Steelers Know O-Line Is Key To Keeping Big Ben Around

Ben Roethlisberger is not beating around the bush this year. He’s playing. And perhaps he will even play for several more seasons. Not that he will publicly admit it for the remainder of his career, whether it’s one more year or seven more years. But there is good reason to believe that he will want to stick around for at least a few more years to come.

And that centers around the big men up front, his protectors, who have undoubtedly helped to prolong his career by remaining healthier and taking fewer hits in the process. The current group of offensive linemen is the best that Roethlisberger has ever played with in his career, and he has learned to better protect himself as he ages as well.

This has resulted in him feeling healthier toward the end of seasons, and throughout the season, so it’s no surprise that he is feeling more optimistic about his playing future than he may have seemed to in the recent past. And the front office knows that the key to keeping their quarterback happy is keeping his front five around.

All five of the Steelers’ offensive linemen are under contract through the 2018 season, and most see their contracts run beyond that. Ramon Foster is the only one of the five linemen who is entering the final year of his contract. He is also the only one that is 30 or older, having recently turned 32.

It is possible that Foster is entering his final season with the team, or at least his last as a starter. It is also possible that he gets re-signed and continues to start. That may hinge quite a bit on how the 2018 season goes.

But the rest of the group still has time. Maurkice Pouncey at center and Marcus Gilbert are both signed through 2019. Gilbert is currently 29, and Pouncey is 28. Alejandro Villanueva, also 29, just finished the first of a four-year contract that runs out after the 2020 season. David DeCastro, a three-time consecutive All-Pro, and also at 28, is signed through the 2021 season.

Will Roethlisberger still be here through the conclusion of DeCastro’s second contract? At the moment, that is anybody’s guess, but I don’t think it should be regarded as surprising, should it come to pass. He is currently 35, and would be 39 by the time that season ends. Not an unreasonable age for an all-time great quarterback.

Especially a quarterback who has been learning how to preserve himself while still being a playmaker. Nor a quarterback who was just assuaged by the front office in replacing an offensive coordinator with whom he occasionally butted heads with a quarterbacks coach that he gets along with exceptionally well.

Add in a full complement of talented pass-catchers around him, including JuJu Smith-Schuster, the exciting rookie, and a potential future favorite target at tight end in Vance McDonald, and you have the key to the man’s heart. But it all starts up front. That’s why he gives his linemen special treatment, as all quarterbacks should.

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