Outside of the draft and free agency—perhaps not even outside of that—the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top priority this offseason was to get their franchise piece, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, under contract beyond the 2019 season. They were able to accomplish that a few weeks ago, signing him to a two-year extension that ties him up through the 2021 season, which will be the last football that he plays before the big four-zero.
Are the Steelers concerned about his physical ability to play through that? Reportedly, they required assurances that he was mentally committed to playing during that duration, but there are no indications that they ever questioned his capability of performing the tasks necessary to compete at the highest level.
And it helps that he has taken steps to assure that as he ages, he is able to retain that physical capacity to play, perhaps inspired by the similar feats of Tom Brady and Drew Brees in playing into their 40s, rewriting the rulebook on what a quarterback is capable of doing in terms of longevity.
Albert Breer wrote yesterday that “Roethlisberger’s desire to continue playing strengthened”, adding that “he hired a full-time trainer and changed the way he readies for a season”. The quarterback himself last year already talked about the fact that he was spending more time working out last season, and it was even a topic of conversation during training camp about the work he put in in the weight room.
There was certainly evidence of that improved fitness as well. His 31 rushing attempts were the most in any season since 2011, his 98 yards the most since 2013. He also scored three times with his legs, the first time he did that since 2005, which is the only time he had that many rushing touchdowns.
Aside from the statistical indications, it was also visibly apparent that Roethlisberger was slimmed down and more mobile than he had been in recent seasons. Will we see a continued development in this area in other avenues? Perhaps an increased usage of play-action, which generally requires the quarterback to turn his back to the play, something he prefers not to do at this point in his career?
That remains to be seen, but the truth is that his physical conditioning is primarily only relevant as it concerns his arm, and he did talk last offseason about feeling as though his throwing arm was livelier than it had been in years, and that even his wide receivers were telling him the same thing.
This increased consciousness about his conditioning would seem to indicate a commitment beyond the year-to-year. Whereas you can just ‘get by’ with however you are for one season, if you’re thinking about two and three years down the road, then you’re going to be more concerned about your body being in a shape that can endure for years on end.