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Ben Roethlisberger's new contract could haunt the Pittsburgh Steelers

No one can or should doubt Ben Roethlisberger as an elite quarterback in the NFL, and he was paid as such this offseason, but can he finish out his new deal healthy enough to be an everyday starter?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Ben Roethlisberger is coming off the best season in his career, and the best season by a quarterback in Steelers' history. One where he threw for a shade under 5,000 yards, with a 67-percent completion percentage and 32 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions. He bested his previous single-season statistics by over 600 yards, and currently holds the top four seasons in yardage for Steelers' QBs all-time.

After Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton received long-term extensions the last two seasons, Big Ben was due, but with 11 seasons already under his belt, can he stay healthy throughout his new contract which runs through 2019?

It is not really anything new at this point if you are a Steelers' fan. Roethlisberger is going to take hits throughout the season, and a lot of them. At this point, fans just assume it is written in his job description and he will keep getting up no matter how big of a shot he takes. I decided to take a look back to see just how bad things have been for Big Ben.

As you can see, Roethlisberger is the active leader in times sacked in the NFL, and it isn't even close. He leads Tom Brady, who has played 50 more games, by 55 sacks. He leads Peyton Manning, who has played an additional 97 games, by 132 sacks. Even if I broke down the statistics to the two quarterbacks Roethlisberger was drafted with in Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, the numbers aren't pretty. Manning and Rivers both have more than 130 less sacks than Roethlisberger and have nearly played the same amount of games.

The all-time leader as most sacked quarterback is Brett Favre at 525 sacks, though they were spread out over his 20 year career. Roethlisberger averages a staggering 38.09 sacks per season. At his current pace, he will shatter the record Favre holds by the end of his contract, as he is on pace for 609 sacks. In fact, he is projected to pass Favre in year 14 of his career, so he would break the record in 6 less years...yikes.

The final statistical column shows average sacks per game, and obviously Roethlisberger leads that category as well. The only other quarterback that many think of as "elite" with an average over two per game is Aaron Rodgers.

Honestly, after doing some of the research, I was surprised Roethlisberger has only missed 11 games throughout his career due to injury. Even more surprising is how he has had some of his best seasons in the years where he was sacked the most. In 2009, when he sustained 50 sacks, he had the second-highest completion percentage of his career at 66.6 with 26 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. In 2007, when he sustained the second-highest sack total of his career at 47, he completed 65.3-percent of his passes and threw 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. It completely goes against all logic on the subject, but can Roethlisberger keep this up?

Below is a quote from Gerry Dulac's article of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Roethlisberger prior to last season:

ESPN’s "Sports Science" show measured the forces that defensive lineman and linebackers can exert on quarterbacks when they are being sacked. The highest force was registered by Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who exerted 3,200 pounds of force on a test-crash dummy. The scientists performing the study said the force exerted by Suh was "more like a freight train" than a car crash.

"Combining the force data … and my knowledge of the injury tolerances of the human body, it is quite remarkable that Big Ben is still standing after so many sacks," said Richard Debski, an associate professor of bioengineering and orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh.

Make no mistake, the cumulative effect of all those sacks takes its toll on a quarterback’s body. And sometimes even more.

In addition to all of the regular season punishment, Roethlisberger has absorbed an additional 55 sacks in his postseason history. That is not to mention all of the hits and knockdowns not included in these stats. Finally, not all sacks are created equal. With Big Ben playing in the AFC North, he has taken punishing hits from the Ravens each season in his 11-year career. This includes an absolute beating in this year's AFC Wild Card game. The most memorable shot was with a little over 4:30 left in the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and was hit in tandem by Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dumervil. The hit drove his head into the turf and Ben came up a bit wobbly. Shockingly, after appearing dazed, he came back in the game minutes later. He would later proceed to throw the game-ending interception to Darian Stewart.

One piece of good news to think Roethlisberger could make it to 2019 -- the Steelers organization is obviously not blind to the fact Roethlisberger has been taking too many hits over his career. It was one of Todd Haley's major areas of focus when he was hired in 2012. For all of the flack Haley has received from the fan base for his play calling, it does appear to be working.

Roethlisberger has had the three lowest sack percentages of his career since Haley has taken over. In 2012, it was 6.3-[ercent. In 2013, it was 6.7-percent, and last year it was a career low for Roethlisberger at 5.1-percent. So, what does it all mean? While Roethlisberger is dropping back to pass more than he ever has - 584 passing attempts in 2013 and 608 passing attempts in 2014 were the highest in his career - he is getting sacked less. It is a testament to Haley, and to the offensive line which really seemed to find some continuity under Mike Munchak last season.

The last two seasons, and 2014 in particular, were not enough to sway me. I do not see Roethlisberger making it to the end of his latest contract healthy enough to contribute as a starter. He has been Superman at times with some of the hits he has taken, but they are still taking a toll on him, and my guess is that he experiences a pretty significant and rapid drop off when it catches up to him. It was a signing the Steelers had to make, and it was the right move this offseason, but don't be surprised if the organization is second-guessing his contract in 2018 or 2019 like they are currently with Troy Polamalu.