When Ben Roethlisberger announces his retirement, it won’t surprise anyone.
Big Ben knows it’s time, Steelers fans know it’s time, and the Steelers themselves know it’s time.
Head coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t breaking any news Tuesday when he told reporters the Steelers are operating under the assumption that their franchise QB, who completed his 18th season with the team and turns 40 in March, will be riding towards sunset.
In the wake of that development, Tomlin said the team is looking at “quarterback development” in the future.
The Steelers currently have backup quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins on their roster.
Ruduloph, who has been with the franchise since 2018 and served as the Steelers’ primary backup since 2019, is under contract through 2022. He is projected to earn just over $4 million next season. In 17 games, Rudolph has 16 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, a 61.5 completion percentage and 2,366 passing yards. He is 5–4–1 in the 10 games he started for the Steelers over three seasons.
Haskins, originally drafted 15th overall by Washington, was signed last offseason by Pittsburgh after a tumultuous two-year stint in the nation’s capital. He didn’t see the field of play in 2021. He will be a restricted free agent this offseason.
Are any of them in line to succeed Big Ben?
“They’ll have to prove that,” Tomlin told reporters. “Not only in the process of developing the team, but also through the game. They will have a chance to establish themselves.”
In the Steelers’ search for their next QB, Tomlin reiterated that “quarterback mobility is valued.”
Neither Rudolph nor Haskins are perceived as dual-threat quarterbacks.
So if Tomlin and the Steelers aren’t satisfied with none of their backups being elevated to a full-time role, what’s the team’s next move?
The NFL Draft?
Here’s a look at your options and top candidates.
If the Steelers were to trade in the Draft, one target they might seriously consider would be Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral.
In addition to throwing for 3,349 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2021, Corral rushed 152 times for 614 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Corral is widely projected to be a top 10 pick in next year’s draft, so Pittsburgh would have to find a way to move up and select him.
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, who played at Heinz Field with the Panthers, could also be one of the best options for Pittsburgh. He ranked in the top 10 in passing yards (4,319) and touchdowns (42) last season and also rushed 97 times for 241 yards and five touchdowns.
It’s unclear if Pittsburgh will move up in the draft to take a quarterback. But given the prowess of those two signal-callers, they would be prime targets for the Steelers.
Free agency or trade
The Steelers currently have Rudolph under contract for one more season, although Haskins will be a restricted free agent this summer. Will they go after another quarterback in free agency or via trade?
It will be a challenge. Russell Wilson is a player who can be on the trade block, though Pittsburgh will likely have to give up several first-rounders in order to get him.
No matter what the Steelers do, they’re unlikely to abandon Rudolph or Haskins, according to NFL.com insider Ian Rapoport. Pittsburgh doesn’t plan to move on to a big-name free agent, according to this report, or draft a first-round sign-caller, indicating they’re satisfied with their backups.
What will Roethlisberger do?
Though he hasn’t officially hung up his shoes, Roethlisberger strongly indicated after the Steelers’ 42-21 wild-card loss to the Chiefs on Sunday that he might.
“It’s tough, but I’m proud to play with these guys,” Roethlisberger said. “God has blessed me with the ability to throw a football and He has blessed me to play in the best city, in Pittsburgh, with the best fans and the best football team and players. It has truly been a blessing. I am so Grateful. with him for giving me this opportunity.
Roethlisberger has had a terrific career for the Steelers, winning two Super Bowl championships and making the Pro Bowl six times. He also led the league in passing yards in 2014 and 2018 and was valued for his durability, playing at least 12 regular-season games in all but one of his 18 seasons.
If the Steelers and Roethlisberger part ways, it will be the end of a great era for the franchise. Whoever replaces him will have big shoes to fill.