Sunday, March 15, 2015

Big Ben faces future of carrying load

Friday, March 13, 2015, 11:06 p.m.

(Pittsburgh Steelers)

Ben Roethlisberger: franchise quarterback, Steeler for life, and football's most expensive concealer.
His new big contract, announced Friday afternoon by Steelers president Art Rooney II at a news conference stolen by Roethlisberger's adorable son, Ben Jr., is a no-duh move for the NFL's flagship franchise.
“Let's just say this much,” Rooney said. “Having Ben has been a great run that we've had.”
Great might be selling short the run, sir.
The Steelers have lost 57 of Roethlisberger's 173 starts.
Steelers Nation likely has blamed him for every defeat. He blamed himself, too.
Roethlisberger never asked for and usually gets none of the credit for his 116 victories, which are only 25 fewer than the combined total from former Steelers starters Kordell Stewart, Neil O'Donnell, Bubby Brister, Mark Malone and Cliff Stoudt.
Whatever the financial terms of Roethlisberger's new deal — neither he nor Rooney would go beyond calling it “fair for both sides” — the richest-ever Steeler is also the most under-appreciated.
With all due respect to a couple of important men at the news conference Friday, coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert, the man most responsible for any future Steelers' success will be Roethlisberger.
This has nothing to do with the NFL being a quarterback league. It has everything to do with how the Steelers' story has changed since Roethlisberger joined the franchise.
Once the missing piece for a promising team fueled by a dominant defense, Roethlisberger probably will spend his final seasons as the captain of an offense that must carry a defense that is consistently retooling, if not rebuilding.
Roethlisberger is great, of course. Le'Veon Bell, football's finest dual-threat running back, is a game-breaker. Antonio Brown seemingly cannot be covered, and the offensive line continues to grow into one of the AFC's best.
Still, the Steelers, coming off a rousing 11-5 season, feel like they're getting lost in the shuffle in a competitive AFC.
Roethlisberger might be the conference's best quarterback. So he's basically priceless.
Because the defense … yikes!
The Steelers need at least a couple of cornerbacks. They're lacking an outside pass rusher. The legendary strong safety isn't what he used to be, even if he returns to play at a lesser cost. And Troy Polamalu's replacement might not be as good as the older version of Polamalu from the past couple of seasons.
I'm not really sold on the defensive line, either. Or the 3-4 scheme that Tomlin (a disciple of Tony Dungy's “Tampa 2” coverage in the 4-3 setup) has chained himself to with the promotion of Dick LeBeau pupil Keith Butler to defensive coordinator.
“I've always said this is where I wanted to be,” Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers should be grateful, because they need their franchise quarterback a lot more than he needs them.
He could have played out next season, hit the market as a free agent, and signed on as savior for either of the NFL teams in his native Ohio or a deal-closer for his beloved former offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, the head coach in Arizona.
Instead, Roethlisberger chose “home.”
“People ask me where I'm from,” Roethlisberger said. “I'm from Pittsburgh.”
He has delivered to Pittsburgh a handful of Vince Lombardi and Lamar Hunt trophies, 25 fourth-quarter rallies, the greatest drive and touchdown throw in Super Bowl history and, yes, three offseason incidents that everybody with the Steelers would prefer we forget.
Somehow, despite belonging on the marquee, Roethlisberger was always a second-billing act for the old-school Steelers.
Not anymore.
He's the high-priced cover-up for their blemishes, and the best hope for a title to match the number on Roethlisberger's jersey.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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