It’s no surprise that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger decided not to retire and, in turn, not to pay back $18.6 million in unearned bonus money to the team. It won’t be a surprise if the Steelers use a first- or second-round pick on Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement.
With Roethlisberger openly musing about walking away, the Steelers need to be prepared for the inevitable, whether it comes in one year, two years, or three. Indeed, more than a decade ago the Packers picked Aaron Rodgers in round one, and he sat on the bench for a full three seasons before becoming the successor to Brett Favre, after Brett Favre made his annual retirement ruminations a tradition truly unlike any other.
But the Steelers aren’t the only team with a franchise quarterback that may be kicking tires on incoming signal-callers. The Giants are thinking about life after Eli Manning, the Chargers are thinking about life after Philip Rivers, and the Saints are thinking about life after Drew Brees. So what will any of these guys have to say, publicly or privately, if it comes to that?
Brees recently addressed that possibility in balanced, even-handed terms.
“[I]f I’m going to start and that quarterback sits, well that’s not helping our team right now,” Brees said recently, via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “So, I want somebody who’s going to help our team right now. That’s the only difference.
“When I leave here, I want this organization to be successful — whenever that is — so I want them to be prepared for that. They need to be thinking about that, but then again, I don’t want to make it seem like this is my farewell tour. That’s not the way I view it.”
Will Roethlisberger, Manning, and Rivers be quite as diplomatic if/when they see a pick that could be used on helping the team win now devoted to the future? Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has taken the high road (as far as anyone knows) when his team has used relatively early picks on quarterbacks, with two spent on third-rounders and one on a second-rounder since 2011.
The Patriots have been actively adding guys like Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissett even though Brady has never talked about retiring. If anything, Brady remains committed to playing as long as he possibly can.
For now, Roethlisberger is the only franchise quarterback at the other end of the spectrum, broaching the subject of retirement not long after the season ended and waiting until April to declare that he’s coming back. While no one took that vow seriously as it relates to a 2017 retirement, the Steelers and everyone else need to take things seriously.