When it comes to the NFL, football is obviously a lot more than a game. It’s a job, for one thing. In fact, it’s a major, major, multi-billion-dollar industry unto itself, that props up industries built around it. But it is still a game, and it’s a game played by real people, people who build relationships with one another, and those matter.
So many times when players retire, when they’re asked about what they will miss the most, they talk about the players, their teammates, being in the locker room, the camaraderie. For some, the fact that they were the last man standing from their era, perhaps, made it easier.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger is approaching ‘last man standing’ territory, following the retirements of Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald, not to mention the expected departures of individuals like Alejandro Villanueva, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Bud Dupree in free agency.
We haven’t heard a lot from or about Roethlisberger’s line of thinking this offseason, but we know that he took Pouncey’s retirement hard. While he said that he didn’t want to try to talk Pouncey out of it, Ramon Foster did say that Roethlisberger asked if he could talk to Pouncey.
All of this has led some to wonder what kind of emotional commitment he can muster up to continue to play into the 2021 season. Roethlisberger has said on multiple occasions, publicly and ‘privately’, that he came back to try to win a Super Bowl for his guys, particularly the offensive line. But his guys are leaving.
“Every team at some point has to take a step back in order to take a step forward, and if I’m the Steelers, and if the Steelers’ three best friends on the team are all gone, what am I sure about Ben’s emotional investment, regardless of what the financial investment is?”, Will Graves of the Associated Press said on a panel discussion last night on KDKA. “And when you look at the roster, if it’s not talented enough to win a Super Bowl, what are we even doing here? The sooner they get started with this rebuild, the sooner they get to the other side”.
That seems to be where most Steelers fans are at this point, at least when it comes to those who frequent outlets such as ours. Resigned to their belief that a Super Bowl is not a possibility with Roethlisberger at this point in his career, the only logical conclusion to reach from that starting point is that it’s best to move on.
As for the quarterback himself, how will he be affected by the loss of some of his very closest associates this offseason? These will be some huge personal losses in the locker room, and he hasn’t exactly been shy about acknowledging his feeling like the old man in the room and having some difficult relating with younger teammates. Smith-Schuster was kind of the glue bridging him with the younger guys. If he leaves, that’s another huge connection with the rest of the team for him gone out the window, and then what’s left?