At the conclusion of every NFL season, teams often have a somber feeling as they pack up their belongings from the facilities as they know the same roster will not be assembled again. Between free agency, the NFL draft, and player retirements, the same group of men who take the field for a season must change each year whether it be for better or worse. Some players will go on to other teams where others will not get another opportunity to play in the NFL again.
Now that the 2022 regular season has concluded, it is safe to reflect back at the 2021 Steelers and the players who did not appear in the league this past season. With all the situations being very different, here are four members of the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers who did not play again in the NFL in 2022.
Knowing by the end of the season it was going to be his last in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger got quite the sendoff from Heinz Field in Week 17 of the 2021 season. Defeating the Cleveland Browns 26–14, Roethlisberger helped keep the Steelers postseason hopes alive in their last home game and was able to finish things in victory formation before taking everything in. Retiring after the 2021 season, Roethlisberger finished with over 70,000 yards passing between the regular and postseason. Roethlisberger finished his Steelers career as a two-time Super Bowl Champion and the franchise leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and games played.
After spending seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns, Joe Haden spent five years with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2017 through 2021. Selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019, Haden played in 68 regular-season games with the Steelers where he had 10 interceptions and 54 passes defensed. After not signing with any teams in free agency, Joe Haden did not make a permanent decision on his NFL future until after Week 2 of the 2022 NFL season. In September, Haden announced he was signing a one-day contract with the Cleveland Browns in order to retire.
Spending his first four seasons with the Detroit Lions, Eric Ebron was a Pro Bowl tight end for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018. But after two years in Indy, Ebron joined the Steelers for the 2020 NFL season. With 558 receiving yards and five touchdowns in his first season with the Steelers, Ebron dealt with injuries his second year in Pittsburgh. In fact, his final play of his Steelers career was a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter of the Steelers Week 11 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Injuring his ankle on the play, Ebron was placed on injured reserve and his contract ran out at the end of the year. Not officially retiring, Ebron is still considered a free agent and was free to sign with any team throughout the year but did not land on any roster throughout the season.
After spending time with three different NFL teams during his first three seasons, Kalen Ballage signed with the Steelers in the 2021 offseason. Appearing in all 17 games on special teams, Ballage was the Steelers third option at running back where he had 12 rushes for 36 yards as well as two receptions for 8 yards. In the Steelers playoff game, Ballage added another four carries for 13 yards. Not signed back with the Steelers for 2022, Ballage waited for his moment and had a work out with the Indianapolis Colts in November. But Ballage was not signed by any team, even on their practice squad, for the 2022 season. Ballage was selected in the sixth round of the 2023 XFL draft by the San Antonio Brahmas.
While each team is bound to have players from the practice squads not return to the NFL the following year, these were the four players for the Steelers who saw the most playing time in 2021 who did not play in 2022. With two players being retired, there’s still a chance the other two could land back in the NFL for 2023. But after being a year out of the league with both players available to play, it’s very difficult to get back.
Inevitably, there are likely members of the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers who may have played their last games in the NFL, or could possibly not be picked up for the 2023 season. While it would be speculation at this point, it won’t be until this time next year until we know which players we just saw play with the Steelers who did not make it back in the NFL the following season.