Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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Ben’s Last Stand

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


For Ben, the end is near. Or at least he wants us to think it is.

 

Talk of Ben Roethlisberger considering retirement wouldn’t classify as breaking news. But until now, most of us brushed it off with the usual “Oh Ben’s just being a diva” or “Ben’s just salty he lost to the Patriots again.” Nobody was more skeptical of the retirement rumors than us here at Rotoworld. To the archives!

 

From January 24: “It would be beyond shocking if he decides to retire.”

 

Another one from January 31: “Roethlisberger is addicted to drama, making it hard to take his retirement ruminations seriously.”

 

And finally March 19: “From overselling his injuries to retirement contemplations, Roethlisberger has always had a drama-queen streak.”

 

It’s easy to see why Roethlisberger’s retirement threats rang hollow. How could we take them seriously if Ben’s own coach wasn’t even buying the rumors?

 

“I think people probably read too much into it and are making more out of it than what it is,” said Mike Tomlin back on March 27. “It’s probably not the first year he’s gone through that process and it probably won’t be the last.” Translation: see you at camp, Ben.

 

And we were right. Like clockwork, Roethlisberger announced on April 7 that he would be returning for a 14th season. He made the announcement on Twitter, where hardly anyone saw it because the only thing more polished than Ben’s deep ball is his knack for blocking football writers on social media. That was the expected outcome, but might 2017 actually be the final chapter in Ben’s illustrious career?

 

“I got to sit down and talk to him and one thing he told me is he did take it seriously,” said Willie Colon, a former teammate of Roethlisberger’s. “He’s dealt with a lot of injuries.”

 

Colon brings up an important point. Though Roethlisberger has mostly avoided major injuries throughout his career—his biggest scare came in an offseason motorcycle accident over a decade ago—he hasn’t exactly kept himself out of harm’s way. Ben’s reckless, backyard style of play is what we’ll most remember him by, but the collateral damage from playing that way may ultimately be what ends his career. Just last season, Roethlisberger labored through a torn meniscus and a sprained ankle. A year earlier, he endured MCL and foot sprains as well as torn shoulder ligaments.

 

Roethlisberger is toughness personified but everyone has their limit. Now that the curtain has been pulled back on CTE, players are more conscious and invested in preserving their long-term health than ever before. It’s why Calvin Johnson retired at age 30 and it could be what leads to Roethlisberger calling it quits in 2018. Roethlisberger has cemented his status as a Pittsburgh icon by winning two Super Bowls and should feel confident in his Hall of Fame credentials even if he walked away right now. Not everyone can eat guacamole ice cream and play into their 40s like Tom Brady. And many probably wouldn’t want to. With peers like Tony Romo and Jay Cutler leaving football to join the broadcasting ranks, it’s only natural for Roethlisberger to begin contemplating a life after football.

 

Obviously Roethlisberger’s body will dictate how much longer he can play. The end came quickly for Peyton Manning and Roethlisberger could experience a similar drop-off at any time. But I’d argue that Roethlisberger’s current supporting cast is as good as he’s had in his 14 years in Pittsburgh. That could be a reason for him to stick around a bit longer. Antonio Brown is a generational talent at wide receiver while Le’Veon Bell is the spitting image of Marshall Faulk, an immense talent equally adept at rushing and receiving. And then there’s the wild card, Martavis Bryant. Still just 25, Bryant has flashed enormous upside when he’s been on the field, though recurring substance abuse issues have led to multiple suspensions including last year’s season-long ban. Bryant is back but Roethlisberger reiterated that he still needs to “win back everybody’s trust.”

 

It’s a top-heavy offense and the Steelers’ lack of depth was certainly exposed last year with Bryant suspended. Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton (now with Chicago) weren’t healthy, forcing unknowns like Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton to play heavy snaps. Jesse James was a poor man’s Heath Miller at tight end while Ladarius Green followed his usual pattern of playing just well enough to get our hopes up before succumbing to another untimely injury. It’s a frustrating group behind the big three of Brown, Bell and Bryant, but if those three can stay on the field (luckily Bell has discontinued his annual three-game suspension), Roethlisberger should have plenty of paint for his final masterpiece.

 

It’s an enticing group—who wouldn’t want to be in Pittsburgh for Antonio Brown’s prime—but let’s not sell Roethlisberger short. While veterans like Philip Rivers and Eli Manning have begun their decline phase, Roethlisberger is still keeping Father Time at arm’s length. He registered a masterful 95.4 quarterback rating last year while finishing among the top 10 in touchdowns (29) and passing yards per game (272.8). Roethlisberger was even better in 2015 when he had both Brown and Bryant at his disposal. That year he completed a career-high 68 percent of his passes while averaging a league-best 328.2 passing yards per game.

 

Even without Bryant, the Steelers advanced to the AFC Championship last year, losing to the Patriots in a game where a groin injury limited Bell to only 11 snaps. The Steelers figure to be just as competitive this season though dethroning New England, the NFL’s version of the Golden State Warriors, will obviously be a monumental task.

 

Coming off another strong season, Ben’s tank is far from empty. Roethlisberger still has three years and $46 million remaining on his contract. That’s a pretty big chunk of change to walk away from, especially if Ben is still playing at a high level.

 

As for an exit strategy, the Steelers finally addressed quarterback by selecting Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs in the fourth round of last month’s draft. Tall (6’3), athletic (he rushed for over 2,000 yards at Tennessee) and exceedingly intelligent (he graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering), Dobbs is certainly an intriguing prospect. But labeling him as the heir to Roethlisberger may be a tad premature. If anything, he’s a threat to Landry Jones, who could be relegated to third-string after serving as Roethlisberger’s backup in 2016.

 

Roethlisberger said he’s going to take a “year by year” approach to the rest of his career, so expect the cycle to continue. Games will be won, touchdowns will be scored, retirement threats will be made and more than likely, Ben will end up blocking me on Twitter at some point. Rinse, lather, repeat.

 

Quick Hits: The Browns signed veteran corner Jason McCourty on Tuesday. The former Titan and twin brother of Patriots safety Devin McCourty earned PFF’s No. 55 cornerback grade out of 119 qualifiers last season … A casualty of the Jets’ offseason cap purge, Breno Giacomini has resurfaced with the Texans. He’ll compete with Chris Clark and fourth-round rookie Julie’n Davenport for the starting job at right tackle … Free agent Sebastian Vollmer announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday. A former All-Pro at right tackle, Vollmer was released by the Patriots in March after missing all of last season with hip and shoulder issues … Adam Jones pled guilty to obstructing official business (a second-degree misdemeanor) as part of a plea agreement during a court hearing on Tuesday. The Bengals corner was arrested for an incident that took place at a Cincinnati hotel in January. He was sentenced to time served, which amounted to two days in jail … Carson Palmer admitted he has “no idea” if 2017 will be his final season. The 14-year veteran turned 37 in December … Speaking of Palmer, the Cardinals QB heaped praise on John Brown, mentioning that he looks “stronger” and more “explosive” than he did in 2016 when he was hampered by recurring sickle-cell issues. The 27-year-old is entering the last year of his contract … Despite not getting an extension from the Falcons, contract-year halfback Devonta Freeman said he’s not planning a holdout. The two-time Pro Bowler set a career-high by rushing for 1,079 yards in 2016 … Browns coach Hue Jackson said if someone wants the starting quarterback job, they’ll have to “take it” from sophomore Cody Kessler. Though Kessler has emerged as the clear favorite, Jackson has also been impressed by newcomer Brock Osweiler. “He's been great in the room with the guys," said Jackson. "We're going to continue to allow him to do that and see what he has to show for us” …  After months of getting the cold shoulder, Colin Kaepernick is finally starting to drum up interest. The Seahawks are looking at Kaepernick as a possible backup for Russell Wilson. Robert Griffin III is also being considered for that role … Brandon Graham put the holdout rumors to rest by arriving at the Eagles’ facility on Tuesday. Graham is underpaid at $6.5 million a year but with Philadelphia carrying a league-low $1.22 million in available cap space, it doesn’t look like he’ll be getting a raise anytime soon … Redskins coach Jay Gruden had nothing but positive things to say about Samaje Perine’s performance at last week’s rookie minicamp. “He’s a very smart guy,” said Gruden. “You can tell that he’s going to be a very hard worker and, of course, he runs hard." ESPN’s John Keim expects Perine to beat out Rob Kelley for the starting job at running back … Still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 3 last year, DeAngelo Hall may open 2017 on the reserve/PUP list. Formerly a Pro Bowl cornerback, the 33-year-old pivoted to free safety about two years ago … New Bills GM Brandon Beane said the team will have an “open competition” at quarterback this summer. It’s hard to see anyone overtaking Tyrod Taylor, though Buffalo did spend a fifth-round pick on Nathan PetermanAntonio Cromartie had a vasectomy years ago but somehow his wife is pregnant with his 14th child. Incredible.



Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
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