While much of the offseason, right since the first few days after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss in the AFC Championship Game, took on somewhat of a somber note with the reality hitting that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is winding down the end of what will surely be a Hall of Fame career, he has been offering glimmers of hope in training camp.
Not that he has actually changed what he is saying, exactly. Perhaps he is just presenting it in a slightly different way. Or being asked slightly different questions. Last week, when Ike Taylor asked Roethlisberger if he will be out there at the start of the 2018 season, he said “I hope so”.
Again, this week, he struck the note that he does have the desire to play beyond this season. In reality, he has never said otherwise. He has simply said that he is not willing to commit to playing beyond the current season, whichever season that might be, which does not exclude playing another 10 years.
He was asked again by reporters about playing beyond this season, and he once again used the phrase, “I hope”, according to Chris Adamski. He added, of course, “but I’m only going to focus on this year”; never the less, these are not the comments of somebody who is looking for an excuse to walk away from the game while he is still playing at an elite level.
Roethlisberger gave the key to his playing longer: his offensive line. Last week, Ramon Foster said that he knows his quarterback could play at least another four or five years. Yesterday, said quarterback responded.
“If those guys up front are playing as well as they have been playing, getting sacked 17 times, it might keep be around a little longer”, he said. Not exactly a shocker. Any quarterback would be tempted to play a little longer if he has the opportunity to do so behind the best offensive line that he had ever gotten to play with.
It was right toward the middle of Roethlisberger’s career that it dawned on the Steelers that they had better start rebuilding the offensive line that is likely to take him to or near the end of his career. And over the course of the past several years, they have managed to do just that.
Starting with the pleasant surprise of Ramon Foster as an undrafted free agent in 2009, they invested first- and second-round draft picks over the next three years in Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and David DeCastro. While Mike Adams didn’t work out, Kelvin Beachum did, and now they have their left tackle of the future in Alejandro Villanueva.
The Steelers’ offensive line is one of just a handful in the league—something like four total—that is carrying over all five starters from the previous season, and there is no reason to believe that they will see much tinkering over the next two or three years, either.
If I were a quarterback in the twilight of his career, I would find that very persuading to stay another year. And then maybe another. And then maybe one more. And then…