Steelers QB options: Will Pittsburgh find big name to replace Ben Roethlisberger?
As Ben Roethlisberger made official the retirement the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans had expected for much of this season, the storied franchise now finds itself at a crossroads at the most important position on the field.
Just more than 18 years ago, the Steelers used the 11th overall pick of the draft to draft Roethlisberger. But how will they go about finding his replacement?
Coach Mike Tomlin said recently that “all options are on the table” when it comes to finding the Steelers' next starting quarterback.
In-house options could include Roethlisberger’s backups Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins. But Rudolph has his limitations, and questions remain about Haskins, who spent his first season in Pittsburgh as the third-string quarterback.
The Steelers could look to the NFL draft, where they have the 20th overall pick in the first round. However, this isn’t regarded as a very deep draft class at quarterback, and it could take time for passers taken this year to develop.
Pitt's Kenny Pickett has had his name linked to the Steelers, but multiple NFL talent evaluators have expressed reservations about spending a first-round pick on him. Ole Miss' Matt Corral and Liberty's Malik Willis, meanwhile, are also regarded by some as first-round worthy quarterbacks.
The Steelers traditionally are a conservative franchise, so splashy free-agent moves or costly trades don’t usually fit their M.O. However, as he enters Year 16 as head coach, and now 13 seasons removed from his Super Bowl victory, Tomlin could push the front office to break from tradition and hit a home run by acquiring a high-profile veteran.
The Steelers figure to have a degree of options, whether by free agency or trade.
Here’s a look at some of the leading candidates to replace Roethlisberger if Pittsburgh does pursue a trade.
AARON RODGERS LANDING SPOTS:What could be QB's next NFL team if he splits with Packers?
It remains unclear if Rodgers wants to return for an 18th season in Green Bay. He has declared his relationship with team officials is in a very good place. However, he could opt to end his time in green and gold rather than endure a rebuilding year given the Packers’ undesirable salary cap situation as key veterans such as Davante Adams are set to hit free agency.
Rodgers and Tomlin share mutual respect for one another, and the Steelers do offer the backing of a strong defense as well as talented young running back in Najee Harris and promising wide receivers.
Despite Roethlisberger’s dramatically declined physical skills, Pittsburgh still managed to make the playoffs. Surely Rodgers, who appears likely to win his second straight MVP honor, could take this team on a deeper playoff run.
Another veteran who could be on the move after souring on his original team, Wilson would present the option of another quarterback with MVP-caliber skills and strong leadership traits.
Wilson expressed frustration with his situation in Seattle last offseason but wound up returning for a 10th season. That campaign went poorly for the Seahawks, who a year after winning their division posted a losing season for the first time since 2011 and missed the playoffs.
Wilson wants to contend and, if he decides to pursue a split from Seattle, could seek to be a part of a franchise that accepts his input while surrounding him with championship-caliber weapons.
It’s unclear if he’s ready to force an exit this offseason, but if so, the Steelers have a lot to offer. Wilson, however, has a no-trade clause and would need to approve any deal.
The former face of the Houston Texans continues to face an uncertain future as the civil suits leveled by 20-plus massage therapists, who allege sexual misconduct, remain unresolved. It’s widely expected that Houston will attempt to trade Watson this offseason, however.
There’s no question that a talent like Watson would make the Steelers instant contenders. However, there are still so many unknowns that Pittsburgh brass could hesitate to part with the significant assets likely necessary to acquire him.
The eight-year veteran also faces an uncertain future with his current franchise as the Raiders are starting over once again. They will bring in a new general manager and could have an entirely new coaching staff if interim head coach Rich Bisaccia isn't promoted to full-time capacity. Carr has no more guaranteed money left on his contract, and this could be a good time for him to get a fresh start. Like Wilson and Rodgers, Carr could rank among the veterans the Steelers do their homework on in case the asking price fits their budget.
In return, Pittsburgh would receive a three-time Pro Bowl passer with great physical tools and intangibles, which seemingly could help get them back on track.
But, maybe a blockbuster trade doesn’t entice the Steelers, who typically are reticent to part with draft picks. Maybe they would prefer to find a bridge quarterback for now and draft a developmental prospect.
The free agent market seemingly will offer a number of second-tier veteran options.
Winston displayed promise in his first season as the replacement for Drew Brees, but a torn ACL ended his year prematurely. Given that he’s coming off of a major injury, the big-armed Winston could potentially come at a reasonable price.
Carr’s backup is set to become a free agent. He certainly possesses talent despite losing his job as the Titans' starter to Ryan Tannehill in 2019. If the Raiders opt to keep Carr, Mariota very well could seek an opportunity in which he could start, and Pittsburgh seemingly would prove appealing.
After a year in Buffalo, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2017 draft could test free agency. He certainly has potential, but Chicago handled his development all wrong. A team like Pittsburgh that boasts a strong supporting cast in terms of defense and skill-position players (though still needing to upgrade the offensive line) would make sense for Trubisky, and the price tag wouldn’t be painful for the Steelers as they embark on this transitional period.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.