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Examining Whether Ben Roethlisberger’s Window Is Closing

By Zach Metkler of GZ Sports Report, special to The Point of Pittsburgh

What seems like a lifetime ago, Big Ben on draft day in 2004 Chris Trotman/Getty Images

What seems like a lifetime ago, Big Ben on draft day in 2004
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Ever since entering the league in 2004, Ben Roethlisberger has seen all the highs and lows that a player (especially a quarterback) can experience. Although he has not always received recognition for it, Big Ben has consistently been among the best quarterbacks in the league. Let me run off his career resume for you:

  • 2004 Offensive Rookie of the Year (AP, Diet Pepsi, PFWA, SN)
  • 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie of the Year
  • 2004 Joe Greene Great Performance Award
  • Youngest starting QB to win a Super Bowl at 23 years old
  • Most regular season wins in a season for a rookie QB (13 wins)
  • Longest regular season win streak to start a career for an NFL QB (15 games)
  • Most wins as a starting QB in 1st 5 NFL regular seasons (51 wins between 2004-2008)
  • Highest completion percentage for a rookie quarterback (66.4%)
  • Highest single-game completion percentage for a rookie quarterback (84.0%)
  • Most games with a completion percentage of 70.0% or higher as a rookie quarterback (6 games)
  • Most games with a completion percentage of 80.0% or higher as a rookie quarterback (4 games)
  • Most touchdown passes during a Monday Night Football game (5)
  • First quarterback to start 2 Conference Championship games in first 2 NFL seasons (2004 & 2005)
  • Second quarterback in NFL history (along with Peyton Manning) to register 3 “Perfect Games” during the regular season, and the only quarterback to ever register 2 “Perfect Games” in 1 regular season
  • Second-youngest quarterback to win 2 Super Bowls
  • Second-fewest attempts by a quarterback to reach 25,000 passing yards (3,109; Kurt Warner is first with 3,076)
  • Fourth-fewest starts by a quarterback to reach 80 regular season wins (113 starts; behind Tom Brady, Roger Staubach, and Ken Stabler)
  • Fourth-fewest starts by a quarterback to reach 100 regular season wins (150 starts; behind Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Terry Bradshaw)
  • Only player in NFL history to throw for 500+ yards in two different games
  • Most passing touchdowns over a 2-game span (12 touchdown passes)
  • First quarterback to throw 6 touchdowns in consecutive games
  • 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers Team MVP
  • 4x Pro Bowler (2007, 2011, 2014, 2015)
  • 3x AFC Champion (2005, 2008, 2010)
  • 2x Super Bowl Champion (XL, XLIII)
  • 2014 NFL Passing Yards Co-Leader
  • 2015 AFC Completion Percentage Leader
  • 3x “Perfect Game” (9/11/05, 11/5/07, 12/20/07)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Leader in Career Wins, Passing Touchdowns, Passing Yards, Pass Attempts, Pass Completions

I think you get the point.

For whatever reason, Ben Roethlisberger is consistently snubbed from top 5 elite quarterback billing. Names like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, and formerly Peyton Manning have always been considered to be better than Big Ben. Truth be told, the only names that are truly above Roethlisberger are Brady and Manning, both of which are all-time greats. Outside of that, Rodgers has been the near-consensus pick as the top quarterback in the league. So as it currently stands, Rodgers and Brady are #1 and #2, respectively. Of the remaining quarterbacks in the league, none are as decorated and accomplished as Big Ben.

Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images

Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images

Through the first few years of his career, Roethlisberger was considered to be the future of the quarterback position in the NFL. While he has certainly done his part, he has never seemed to be considered in the upper echelon of NFL stardom. But very few players in the league mean as much to their teams success as Ben Roethlisberger means to the Steelers. Whenever Todd Haley took over as the Steelers offensive coordinator in 2012, Big Ben’s career truly skyrocketed. After a bumpy start, Haley and Roethlisberger have really meshed to help form arguably the best offense in the league. With the additions of players like Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, and an extremely underrated offense line, Big Ben has had pieces around him unlike any others he has had with him at any time in his career.

That’s even with two Super Bowl championship teams.

The Steelers have always been known for their stellar defenses, but after the retirement of their core nucleus the offense has been the unit that has carried the Steelers. When healthy, Roethlisberger has been the catalyst for the team. When he isn’t on the field, the Steelers are clearly a different team. Before the 2015 season, Big Ben signed a 5-year contract extension to remain with the Steelers through the 2019 season, likely making him a Steeler for life. If Roethlisberger can remain healthy, he should continue to play at a high level, considering that at 34-years old he is playing some of the best football of his career. But what if that doesn’t happen?

Best Case Scenario:

After averaging 328.2 yards per game last season (the highest average in the NFL last year and the 3rd highest per game average in a single season in NFL history), Big Ben will continue his offensive dominance in 2016 and make a 3rd consecutive Pro Bowl after staying healthy for all 16 games and finally eclipsing the 5,000 passing yards mark for the 1st time in his career. With his offensive nucleus intact and healthy in 2016, Big Ben leads the Steelers through the regular season and playoffs and back to the Super Bowl. After shaky individual performances during his previous Super Bowl appearances, Big Ben brings home a 3rd Lombardi Trophy in 4 tries and receives his first Super Bowl MVP. To much approval from Steelers and fans alike, the Steelers are able to re-sign all of their offensive priorities over the next two offseasons: Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, David DeCastro, and Markus Wheaton, keeping their core offensive nucleus together for the remainder of Roethlisberger’s contract.

During the 2017 season, the Steelers make the playoffs yet again as the #3 seed before losing in the AFC Divisional Round to the revamped Oakland Raiders. Over the following three seasons, the Steelers are able to win 2 AFC North titles and make the Super Bowl one more time, with the Big Three intact and healthy and as Big Ben shows little fall off as a player until the 2019 season, where he begins to start playing like a quarterback that is 37 years old.

That Super Bowl comes during the 2018 season, as young defensive players like Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, and Ryan Shazier have finally hit their strides as elite players, giving the Steelers one of the most well-rounded rosters in team history. Big Ben becomes the oldest quarterback to throw for 5,000 yards in a season while being a 1st-Team All-Pro. The Steelers are able to bring home the 8th Lombardi in team history and gives Big Ben his 4th ring, only further adding to his Hall of Fame resume and solidifying him as a 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Over the remainder of his career with the Steelers, Big Ben is able to stay mostly healthy, missing no more than a a handful of games over the entirety of his contract. Instead of dragging out a career in its twilight like so many players do, Big Ben decides after his contract expires to retire as a Steeler and ride off into the sunset on top: much like long-time tight end Heath Miller did. Come 2024, Big Ben receives a gold jacket and a bust in Canton on his first try.

Photo by Doug Mills/New York Times

Photo by Doug Mills/New York Times

Worst Case Scenario:

Much like the 2015 season, Big Ben spends more time on the bench than what most fans would be comfortable with. After another injury to center Maurkice Pouncey and Le’Veon Bell, Big Ben is left running for his life on most plays with porous line play from backup center Cody Wallace and an ineffective run game with the aging DeAngelo Williams and a surprisingly disappointing Fitzgerald Toussaint. During Week 9’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens, Roethlisberger takes a blow to the knee by outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, quickly ending Big Ben’s season after MRI’s show a torn ACL. With Landry Jones taking over the reins and without Bell, the Steelers limp to the end of the season with only an easy schedule helping them. After finishing 8-8, the Steelers miss the playoffs after finishing 3rd in the AFC North. During the offseason, the Steelers are unable to re-sign Le’Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton and release Martavis Bryant after a 3rd consecutive season due to a suspension. With all of the holes on offense, the Steelers swing and miss on a number of offensive prospects during the 2017 draft.

In the 2017 season, Roethlisberger doesn’t seem to be the same quarterback as before, showing age after tearing his ACL. He remains the Steelers fearless leader but has clearly lost some step to his game. With Roethlisberger beginning to show his age and the Steelers on a downward trajectory, Antonio Brown leaves for greener pastures, signing a mega-deal with the hated Bengals in an attempt to finally have a Super Bowl championship next to his name. With the upcoming quarterback draft classes being unusually weak, the Steelers pull the trigger on their quarterback of the future during the 2018 NFL Draft in the form of University of Washington quarterback Jake Browning to begin learning under Big Ben with the window closing quicker than most would expect.

During the 2018 season, Roethlisberger misses more time due to a shoulder injury in his throwing arm, forcing the Steelers to throw their rookie quarterback into action. While Browning has the pedigree of a top quarterback prospect, his underwhelming arm strength becomes evident when he’s forced into action as a rookie. After losing three straight games, Big Ben rushes back onto the field in typical fashion to help stop the season from spinning out of control. This leads to Roethlisberger further injuring his shoulder on his throwing arm, suffering a torn rotator cuff. The season spirals out of control, and the Steelers suffer their 1st sub-.500 season under Mike Tomlin, finishing with a horrid record of 5-11 and obtaining a top 5 pick. With a top 5 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Steelers have to make a decision if they want to try to replace All-Pro Antonio Brown and remain patient with their young quarterback or pull the trigger on the top quarterback in the draft. With Big Ben entering the last year of his contract, the Steelers choose to look elsewhere to help their team and hope that they can be successful with one more season with Big Ben making the calls. Big Ben is able to stay healthy during his final season with the Steelers but injuries, age, and a lack of weapons has shown to be too much for the signal-caller to overcome. The Steelers finish 7-9 on the season, with Roethlisberger deciding to call it quits with his body wearing away. With the Steelers having 3 consecutive subpar seasons, Mike Tomlin is firmly on the hot seat and the Steelers are left trying to put together some semblance of a team to compete now. Unfortunately, it isn’t meant to be.

Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

What Will Likely Happen:

I am a firm believer that Ben Roethlisberger will have about three more effective years left in the tank for the Steelers. The biggest factor in his longevity will be his health. If Big Ben can stay healthy and play close to 16 games per season over the remainder of his contract, it is not fiction to believe that he could play until he was 40. But will Roethlisberger really stay healthy for a full season every year? History indicates no. In 12 regular seasons, Roethlisberger has played a full 16 games only 3 times (although 2 of those seasons have been during the past 3 years due to Todd Haley’s new offense designed to have Big Ben get rid of the ball quickly). During his career, Roethlisberger has played in no less than 11 games, which was last season. With that being said, it is definitely a crapshoot to determine how healthy he will remain. My gut tells me that he will have dings along the way, but will slowly decline come the 2018 season.

The Steelers win and lose based on the success and health of Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben might not be the Steelers best offensive player anymore; those honors belong to Antonio Brown or maybe Le’Veon Bell. But there is no question who the Steelers most valuable player is: Ben Roethlisberger. The NFL is a quarterback driven league and the position is arguably the hardest position to find a replacement for. After Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers had a number of starting quarterbacks that were decent, but anything from special. With the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Steelers took a chance on a small school quarterback from Ohio, even though many people thought he would not succeed at the next level. Twelve years later, he has certainly proved his doubters wrong. Hopefully the Steelers can continue to have his production for the next few seasons. If they can, the Steelers will surely bring home another Lombardi Trophy to the Steel City.

The window is certainly closing. But for now, it is still open.

Check out this article on GZ Sports Report

For future updates, follow me on Twitter at @GZSports_ZM and follow GZ Sports Report at @GZSportsReport or on Twitter at @GZSportsReport

About Zach Metkler (5 Articles)
Zach is a Steelers contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the co-founder and co-owner of GZ Sports Report, where he is the lead Steelers writer. A senior at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, Zach is a pre-medical student double majoring in Neuroscience and Psychology while also playing offensive line for the football team. He can be contacted via Twitter @GZSports_ZM.

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