At the conclusion of the 2020 season, whenever that ends, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have some extremely difficult decisions to make when it comes to the personnel they deploy on a weekly basis.
Will the team be able to bring back JuJu Smith-Schuster?
What will the team do with Bud Dupree coming off an ACL injury?
Will aging veterans like Alejandro Villanueva be told their services are no longer needed?
All of these story lines, and many more, are extremely important to the team moving forward, but none is larger than what the organization will do at the quarterback position.
The Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger under contract for the 2021 season, and he has a ridiculous $41.25 salary cap hit next season. As the saying goes, you can kick the can down the road, but eventually you have to pick it up. That is exactly what the Steelers have done with Roethlisberger’s contracts, and restructured deals. You eventually will have to pick up the tab, or pay a ridiculous dead cap hit if you decide to part ways.
It isn’t as if options don’t exist for the Steelers, but most of the options aren’t the most appealing. The Steelers could sign Roethlisberger to an extension, lowering his cap hit for the 2021 season, or they could play out his current contract and eat the $40 million cap hit and decide to part ways with Roethlisberger, one way or another, at the end of the 2021 campaign.
What about the future of the position? Everyone knows Roethlisberger isn’t the long-term option for the Steelers, and you have to wonder if the organization might make a move, of some kind, this offseason to help pave the way for the future at the quarterback position.
That is exactly what the story from ESPN Senior Writer Jeremy Fowler outlines as an NFL executive suggests the Steelers could make a trade with the New York Jets to obtain Sam Darnold.
Take a look at what the article has to say:
Steelers trade for Sam Darnold, keep Ben Roethlisberger for one more year
The Steelers’ offensive struggles over the past month have brought Roethlisberger’s future with the franchise into focus.
To be sure, the team does not believe the 38-year-old Roethlisberger is done. As one team source told me, the same quarterback won the first 11 games before a screeching three-game skid. And Big Ben got hot in the second half of Sunday’s 28-24 win over Indianapolis.
Defenses figured out the Steelers’ short passing game and the offense had trouble adjusting. That’s not all on Roethlisberger, who has battled knee issues this year.
But the team knows something was off, and multiple execs wonder if Roethlisberger’s skill set has diminished slightly.
The Steelers have a major decision to make this offseason: Extend a quarterback turning 39 in March or carry a massive $41.25 million cap hit on the last year of Roethlisberger’s current deal.
Neither decision would shock, considering the team’s loyalty to Roethlisberger. The cleanest path, one NFC exec suggests, is to have Roethlisberger play out the deal, as to avoid an abrupt ending to a fruitful 17-year marriage, while adding a reinforcement for the future.
“Darnold needs to be repaired and that would help a team buy low,” the exec said. “It probably wouldn’t cost a team much draft capital, and he could use a year behind the scenes with an established organization, but there’s still talent there. A lot of people are high on his skill set. That’s [a setup] that would keep Roethlisberger and the Steelers together without the long-term commitment.”
That’s all assuming the Jets, who fell out of the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, want to part with Darnold. Many expect the Jets to get their quarterback of the future in this draft regardless.
A separate exec believes Darnold is better off in a play-action-heavy offense, such as San Francisco’s, to best utilize his mobility.
If the Steelers could obtain Darnold without jeopardizing their future, in draft capital, most Steelers fans would likely be on board with the Darnold transition period and him eventually taking over when Roethlisberger calls it a career. But before many fans gets overly excited thinking about the Steelers finding a way to avoid the same transition the organization saw between Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger, a lot would have to go right for a trade like the one suggested by ESPN to actually happen.
What do you think of all of this? Could Darnold help prevent the lull in the post-Roethlisberger era? Would Darnold be an upgrade over Mason Rudolph and/or Joshua Dobbs? Let us know what you think in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC as they prepare for the Cleveland Browns in the regular season finale this Sunday.