Ben Roethlisberger, a 36-year-old quarterback who’s publicly and repeatedly flirted with retirement and lost at home twice last season to Blake Bortles, including once in the playoffs and once when he threw five picks, sounds irked that the Steelers drafted a QB.
The Steelers’ third-round pick of Mason Rudolph has prompted Roethlisberger to be a mix of territorial, dramatic, and just kind of rude. In two sets of comments since Rudolph’s drafting more than a week ago, the veteran has stirred the pot.
1. Roethlisberger has publicly changed course on the idea of retiring.
This is a man who’s less than a year removed from claiming that he “never commit(s) to anyone more than one year.” He’s bounced around the idea of retirement a couple times in interviews over the last few seasons. But after Rudolph’s selection, he reversed course.
In a story published May 1, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he thought he could play play three to five years more. He shaded the idea that Rudolph would succeed him:
“Well, that’s fine. He can do that. But I plan on playing for three to five more years, depending on how the line goes and staying healthy, if I can stay healthy. If he’s going to be their guy, that’s great, but in my perfect world it’s not going to be for a while.”
He didn’t close the door on retiring soon, but he closed it most of the way:
“I went and talked to Art [Rooney II] and coach [Mike Tomlin] and coach Randy [Fichtner] and basically said, ‘Listen, I can’t control — barring major injuries, barring things at home, and things out of your control — the way my body feels. The way our O-line is put together, as good as they are, they kept me healthy as can be the last couple years. I really feel I can play this game another three to five years.’
“I’ll still take it one year at a time and give it everything I have that one year, but that’s what I felt comfortable in telling them.”
And, hey, that’s cool. He says he told the Steelers about his plans as soon as the season ended. There’s nothing wrong with a Hall of Fame quarterback reminding as many people as will listen that he’s still able to play. He’s still one of the best in the world when he’s going good, and some of his peers have played until well past his current 36. But he’s well within the stretch of years where a lot of his elite QB peers have decided to hang them up.
2. Roethlisberger says the Rudolph pick “surprised” him, even though it was obvious the Steelers might take a QB high in the draft.
Given Roethlisberger’s repeated discussions of his own retirement and this class’ depth at the position, it was easy to see a QB pick coming, maybe even higher than the third round.
I was surprised when they took a quarterback, because I thought that maybe in the third-round, you know, you can get some really good football players that can help this team now. And nothing against Mason. I think he’s a great football player. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid.
I just don’t know how backing up or being the third guy, who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart, helps us win now. But, that’s not my decision to make. That’s on the coaches and the GM and owner, and those kinds of things. So, if they feel like he can help our team, so be it, but I was a little surprised.
Roethlisberger’s desire to get players who’d help him win right now is understandable. He’s old, and he has a limited window with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. This still isn’t the nicest way to welcome a new teammate. Plus, Roethlisberger’s missed at least one start due to injury in two of the last three years. Do you know what might help the Steelers win now? Having the most capable backup possible in case he gets hurt again.
3. Roethlisberger used the Rudolph pick to speculate about whether the Steelers think they blew it with another QB pick in 2016.
In the same Fan interview, Roethlisberger spoke at length about how Rudolph might impact the two guys who backed up Roethlisberger last season, Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs.
“[Dobbs] and Landry, those two guys are who I feel the worst for. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t worried about him [Rudolph] coming and taking my job. I feel confident that I can go out and beat whoever I need to beat out for my job, that’s just the kind of confidence I have in myself. Yeah, I do feel bad for those guys because you know, Landry, I don’t know what’s going to happen.
I assume Landry’s still the two, I don’t really know and Josh, same thing. Last year you take him in the fourth round, so does that mean the Steelers, like, screwed up in that pick? Like do they think that he wasn’t the one that they thought, or has he not developed the way they thought? Why else would you take a quarterback in the third round the next year?”
Nothing here’s necessarily wrong. It’s good to care about your teammates, a group that now includes Rudolph. Roethlisberger wondering if Rudolph makes the team wrong for drafting Dobbs is silly, though. Rudolph was a more touted draft prospect who a lot of people thought would be gone in the late first or second round. Dobbs had considerably less draft hype a year ago, though he was still one of the more fun upside picks of that draft.
4. Roethlisberger mischaracterized something Rudolph said about him on draft night. He might’ve been joking, but it’s still a bit weird.
In an NFL Network interview minutes after getting drafted, Rudolph told the channel that it wasn’t Roethlisberger’s “job to teach me anything.” The rookie called Roethlisberger “an unbelievable player and a good dude,” and he didn’t seem to mean any harm.
When the Fan hosts asked Roethlisberger if he felt any responsibility to take Rudolph “under your wing,” the veteran responded with a slight laugh:
“Well, I don’t think I’ll need to now that he’s said that he doesn’t need me. So if he asks me a question, I might have to just point to the playbook, you know.”
Rudolph never said he didn’t need Roethlisberger, not exactly. And Roethlisberger sort of, partially sounded like he was joking. But that’s a lot different than being welcoming.