Pittsburgh Steelers fans are used to winning. Supporting the franchise with a rich history of success will do that to you. However, expectations are so high in Pittsburgh these days that an 8-8 season feels as satisfying as 0-16, without the added excitement of improved draft picks. Even though the expectations entering every season are to win the Super Bowl in February, and look no further than that, the Steelers are approaching a stage of their development curve when they must begin to balance their short-term competitiveness with their long-term gains.
In seasons past, Kevin Colbert has done everything to maximize his team’s Super Bowl odds while extending the current window of competition. He has been afforded that opportunity largely because he gets to build a roster around a franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger’s performances have fallen off somewhat over the past two seasons, some of that due to injury, while his leadership must come into question after last season’s reluctance to buy into Todd Haley‘s system. Maybe more important than anything else is Roethlisberger’s health, however.
He will be 31 before the start of next season, but his body is an even older 31 when it comes to football considerations because of the beating he has taken over the years. Roethlisberger has been sacked 344 times in his career and has likely been hit three or four times that overall. He has suffered at least two serious injuries over the past two years, missing multiple games as a result. At some stage, the Steelers must start looking past Roethlisberger’s tenure to be prepared for an inevitable future without him under center.
After last year’s rookie class featured superstars such as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck who were taken with the top two overall picks, this year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks is receiving a much more measured level of intrigue. Early reports are pointing to three or four quarterbacks being taken in the first round, but those same reports are saying that those quarterbacks don’t grade out as first round talents. Of course, there is a huge amount of unknown and inaccurate statements at this time of the year. If there wasn’t, nobody would have questioned Ryan Tannehill‘s ability last year and Russell Wilson would never have fallen all the way to the third round.
Nobody knows what to expect from Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib or Mike Glennon at this point. A better idea will be had at the draft itself, but even then it is still an inexact science. For that reason, the Steelers could still conceivably take a quarterback as early as the first round this year, despite the talk of the class being weak. Of course, most fans wouldn’t be happy with taking a quarterback with the team having so many other glaring holes, but being aggressive at that position often brings more rewards than failures. The obvious example is Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers. The Packers drafted Rodgers when Brett Favre was 35 and developed him for a few years before he became the best quarterback in the league. The Packers had greater needs, but they took the value that was there.
Roethlisberger’s injury history indicates that he likely won’t play as long as Favre, or at the same level. Therefore, for similar reasons, the Steelers should consider quarterback in their adjusted value over need approach this off-season. When you consider that both quarterbacks in this year’s Super Bowl, Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick, were taken with the future in mind(Flacco only started day one because of injuries) and weren’t highly thought of coming out of college, it makes sense for the Steelers to look for the future if they identify a player with the potential to succeed Roethlisberger.
The Steelers will be lucky to get three more quality years out of Roethlisberger. If they can keep the rest of the team around him to a high level, then they would be able to make a seamless transition to the next era with a new quarterback. The risk of missing on one first round pick is more than worth the reward that comes with finding the answer at the most important position in football.