The Steelers went into the offseason with uncertainty about whether Ben Roethlisberger would return as their quarterback for 2021. Roethlisberger agreed to a new contract that reduced his $41.25 million cap hit, and he thus will play an 18th season in Pittsburgh.
Heyward reiterated his support for his quarterback Tuesday, taking exception to critics who believe Roethlisberger doesn’t have another good season left in his 39-year-old body.
“I think we’re just blowing it out of proportion,” Heyward said, via NFL Media. “We went 11-0 to start the season. How many other quarterbacks did that? I think we can sit up here and talk about how we lost the game last year. We lost to the Cleveland Browns. OK, so be it. We fell off at the end. We still made the playoffs. But I’m not here to say my quarterback is not able to do it. I’ve seen this guy win Super Bowls on TV. I’ve seen him day in and day out compete, and you just get frustrated. I know Ben puts in work. I know how much he cares about this team.”
Roethlisberger completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 2,800 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in the Steelers’ 11-0 start. But he went 1-4 in his final five starts of the season, including a wild-card playoff loss to the Browns. (Roethlisberger sat out a Week 17 game against the Browns.)
In his final five starts of 2020, Roethlisberger completed only 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,504 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions, including four in the playoff loss.
The Steelers have helped their lackluster running game — and, in so doing, they hope have taken some pressure off Roethlisberger — by drafting Najee Harris. They also have revamped their offensive line.
“When I hear the badmouthing about him being a non-great quarterback and that everybody is ready to elevate other quarterbacks, I’m like, ‘What have they done?'” Heyward said. “This guy is a proven winner, but yet we’re ready to discount him. All I was saying was I think having a greater balance is going to make him that much more dangerous. I know our offensive line is in flux, but they’re going to be better because they’re learning a different system. We bring in another running back, our receivers are a year older, bring in another tight end. All these different things I think can help Ben, and I’m excited for him.”