There are few, in any, NFL general managers that have done a more consistent and underrated job over the past two decades than Steelers GM Kevin Colbert. He’s been with the team since 2000 and has risen within the organization from Director of Football Operations (2000-2010) to GM (2010-2016). In 2016, he added Vice President to his title, and deservedly so. He has kept the Steelers competitive and playing at a high-level for a long-time — 13 playoff appearances since 2000. He has found great success in the past few years by adding talent that has been able to contribute immediately as well as improve over time. Via the draft, they have added WR Chase Claypool, LB Devin Bush, WR Diontae Johnson, CB Terrell Edmunds, EDGE T.J. Watt, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster and RB James Conner. Colbert has also maneuvered through tough situations with star players such as Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
For all the smart things Colbert has done, bringing Ben Roethlisberger back for the 2021 season would be a critical mistake and one that could adversely impact the Steelers for years to come.
The move to keep Roethlisberger in the building ensures they will have the fourth-best QB in the AFC North, not only in 2021 but also in 2022. This move ensures a $41.25 million cap hit, including $19 million in base salary to an already cash-strapped team. His $19 million in ’21 is non guaranteed; it’s comprised of a $4 million base salary and $15 million roster bonus.
Keeping Roethlisberger – who turns 39 on Tuesday — goes against what successful team leaders must do to maintain progress; they need to make the painful, but obvious, decision and should move on from Roethlisberger now. The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t win the Super Bowl in 2021 with Roethlisberger at QB, therefore making the move to bring back the aging vet is a puzzling decision. Usually, veteran aging QBs are meant to stabilize a franchise that’s on an upward trajectory. Think of Kirk Cousins in Minnesota or Drew Brees in New Orleans.
We went through a similar situation with the Jets under Bill Parcells by bringing in QB Vinny Testeverde in 1998. We felt we were a franchise that was ascending and it was an opportunity to add a good player and teammate, at a reasonable price, who had several years of good football ahead of him. With Testaverde under center, the Jets went to the AFC Championship Game that season.
Roethlisberger, Colbert and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin could all see themselves in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the future due to their sustained success. In order to remain successful, the Steelers need to bite the bullet and move on from Roethlisberger. In 2020, Roethlisberger showed that he is an aging, declining player who can no longer win consistently.
The ability to make honest, tough decisions about your team, no matter who the player, is what has allowed Bill Belichick to remain at the top through the years. Belichick knows that once a player is aging/declining and that player’s contract is for what the player “used to be,” he quickly will move on. If Belichick was in charge of the Pittsburgh Steelers and was in the position to make this decision, he would cut bait and moved on, despite the allure of Roethlisberger.
Looking at the Steelers’ current roster situation, they are in danger of losing multiple key free agents that could add more value moving forward than Roethlisberger. EDGE Bud Dupree, OT Alejandro Villanueva and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster are all free agents that should see more compensation in the market than the Steelers are currently able to offer (they are sixth-to-last in cap space at about $19 million over). The Steelers will face Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow two times each next season, while also having meetings with the Bills, Packers, Chiefs and Titans.
An aging, decling Ben Roethlisberger does not give them the best chance to win in ’21 or into the future. By moving on from him, it will force Pittsburgh to accelerate the much-needed process of acquiring – whether through trade, free agency or the draft — Roethlisberger’s successor.