Ben Roethlisberger has been the rock for the Pittsburgh Steelers since the first time he stepped onto Heinz Field in 2004. However, after the Steelers drafted rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round of this year’s NFL draft, Roethlisberger expressed surprise and a tinge of resentment toward the franchise for not consulting with him before making the decision to draft another quarterback. He felt that the third round was too high to draft a backup, and says, “I don’t know how backing up or being the third […] helps us win now.” Big Ben was frustrated because he wants to win another championship while he still a productive starting quarterback, but also because he did not see the reason to bring in someone who could possibly replace him. It is natural that Roethlisberger would want to be informed upon the team bringing in another quarterback, as he has been the franchise quarterback for the Steelers for fourteen years. He deserves to know which direction the team is heading, whether it be replacing or just backing up Roethlisberger, and he has earned the right to be informed why they are using a high-round draft pick on a backup quarterback. So, it is natural that Roethlisberger feels a bit disheartened sprouting from their lack of communication. He recently said that his comments were, “said in jest,” however, I am skeptical of this proclamation, seeing as it came much later than the reaction to his comments by the sports world, and because he does have valid reasons to want more knowledge of the acquisitions by his team; and make no mistake, it is still his team. Roethlisberger’s bitterness toward the franchise is no doubt justified, but Big Ben is getting older, and his play is not as efficient as it used to be. He plans to play for three to five more years, so in that time, this question lingers: could Mason Rudolph take his place?
In the simplest of terms: yes. If Big Ben is longing to keep his career going for three or more seasons, then Mason Rudolph will take his place at some point in that time. Rudolph was one of the most underappreciated players in the draft last season, seeing as he lit up the field at Oklahoma State in his Senior Year. Rudolph ranked first in the entire FBS in passing yards (4,904), fifth in passing touchdowns (37), and sixteenth in completion percentage (65%). Somehow, this extremely high efficiency and production did not earn him a first-round draft stock. He is a pocket passer with a canon for an arm, and a six-foot, five-inch, 236 pound build, all similar to that of Roethlisberger. To me it sounds as though they went out and got a twenty-two-year-old Big Ben; someone that can learn a lot from Roethlisberger because of their almost identical strengths and quarterback play.
Big Ben has shown signs of regression throughout the past couple of years, an example being the infamous six-interception game against Jacksonville last season, where it seemed as though the Steelers could use a fresh face at quarterback. Although Roethlisberger has faltered at times, he has still compiled consistently solid seasons, posting 4,251 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions last year. However, Roethlisberger’s quarterback rating has fluctuated in a downward trajectory over the past four years, indicating his fall in competence, and that his career may be coming to a close sooner than he expected.
Roethlisberger has lead Pittsburgh to two Super Bowl wins and ten playoff appearances, however, there will come a time in the near future when the Steelers organization will need to choose between their declining franchise quarterback, and the rising star that will be Mason Rudolph. If Roethlisberger wants to start for three to five more years, his Pittsburgh career will come to a sticky end. I believe that Roethlisberger should start all of this year guaranteed, under which Rudolph will develop, but come next training camp, Rudolph should get the chance to prove his capacity to play NFL-level football.