The 2020 campaign will go down as a big “What If?” for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With long-time leader Ben Roethlisberger returning from an elbow injury that sidelined him for all but a game and a half in 2019, the Steelers rolled to an 11-0 start only to lose five of their last six games, including an embarassing wild-card loss to the rival Browns.
Three days removed from the stunning defeat — Pittsburgh’s fourth one-and-done postseason trip in seven seasons — coach Mike Tomlin addressed the need for change.
“It has been a disappointment. I’m not going to maintain status quo and hope the outcome changes. That’s the definition of insanity,” he said, per ESPN.
For 17 seasons, Big Ben has embodied the “status quo” within the organization. But, after turning in a career playoff-worst four interceptions on Sunday night, questions surrounding his viability moving forward will naturally begin to materialize.
Roethlisberger, who turns 39 on March 2, performed well for the bulk of the season before ending it in subpar fashion. After completing 68% of his throws and compiling 18 TD to four INT in Week 1-9, those numbers dipped to 63.4%, 15 and six, respectively, in Weeks 10-16. The Steelers rested him in the regular season finale against Cleveland.
Tomlin admitted there was a “high-level of concern” regarding Roethlisberger’s health and ability coming into 2020 but added that he “can’t say enough” about the year Big Ben had. With that in mind, Tomlin didn’t rule out the possibility that his QB1 will play out his 18th season in the black and gold.
“I don’t have a clear assessment of the overall depth of the cap ramifications, but I think it’s reasonable to assume there’s a chance he’ll be back, certainly,” Tomlin said.
The offseason will likely be filled with its fair share of cap gymnastics for GM Kevin Colbert. With the cap situation expected to be in flux for many teams, Pittsburgh must figure out whether it can retain some of its younger pieces in free agency. JuJu Smith-Schuster , James Conner and the injured Bud Dupree are among those who can land elsewhere in the coming months.
Per Over The Cap, Roethlisberger carries a $41.25M cap hit heading into the 2021 campaign, the last of his current deal. Considering his age and injury history, as well as the team’s financial situation, an extension doesn’t seem likely, meaning a tough decision could be ahead once the team pores through its evaluations.
“We haven’t made any decisions about any personnel along those lines,” he said. “We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of what 2021 looks like in the makeup of our team.”
With the sting of a season-ending loss still rather fresh, it’s fair to see why such discussions have yet to begin. But once they do, deciding Roethlisberger’s future, the duration of which is uncertain, will be at the top of the list.
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