With no quarterback other than Ben Roethlisberger under contract, the Steelers need to acquire at least one and possibly two new backups in the offseason.
The most plausible solution will be to re-sign Charlie Batch, who proved in the second half in Baltimore he can still be an effective backup, and draft a quarterback on the middle rounds in April. That rookie can then be groomed to be Roethlisberger’s eventual backup.
But here’s an interesting question posed to me by a member of the Steelers:
When do they draft a quarterback who will be groomed to be Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement, not just his backup?
Roethlisberger has three years remaining on the eight-year, $102 million contract he signed before the 2008 season. If the Steelers follow form and do what they did five years ago, they will extend Roethlisberger’s contract with two years remaining on this deal – or after the 2013 season.
The question then remains, for how long?
Roethlisberger will be 32 when he heads into the 2014 season and the Steelers will have to decide how many more years they think he will last as their quarterback. The decision might not have as much to do with his ability to be effective as it will the ability of his body to survive.
Roethlisberger has yet to make to it through a full 16-game season since becoming the starter. The list of his injuries in that time could stretch halfway to Cleveland. It’s one of the reasons the Steelers talk about Roethlisberger “tweaking” his game and being smarter with the ball -- i.e., throwing it away instead of always trying to make a play. It’s about self-preservation, now that he’s in his 30s.
Once the Steelers determine how long they will extend his contract, then they can probably determine the appropriate time to start looking for his replacement.
That time is not now. Right now, it is time to draft a quarterback who can be an effective backup. Roethlisberger’s medical history has shown the need to have a player who can step in and help them win. Maybe he develops into a surprise future starter. Tom Brady, after all, was a sixth-round draft choice. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson were third-round choices.
Or maybe he just becomes Brian St. Pierre or Dennis Dixon, a pair of drafted quarterbacks who hung around as backups for two or three years.
If the Steelers draft a quarterback, and they should, he doesn’t have to be the heir apparent. But, what the Steelers do next year with Roethlisberger’s contract will speak to when that time comes.
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