For nearly two decades, the Steelers have not worried about their quarterback depth chart. It has always been Ben Roethlisberger in the No. 1 slot followed by… some guys who are only going to play if Ben Roethlisberger is injured.
That chart is going to look a little bit different heading into the 2022 season. While he has not yet offered an official proclamation, “all signs” are pointing to Roethlisberger retiring at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign. The 39-year-old’s likely departure will leave Pittsburgh with a huge decision to make as it finally kicks off the post-Big Ben era.
It’s possible that the franchise chooses to undergo a full rebuild and select a young quarterback at the NFL Draft. The Steelers could also pursue a middle-of-the-road QB, someone who isn’t viewed as a game-changer but could keep the team competitive and allow the front office to focus on fixing other roster problems.
But what if Pittsburgh wants to swing for the fences? Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson have seen their names pop up in trade rumors throughout the season. They have both previously expressed frustration with their situations, though it’s unclear if some of those feelings remain.
Could they be ready for a fresh start? And is that fresh start waiting for one of them in Pittsburgh?
The case for Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson joining the Steelers
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t want a rookie quarterback, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, who reported back in October that Pittsburgh are going to “want to go with somebody who is a veteran.” Rodgers and Wilson certainly fall into that category. Rodgers in particular has been highly complimentary of Tomlin and the organization, and he even shared a funny moment with Tomlin during the Week 4 matchup between the Packers and Steelers.
While it’s worth noting that the Steelers are notorious for letting players go too early rather than too late, Rodgers and Wilson are both still peforming at high levels. Rodgers has led the Packers to the No. 1 seed in the NFC and could capture back-to-back MVP awards. Wilson has experienced a down year by his standards, but he was also a Pro Bowler from 2017-2020 and turned just 33 years old in late November.
Looking at this change from the perspectives of Rodgers and Wilson, the Steelers have a few attractive qualities. They are one of the most stable franchises in the NFL in terms of organizational leadership and coaching. They have intriguing offensive weapons in Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. They have top-tier defensive talent in T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“I’m looking at [Pittsburgh] as another destination that would be, I think, enticing and a real opportunity to win a Super Bowl for Russell Wilson,” ESPN’s Marcus Spears said last month. “And [it’s] a team that may be a little bit closer than we think as far as being competitive when we start talking about winning the whole thing.”
The same logic could apply to Rodgers. One of those guys could be the missing piece for a Steelers squad that managed to stay in the playoff hunt despite Roethlisberger’s limitations at this stage of his career.
The case against Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson joining the Steelers
Tomlin wants a veteran quarterback. Well, is he prepared to lose a bunch of other assets? The Packers and Seahawks aren’t going to give Rodgers and Wilson away for a lousy package, and it’s not as though the Steelers are known for completing blockbuster trades.
And are we sure that Rodgers or Wilson will push that hard for a trade this offseason? Rodgers could look at the landscape of the league and realize his best option is staying in Green Bay. (He also hasn’t ruled out retirement.) Wilson, meanwhile, has publicly stated that he wants to win more Super Bowls, and his plan is to win them in Seattle.
Yes, the Steelers do possess some terrific individual talent, but those pieces won’t mean much if they don’t address a major issue: the offensive line. That unit has struggled to consistently protect Roethlisberger, and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm left the team last month to take a similar job at Oregon. Rodgers and Wilson are far more mobile than Roethlisberger, but they are not interested in running for their lives every week.
When you really break it down, is Pittsburgh just a quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender? That’s the question Rodgers, Wilson and the Steelers need to ask themselves.