1 Reason 49ers Coach Vetoed 2009 Trade ‘in Place’ for Ben Roethlisberger

Getty Ben Roethlisberger at Candlestick Park.

Picture it: Pittsburgh, 2009. The Steelers were fresh from a victory against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. They’re the World Champions!

But there’s no time to stop and think about the past; they had to think ahead and prepare for the upcoming season.

Suddenly, everything came to a screeching halt.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger — who had led them to two Super Bowl victories in four years — gets accused of a heinous crime.

In July 2009, Roethlisberger was slapped with a lawsuit by a woman alleging rape at a Lake Tahoe hotel-casino in 2008. (The case was settled out of court in 2012.)

Publicly, the front office and Roethlisberger’s teammates presented a united front in support of their quarterback, who vehemently denied the allegations.

But behind the scenes, the Steelers were about to dump him.


Can You Imagine? Ben Roethlisberger, QB, San Francisco 49ers

It was 2009. Mike Singletary was in his first full year as a head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, a role he was promoted to after Mike Nolan was fired midseason of 2008. Fifth-year quarterback Alex Smith was his guy. Singletary liked Smith and his potential. He knew Smith had a rough go of things under four coordinators in four years. He thought Smith deserved another chance and promised that he would give it to him.

On the surface, Smith — the former first overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft — had been a massive disappointment, and moving on would have been best for all. But Singletary thought differently.

Singletary recalled the story in an interview with The Athletic’s Dan Pompei (January 26):

As Pompei wrote, John York (49ers owner), Jed York (CEO), Trent Baalke (director of player personnel) and other executives called Singletary into a meeting before the 2010 NFL draft. They had a trade in place with the Steelers for Ben Roethlisberger, who had recently been accused of sexual assault.

Singletary vetoed the deal because of the promise he made to Smith and the obligation he felt he had.

Pompei added that Singletary had been preaching to his men about character and how he wanted to build a team with smart, disciplined, unselfish, and responsible players. “I had been telling the team I wanted a team of character,” Singletary said. ” I felt I had to be true to that.”

Trading for Roethlisberger, something he knew was in the team’s best interest, would not be practicing what he preached.

“But if I could do it again, I’d do it differently.”


What If…

What ifs are fun, especially given that it didn’t happen and Ben Roethlisberger is weeks, months or maybe just days away from retiring from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What if this trade HAD gone down? What if… Ben Roethlisberger HAD been traded to the 49ers? Just think about that for a minute.

. . .

. . .

Did you think about how the Steelers would’ve ended up with a starting quarterback(s) other than Ben Roethlisberger from the 2010 season on? Did you think about how the Steelers may not have gone to their third and most recent Super Bowl XLV? Did you think about how the Steelers would’ve likely had to draft Roethlisberger’s replacement in 2010?

All mind-blowing scenarios.

Dan Pompei wrote in his Singeltary interview that the trade was “in place” — it wasn’t just something the Steelers and 49ers were merely discussing. It was a done deal if Singletary had given it the green light. Singletary didn’t reveal the trade terms in place for Roethlisberger, but the Pittsburgh Steelers wouldn’t have entertained it for anything less than multiple draft picks, including a No. 1.

What if… the Steelers would’ve taken that No. 1 2010 NFL draft pick and selected a quarterback?

Here were the top three signal-callers off the board: Imagine for a moment, Sam Bradford (round 1, pick 1); Tim Tebow (round 1, 25th overall); Jimmy Clauson (48th overall) leading the Pittsburgh Steelers. A dud of a class and the Pittsburgh may have had to take one of them (especially with Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon on the depth chart).

Imagine for a moment how it would’ve shaped the history of the Steelers (not even just the future with Roethlisberger not retiring as a Steeler this offseason).

Just imagine how it would’ve changed their draft path for years to come. The crazy domino effect that would’ve been set in motion had Singletary not vetoed the 49ers trade for Ben Roethlisberger.

If they had taken a quarterback with their first overall pick (from the 49ers), that means Maurkice Pouncey ends up a two-time All-Pro, nine-time Pro Bowl center for some other lucky team. Maybe Cam Heyward goes elsewhere in the 2011 NFL draft, David DeCastro in 2012.

All of that aside. We would not have been able to enjoy, love, hate Ben Roethlisberger for the last 13 seasons.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

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