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The Steelers face a daunting future in the young, loaded AFC

The Pittsburgh Steelers face a disconcerting future in the AFC conference filled with talented young quarterbacks.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is a quarterback driven league. The simple truth of the matter remains you either have a QB capable of winning the big game, or you don't. If you don't, you better find one by whatever means necessary. Draft one, trade for one, or sign one in free agency: the means doesn't really matter, just the final results. This doesn't bode well for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who's franchise QB appears to be on his last legs, quite literally. He appeared to struggle with backpedaling when taking snaps from center after injuring his knees against the Dallas Cowboys. This impacts the running game and the ability to utilize play action. Arthritic knees has been deemed the culprit, which can be managed but not cured. Just one of the unwanted byproducts of a long athletic career.

I have zero concerns about Ben Roethlisberger's surgically repaired throwing arm after a season where he displayed the arm talent necessary to still make all the throws. That was truly impressive coming off rather extensive elbow reconstructive surgery. Fellow greybeards Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers still posses NFL caliber arm strength, but neither have had their throwing arms rebuilt. This season we saw elder statesmen Phillip Rivers and Drew Brees have efficient seasons while dealing with some injuries and serious decline in arm strength. Rivers was unable to reach the end zone from near midfield on a last second Hail Mary against the Buffalo Bills in their playoff game that turned out to be the last pass attempt of his season.

The greatest opponent for all the aforementioned Hall of Fame caliber signal callers mentioned would undoubtedly be Father Time, although the incomparable Brady continues to defy the odds. Even if the physical ability remains strong, the mental resolve and internal desire to commit to the whole process necessary to compete at the highest level often fades over time. That's when many elite QBs realize it is time to walk away. When that moment happens is impossible to predict, evidenced when former Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck walked away unexpectedly.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers face plenty of huge decisions this off season that will impact their franchise for years to come, none bigger than how to handle Roethlisberger's troubling contract situation. For Ben, the decision to return or retire turns out to be multifaceted. Tough questions must be asked, and answered honestly by all parties involved.

If the Steelers doubt in anyway that they have a realistic opportunity to be a contender next season, does Ben want to put his body through the grind of another season? Especially with the very real possibility that the pandemic could negatively impact the experience yet again next season. Only he knows how much it impacted his enjoyment and experience this season, how much it affected his family and personal life. There are no guarantees if and when life will return to some sort of normalcy.

I feel certain that Ben doesn't want to return for one last long shot at a title if the salary cap ramifications damage the Steelers chances of remaining competitive for an inordinate amount of time after his retirement. He loves and respects the franchise and wants to be remembered as the Steelers legend he is. It wouldn't shock me to see him remain with the franchise in some capacity in the future after his playing days have ended. Roethlisberger and the Steelers have that type of rapport and nobody wants a repeat of the strained relationship former Steelers great Terry Bradshaw had with the franchise.

There are no easy answers to the situation at hand; particularly with the time and cap constraints. The manner in which the Steelers approach free agency will be greatly affected by Roethlisberger's decision. His decision will have ramifications on many of his teammates contract negotiations moving forward. Can any team not considered a realistic title contender justify having possibly two of the highest paid defenders at their positions tying up an inordinate amount of the salary cap without the presence of a franchise QB on the roster?

For parts of the past decade, the Steelers were offensively top heavy, talent wise and financially. Regrettably they were unable to field a superior offense and defense necessary to bring home another Lombardi Trophy at the same time. Once Ben Roethlisberger does hang up the cleats the Steelers very well could find themselves in a similar but opposite dilemma. The Steelers must avoid looking back over the next five years and lament wasting the full impact of a championship caliber defense due to a offense not quite holding up their end of the bargain.

Many Steelers fans have lost faith in Roethlisberger's ability to lead the Steelers to a championship. The suggested solutions and possible replacements have been both numerous and creative, if often ill conceived. Steelers fans are nothing if not passionate, and many are frustrated. Frustration is justified, after another late season collapse and unfathomable losses to both the Bengals and Browns.

The path to any Super Bowl aspirations used to pass through New England for any AFC hopeful, but that is no longer the case. Both the defending champions Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes; and their challenger in this week's conference championship game, the Buffalo Bills with Josh Allen, appear primed to battle for the conference supremacy for years to come. If the Steelers are to remain competitive in their own division, much less the conference, the Steelers brass will have to be both fearless and efficient in their transactions, with more than a little good fortune thrown in for good measure.

We all have our own ideas about what needs to transpire moving forward, but the only opinions that truly matter belong to the Steelers hierarchy and Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers desperately need to rebuild the offensive line to provide Ben Roethlisberger with some semblance of a rushing attack to take the pressure off their veteran leader. A more balanced offense is an absolute must, regardless of who ends up playing QB next season.

Maybe it's because of my Black and Gold glasses, or what I hope to be the wisdom acquired from being a faithful Steelers fanatic for over four decades, but I have faith that Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers management know far more than I and will decide on what's best for the franchise. Keep the faith, Steelers Nation!