Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II is not particularly fond of the notion that his team’s window for a championship is coming to a close. It’s now been a decade since the team last won a Super Bowl following the 2008 season, and their last appearance in the title game was in 2010. They reached the AFC Championship Game once since then in 2016.
But windows, especially in this era of the NFL, are generally associated with franchise quarterbacks, and there’s no beating around the bush that Ben Roethlisberger’s career is gradually winding down. While he has recently committed to playing through the next three seasons, at the end of which he will be 39, there is no telling if he will play beyond that, or even if he will be playing at a championship-caliber level.
That’s not how Rooney views things, however, as he told Gerry Dulac yesterday during a sit-down interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as training camp begins to ramp up. “Ben could play into his 40s”, for one thing, he offered, and that’s not exactly unreasonable. He would play his age-40 season in 2022, the year after his contract expires.
“As we sit here today, there’s no reason to think he can’t do that”, Rooney said of the quarterback his father had to help step in to draft back in 2004. “Physically, if he wants to do that, he’ll be able to do it. It will really be up to him how long he wants to stay at it here”.
To that end, Roethlisberger has seemingly placed a greater emphasis on his physical conditioning since 2017. Last year, he said that his arm felt stronger than it has in a long time (he proceeded to set new franchise records with 5129 passing yards and 34 touchdowns). He has also been working with a trainer in the offseason, which is a new development.
“I don’t look at it like there’s a window closing”, Rooney continued to expand. “I look at it like every year there’s an opportunity and you put the puzzle together every year, put the best pieces together you can every year”.
The Steelers were able to make some key high-profile additions this offseason that they are not accustomed to being in the position to provide their roster. They signed cornerback Steven Nelson to a three-year, $26.5 million contract, inside linebacker Mark Barron on two years for $12 million, and wide receiver Donte Moncrief for two years at $9 million. Most significantly, they traded up into the top 10 in the first round to select inside linebacker Devin Bush.
Rooney went on to talk about the lack of year-to-year continuity that is no longer a part of the game with free agency. “Every year is a new year, and you put the pieces together. As we sit here, I like the pieces we have on the chessboard right now”.
Admittedly, I like the pieces they have, too, or at least I like the potential for the strategies they can create to record that elusive checkmate, if the pieces are really the ones they expect them to be.