Once retirement talk starts for a great player, it doesn’t end until the player officially calls it quits. Then the player retires and we all fantasize about when they’ll come back.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got the ball rolling this offseason. He considered retirement, and considered it seriously. Roethlisberger was asked on Tuesday about former Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon’s comments to Pro Football Talk that he was seriously considering stepping away.
“What, did you think I was lying?” Roethlisberger told a group of reporters (h/t to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN).
No matter, Roethlisberger is back for this season. Beyond 2017? That’s murky.
Roethlisberger might not be anywhere close to retirement. The first time significant retirement rumors started to swirl around Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre was the end of the 2002 season. There was a deep concern in Wisconsin he was going to announce his retirement after a wild-card loss to Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons. Favre ended up playing eight more years (however, as we know there were some “retirements” in there).
So we don’t know when Roethlisberger will step away. He’s 35, so it’s not out of the question he could play at least five more years. And on Tuesday, Roethlisberger spoke about being happy to be out at practice, how football was his passion and how he’s “110 percent” committed to the Steelers. But he won’t commit beyond 2017, and that’s what should make Steelers fans nervous.
“I never commit to anyone more than one year,” Roethlisberger said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “That’s how we always commit to this sport. If we look past this year we’re cheating ourselves and we’re cheating other people. We have to give this year everything we have because ultimately what we have is right here and right now.”
That doesn’t tell us much, and it’s not surprising that a player who considered retirement this offseason wouldn’t commit to playing beyond this season. But it also opens up read-between-the-lines speculation.
He mostly avoided the retirement topic on Tuesday, and wouldn’t say how close he was to calling it quits this offseason.
“Doesn’t matter, I’m here now,” Roethlisberger said.
It’s hard for any team to adequately prepare for the future when their quarterback is nearing the end. The Dallas Cowboys hit it big in the fourth round last year with Dak Prescott. Most teams aren’t so lucky. It’s tough to invest valuable draft capital into a quarterback for the future when you’re trying to win big in your star quarterback’s final seasons.
The Steelers drafted Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the fourth round this season, but quarterbacks drafted in the fourth round are no sure thing. The Steelers will hope Dobbs can be good enough to take over for Roethlisberger, but they can’t count on that. It’ll be a nervous time between now and whenever Roethlisberger hangs it up.
The good news is the Steelers could win another Super Bowl before Roethlisberger retires. With receiver Martavis Bryant back from suspension, the Steelers have perhaps the best offense in the NFL. The New England Patriots will be a tough out in the AFC, but the Steelers might be the second-best team in the conference.
If the Steelers’ season ends at the Super Bowl or well before then, once it’s done the Roethlisberger retirement watch will start again. No matter how long he keeps playing, expect that to be an annual event until he’s officially retired.
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