What exactly makes a franchise quarterback? If there are 32 NFL franchises, does that mean there exists 32 legitimate franchise quarterbacks? If you include such names as Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown or the Houston Texans’ musical chairs grouping of Ryan Fitzpatrick/Ryan Mallett/Tom Savage, the answer is a definitive no.
“If you follow professional football, you would think half the teams in the league have a franchise quarterback, and we all know that’s not the case,” coach Mike Tomlin said recently. “I try to stay away from those generalizations that we all use to seek comfort and make ourselves feel good about our circumstances.”
One thing the Steelers can take solace in is the fact that they are one of the few teams who actually do possess a true, franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. The team’s first round draft pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Roethlisberger has been everything the team and fans have wanted, and then some. Since taking over for incumbent Tommy Maddox in his rookie 2004 season, he’s been a savior of sorts to the team, adding stability to a position that’s been lacking since arguably the days of Terry Bradshaw. Even as a rookie, you could tell he had that “it” factor, guiding the team to a 15-1 mark and the AFC Championship Game, and then taking home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year hardware.
Three Super Bowl trips, two victories. Owner of nearly every major statistical passing category in team history. He owns 116 career victories, fourth only behind Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. All will someday end up in Canton, and Roethlisberger will too.
The top 10 highest-paid quarterbacks per season is a list that includes Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco, all averaging a minimum of $20 million per season. Whether Flacco deserves those figures are a story for another day, but Jay Cutler? He carried a base salary of $22.5 million in 2014. The same Jay Cutler who was benched near season’s end for journeyman Jimmy Clausen.
The NFL is a “what can you do for me today” league and what has Roethlisberger just done? He not only had the best statistical year of his career, but timed it just in time for a new deal. He obliterated every Steelers single season passing record that exists. He was 408-608 for 4,952 yards to tie for the league lead. He tied his personal best in touchdown tosses with 32, including 12 in a two-game span where he fired a half dozen apiece on the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens. He threw for 500 yards twice, including 522 yards against the Colts, coming up only 33 yards shy of the NFL’s all-time, single-game passing mark.
“I said earlier that he is a first ballot Hall of Famer in my opinion,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said after Roethlisberger shredded his team’s secondary to end their five-game winning streak.
He also stands alone, as he became the first quarterback in NFL history with multiple 500-yard passing games.
The salary cap is expected be roughly around $140 million this year, possibly higher, and the seemingly always cap-strapped Steelers could possibly lower their cap number to sign key free agents by negotiating a new deal for # 7. With Peyton Manning, 38, seemingly on a “one-year-at-a-time” philosophy when it comes to retirement, and Tom Brady, 37, hinting he may play into his 40s a la Brett Favre, the AFC quarterback supremacy seems to be sliding towards a youth movement. Roethlisberger will only turn 33 in March, a fairly young age for quarterbacks.
The Rooneys promise a deal is imminent and what better time to back the Brinks truck up to Roethlisberger’s front door than now? Instead of handing $61 million in guaranteed money to a relative unknown at quarterback, like the San Francisco 49ers did with Colin Kaepernick, why not pay out a contract to a player people can look at and realize just how worth every penny Roethlisberger is? He is the franchise and the Rooneys must realize the need to have #7 retire in black and gold, much like former Steelers icon and 2015 Hall Of Fame hopeful, Jerome Bettis. The deal will get done, it’s just a matter of when.