Trading Ben Roethlisberger: Why They Will and Why They Won’t

So Ian Rappaport of NFL Network suggested last week that Ben Roethlisberger would ask the Steelers to trade him after the season. Rappaport was immediately crucified by Steeler fans on Twitter, leading to a clarification on 93.7 a few days ago. Chris Mueller, one of the afternoon hosts on the fan and a columnist for the Times Online, gave Rappaport a little bit more credit. (That link requires a subscription, but spoilers: Mueller says it's not outlandish that they explore the possiblity).

I have two immediate reactions to Mueller's piece, specifically. The first is that Mueller knows how to get clicks on the internet, and that's by having an unpopular opinion. The second is that he isn't wrong. You can bet that every GM in every sport considers trading every player every day. As the hockey adage goes, if Wayne Gretzky can get traded, anyone can be traded. Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning all switched teams after iconic stints. Ben Roethlisberger isn't sacred, and he's certainly not on Montana/Unitas/Manning's level as far as starting quarterbacks go.

So to suggest he's untradeable isn't really true at all. Mueller raises some very good points (besides the tired narrative of "well he hates Todd Haley and the Rooneys hired Todd Haley so Ben doesn't want to play for them anymore" or whatever convoluted story people are pushing). The first thing to note is usually the driving force behind these sorts of decisions: money. Ben's contract expires after the 2015 season, giving him two more years after this in Pittsburgh. That's not exactly "get something for him before you have to break the bank to keep him" territory, but that's actually a good thing if you're looking to trade him.

Consider what kind of team would want Ben Roethlisberger: a team with talent on offense and defense, but missing the quarterback to make it all work together, much like the Denver Broncos were when Peyton Manning hit the open market. The Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Arizona Cardinals are examples of teams with talent here and there but lacking that central franchise quarterback right now. Teams like Green Bay and St. Louis are dealing with injuries to their star QBs, but they aren't the kind of teams looking for a multi-year commitment from an established starter.

The other reason another two years of Ben might be about perfect is because that might be all he has left. Ben has taken quite a physical beating during his career, thanks both to ineptitude from his offensive line and his refusal to give up in the pocket. He's looked a step slower and less dynamic this year (and really ever since he suffered that injured shoulder against Kansas City last year) and on the wrong side of thirty, he's not likely to recapture the magic he had when he was 27.

Of course, the core matter is still Ben Roethlisberger's place on the Pittsburgh Steelers. And his position is very clear: He is the franchise quarterback. He has more Super Bowl rings than most other starting quarterbacks, and while he was somewhat of a passenger on the 2005 team, he absolutely ran the offense in 2008. That's not a resume you just throw away after one bad season, even if the future might not be too bright. The Steelers struggled for twenty years to find Terry Bradshaw's replacement, and came up empty until 2004. Franchise quarterbacks are very difficult to find, and even though it seems like some hotshot rookie comes into the league every year, it's easy to forget how quickly the Josh Freemans, Christian Ponders, and Mark Sanchezes of the league crash and burn.

Right now the Steelers have the potential to gain something if they move Ben Roethlisberger and kick-start a rebuild. But they have a lot more to lose as well. I think Ben is going to ride out his full tenure here in Pittsburgh, for better or worse.

Brian Schaich

About Brian Schaich

Brian studied computer engineering long enough to know he just wanted to talk about sports all day for a living, so that's what he does.