2020 was a challenging year for everyone in one way or another. Whether it be the loss of a job, a loved one or even just the acceptance of things being different from what we are accustomed. While not as important as some of the aforementioned incidents which can happen during these tough times, sports were severely impacted by the pandemic.
Youth and High School sports were shut down, and even the professional sports leagues put their games on pause as they deciphered the best way to move forward. The National Football League was the first league to start their games on time, and to to complete the regular season without having to cancel any games.
Not that there weren’t hiccups along the way, but many players had their own specific struggles both in the offseason, and the regular season. Teams weren’t able to see the players as much as they usually do during minicamps, Organized Team Activities and training camp.
Things were different, and with that came a level of uncertainty surrounding specific players. For the Pittsburgh Steelers no player loomed larger than Ben Roethlisberger. Coming off a season-ending elbow injury which required surgery, no one knew what to expect from the team’s franchise quarterback.
Sure, there was video of him throwing, but that certainly can’t be compared to actually playing the game at the highest level. When the 2020 preseason was canceled, the Steelers knew they were going to miss out on an opportunity to see what Roethlisberger can, or cannot, do with his brand-new throwing elbow.
Were the Steelers concerned? Both Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert put on a happy face whenever they were asked about Roethlisberger’s health. They talked about how he could be a better player than he was before the injury, how his rehabilitation had been nothing but positive and especially how they fully expected Roethlisberger to be the starter and be able to make all the throws an NFL quarterback needs to make.
However, following the 2020 season, where Roethlisberger played in 15 out of 16 regular season games, getting the Week 17 game vs. the Cleveland Browns off to rest, Mike Tomlin spoke about how the Steelers organization was concerned about Roethlisberger’s health throughout the season.
“In regards to Ben [Roethlisberger], I can’t say enough about his performance this year. With the uncertainly coming off of injury, and particularly not having an opportunity to perform in preseason games and so forth, there really was a high level of concern about his health and his ability to perform.” Tomlin said. “I can’t say enough about his efforts. I can’t say enough about the efforts of our medical staff and our rehabilitation staff that worked hand in hand with him to get him to that process and get him to stadiums this year.
“I was more than pleased with the performance of his health and his ability to stay up. In terms of the quality of his play and our play, we’ll begin to assess that in the upcoming days, but in terms of him responding to the challenges that he specifically came into the season ready to face, spectacular.”
The fact the Steelers were concerned with Roethlisberger’s health shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. When the franchise quarterback has season-ending elbow surgery at age 37, there should be concern. Were all the questions surrounding Roethlisberger’s ability answered in 2020? Are the Steelers convinced Roethlisberger can return and play well in 2021 in the final year of his current contract?
Tomlin isn’t about to say any of that just yet.
“We haven’t made any decisions about any of our personnel along those lines.” Tomlin stated. “As I mentioned, all of those discussions are interrelated, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of what 2021 looks like in terms of the make up of our team and the issues relative to it.”
The Steelers have a huge decision to make with Roethlisberger this offseason. Have him play out the final year of his contract to the tune of $41 million dollars, or release him and only owe him roughly $21 million dollars. Never an easy decision when it comes to a franchise player, but as Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu found out, no one is immune to the Steelers essentially telling them their time is up.
With that said, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for a very tumultuous offseason.