By: Tayyib Abu
The fabled draft of 2004 spawned three of the great quarterback careers of the modern era. Eli Manning took the Giants to two Super Bowl championships. At the same time, Philip Rivers established himself as a gunslinging ironman.
Lastly, Ben Roethlisberger took the reigns in Pittsburgh to become the franchise quarterback of the fabled Steelers. The former two players are now retired, and after last years offensive struggles and playoff defeat, questions surrounded Roethlisberger.
Big Ben is coming back into 2021 with a restructured contract; however, at 39-years-old, Roethlisberger is not the long-term solution in Pittsburgh. The Steelers made a mistake in last week’s draft by not drafting a rookie quarterback. The franchise is in choppy waters regarding the most crucial position in the sport.
The State of the Steelers Quarterback Room
Roethlisberger’s 2020 season was a myopic existence of caution. Despite the talented core of receivers, Roethlisberger played inconsistently and conservatively.
Roethlisberger’s intended air yards were a low 6.9 yards, which suggests that he is not throwing much beyond the line of scrimmage. That 2020 number is a drop from 2018, where Roethlisberger’s intended air yards was 7.8.
In a team where the running game is mediocre, the 2020 number is not justifiable. Moreover, in a conference with Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Pittsburgh will get left behind in the AFC arms race with that type of production from Roethlisberger.
Moreover, a look at Roethlisberger’s next-gen passing chart for 2020 underlines how mediocre his passing production was. In all but three passing quadrants, Roethlisberger performed at an average or below-average level. At his age, that won’t improve.
As for Mason Rudolph, his career has suggested nothing but a ceiling of a career backup. Rudolph’s been a Steeler for three seasons. Therefore, if the organization truly believed in him, he’d be the starter.
So the state of the quarterback room is this; an aging veteran is getting worse; meanwhile, the other notable quarterback is a backup. For a team that prides itself on stability, that is an unstable position.
Drafting a Rookie Quarterback Made Sense for Pittsburgh
On the contrary, there were still several attractive quarterback prospects in the mid-rounds of the draft. Davis Mills and Ian Book got drafted by the Texans and Saints, respectively. Pittsburgh should’ve considered selecting one of these players.
The franchise knows what they possess with their current quarterbacks. The opportunity to evaluate and develop a rookie signal-caller is too good to ignore when your quarterback is 39-years-old.
It also provides flexibility to the team. If Roethlisberger was to get hurt, there is a different proposition for Pittsburgh. It is more exciting than Rudolph and another journeyman player. Plus, this year’s quarterback class boasted a ton of depth.
It may not be the case next year. With the Steelers perennially picking late, the opportunity to take Roethlisberger’s successor may not arise in future years. It would’ve been a low-risk, high-reward move for Pittsburgh. If it didn’t work out, then that’s ok; if it did, they found their franchise future.
The path they are treading instead is shrouded in mystery; there is no insurance policy for the club if Roethlisberger quits. That is a scary place to be in a division where the other three teams are set with their quarterbacks. The Steelers aren’t.
Letting a young quarterback learn and develop away from the spotlight is the most brilliant move a team can make. It alleviates pressure from everyone involved. Instead, the Steelers are riding solo into 2021 with a franchise quarterback that may retire.