Fireworks erupt above Raymond James Stadium, confetti coating the field like carpet, as dozens of fans in the stands reach a fevered peak. Ben Roethlisberger is ushered on stage with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, his playoff beard bigger and bushier than ever.
It’s a storybook ending for Roethlisberger, winning his third Lombardi Trophy — and his first Super Bowl MVP on the heels of a 400-yard, three touchdown performance over the San Francisco 49ers — in the stadium where he led the Steelers to a sixth Super Bowl title with one of the most memorable drives in NFL history 12 years prior.
Less than a month from his 39th birthday, with three young kids at home, Roethlisberger hoists the Lombardi Trophy and passes it off to Tomlin, but not before announcing his retirement, his Hall of Fame career cemented where that fire started burning.
While this scenario isn’t necessarily likely (with maybe a... 75% chance of coming to fruition... kidding, maybe 70%), it would be a dream come true for Steelers Nation and the perfect opportunity for Roethlisberger to finally step away from the game.
But with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges on the depth chart behind Roethlisberger, well, we’ve all seen what they’re capable of on a roster not too unlike the one the Steelers will enter the season with. Neither will follow in the footsteps of Big Ben and lead the team for more than a decade.
So, if and when Ben Roethlisberger retires after winning a title or spends another two seasons, we’re all beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Back in January of 2018, Roethlisberger told Ed Bouchette, then with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that he planned on spending at least three more seasons in the NFL. Well, after the 2020-21 season, it will have been three years.
The 2021 NFL Draft is notable for its stacked quarterback class, featuring the likes of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance among others. In the event the Steelers win the Super Bowl (more likely finishing to where they would pick in the 20s), the chance to draft any of the three would be slim to none. There would be some intriguing options later in the first round, but outside of the big three, for now, no one screams “can’t miss.”
In the event the Steelers either choose to see how Rudolph performs with a full season of prep — the Steelers seem suspiciously high on him, or so they say — or Roethlisberger comes back for one last ride, the 2022 season rolls around with an intriguing and likely divisive option behind center: Former best quarterback in football, Aaron Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers in a Steelers uniform? It seems unnatural, like if Tom Brady had left the Patriots for the Tampa Bay Bucc— wait, hold on. While I’m not saying it would be as weird, clearly without the implications of leaving the biggest dynasty in the NFL for a team without a playoff appearance since 2007, it would be a seismic move in NFL history.
Jake Nichols of NFLAnalysis.net listed the Steelers as one of six top destinations, along with the Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots, should he part with the Green Bay Packers. Now, I know these seem like pretty generic destinations, but it does open the conversation as to whether the Steelers should even consider Rogers.
Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts to consider before the fit is even considered.
Firstly, as long as Ben Roethlisberger chooses to continue playing, he’s the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Barring a catastrophic decline, he’s more than earned the right to battle for a few more seasons. However, if Roethlisberger retires and Rodgers hits the open market, that’s a brand new conversation.
Secondly, if the Steelers select a quarterback in the first or second round of next year’s draft, the Rodgers to Pittsburgh conversation should be silenced. Say the Steelers get lucky and select Trey Lance in the 2021 draft, he’s going to likely sit behind Roethlisberger before taking over in his second or third season. However, like the aforementioned scenario, if the Steelers yet again bypass a quarterback and Rodgers is there with no better alternative than a talented yet aging Rodgers, the conversation should be getting louder.
Thirdly, Rodgers’ contract with the Packers will determine whether the Steelers even can have a conversation about Rodgers playing in black and gold. Rodgers signed a four year deal in 2018, as a 36 year old, for $134 million. That deal carries through the 2023 season, however, that doesn’t necessarily mean Rodgers will finish the deal with the Packers.
The Packers traded up for Utah State’s Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, a move which doesn’t bode well for Rodgers’ future with the team, considering the ignored need for wide receivers — or offensive help — on the roster behind Davante Adams and Aaron Jones following a 13-3 season in Green Bay. Hello, Brett Favre.
So, Rodger’s $1,550,000 base salary in 2020 doesn’t seem bad, and the just over $21 million cap hit is reasonable, but the over $50 million in dead cap should he be cut guarantees he’s not getting cut this season along with the still stellar play.
The just over $1 million base salary jumps to over $14 million in 2021, and his cap hit rises to over $36 million with over $31 million in dead cap should Rodgers be cut after the 2020 season. It certainly seems like an astronomical amount of dead cap to have to shoulder for a season. So he’s probably still on the roster for the 2021 season.
But, in 2022, it gets interesting. Having sat behind Rodgers for two seasons, and with Rodgers’ cap hit rising to almost $40 million with just over $17 million in dead cap, it seems like the perfect opportunity for the Packers to supplant Rodgers with Love.
With Rodgers looking for a new team for the 2022 season, playing in his age 38 season, should the Steelers consider him?
While Rodgers isn’t the same player he was in 2011, or even in 2016, his production rivals that of other top quarterbacks in the league. Over the last two seasons, Rodgers has passed for 8,444 yards, completing over 62% of his completions, with 51 touchdowns and six interceptions. That’s pretty good, without context...
Rcon14 masterfully wrote how Rodgers isn’t the same quarterback who lit up the NFL in his prime but is trending toward mediocrity, on Acme Packing Co, the Packers’s SB Nation site.
Rodgers doesn’t turn the ball over, which is obviously one of the best traits a quarterback can have, and that’s probably something Steelers fans would go wild over. An efficient, sometimes utterly brilliant, quarterback who finds ways to win games, Rodgers may be trending downward now. How bad will it be in two more years?
Projecting the next two years is tough though, and while Rodgers likely won’t suffer a career-ending injury over the next seasons or fall off a cliff in terms of productivity, who’s to say what can happen? However, there’s no reason to think Rodgers can’t play starting-caliber football into his 40s, a la Tom Brady.
It just hopefully will not be with the Steelers.
A lot needs to go right for the Steelers to even get a chance at signing Rodgers, who will likely command terms similar to the $50 million (over two years) deals that Drew Brees and Brady signed at comparable ages. While he’s still a good NFL quarterback, albeit maybe not a great one anymore, it doesn’t make sense for the Steelers to sign Rodgers to a lucrative contract which his next, and likely last, deal will be.
Of course, maybe he’ll prove me wrong and experience a late career resurgence. But it won’t, and shouldn’t, be with the Steelers. And that’s okay.