year it disappeared and turned back into Roethlisberger ball. The offense relied on Roethlisberger calling the two-minute offense. So that yields the question can he and Canada coexist? Canada’s offense is made for today’s NFL where the quarterback is mobile, out of the pocket, adding in motion and misdirection and strongly utilizing the play action game. All of these are things Roethlisberger can no longer do/dislikes, so why would the Steelers promote Canada if Roethlisberger is coming back? Shouldn’t they continue their “all-in” approach? Think about it.
The final straw comes with news of Dwayne Haskins being signed to a future’s contract. Some on the outside may look at this as another camp arm with low risk coming in similar to Paxton Lynch, but these are different circumstances. Why sign Haskins if Roethlisberger will be back and they already have Mason Rudolph? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to resign Josh Dobbs and/or draft a quarterback to be their number 3? Why would Haskins sign to a team where he is not competing immediately for a starting role? Yes in a year that could be the case but isn’t the chance the Steelers in 2022 draft a quarterback and sign a veteran more the better route? To me the Steelers offseason moves have been about great PR, as well as great moves. Now picture this, Roethlisberger retires and Rudolph is the only quarterback the Steelers have under contract. The whole city would go into a meltdown. The constant press about the need at quarterback and all the news about who could possibly end up in Pittsburgh would drive coaches crazy. Doesn’t an offseason where the Steelers have Rudolph and Haskins under contract to battle it out with a possible rookie quarterback (Trey Lance, Jamie Newman, etc.) sound much more optimistic? Too many stars are starting to align to ignore the fact that Roethlisberger might be hanging it up.
#SteelerNation what do you think, will Roethlisberger call it quits? Drop a comment below!