Former Steelers Exec Predicts Roethlisberger, Colbert Retirements Will Coincide

Ben Roethlisberger

Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 13, 2020.

Last week, Jonathan Jones, senior NFL reporter for CBS Sports, reminded observers that Pittsburgh Steelers Vice President & General Manager Kevin Colbert has been working on one-year contracts for the past two seasons. “People around the league are keeping an eye on what may happen in Pittsburgh once its season is complete,” wrote Jones, suggesting that other teams would be interested in hiring Colbert as their General Manager should he leave the Steelers.

No doubt Colbert, 63, would have suitors, but on the December 17 episode of the “Go Long” podcast (with Tyler Dunne & Jim Monos), former Steelers pro personnel coordinator Doug Whaley predicted that Colbert won’t be moving on to any other NFL team.

“As close to I am to the [Steelers], I have not talked to anyone,” offered Whaley as a caveat, before saying: “In my opinion … [Colbert] is in the twilight of his career, not ability-wise, just age-wise. As soon as [quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger retires, I think he’s going to be putting in his retirement papers … right after Roethlisberger.”

That said, people will be “keeping an eye on what may happen in Pittsburgh” not because Colbert will be available for hire, but because one of the most attractive GM jobs in the league could be coming open sooner rather than later, with Steelers Pro Scouting Coordinator Brandon Hunt “on a very short list of internal candidates who could replace Kevin Colbert,” writes Jones in the above-linked article.

Having Colbert and Roethlisberger move on at the same time would make sense for the organization on a number of levels, including the fact that it would put Colbert’s successor in a position to choose the next Steelers quarterback.

How Do You ‘Respectfully Move On’ From Ben Roethlisberger?

Of course, replacing Ben Roethlisberger—who has quarterbacked the Steelers since he was drafted in the first round in 2004—is easier said than done.

“How do you respectfully move on from someone that bought you two Super Bowl rings and got you to a third and has been the face of the franchise?” asked Whaley during the above-referenced podcast, before going on to answer his own question.

“You have to sit down with the owner, the head coach, the quarterback and [his] agent and say: ‘We love what you’ve done for us, but like everything, this thing called the National Football League moves on. It was here before you, it will be here after you, and as an organization we have to set ourselves up to continually have success. We enjoyed a lot of success with you and it’s all on you and you got us to where we are today.’”

But then the Steelers will need to communicate to Big Ben that his time is over.

“That is a hard conversation,” added Whaley, who served as General Manager of the Buffalo Bills between 2013-17. “But the quarterback kinda has to have a little self-evaluation [and say] I am not where [I was] and I am not helping this organization, and I need to move on, that’s where it makes it a lot easier.”

That’s a level of self-awareness that Roethlisberger very well may have. He has said in the past that he won’t continue playing if he can no longer get the job done. In fact, it was only a week ago that he said: “If I don’t play good enough football, then I need to hang it up.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers Post-Kevin Colbert

Not that Kevin Colbert will be easy to replace, either, as the level of success the team has achieved with him at the helm will be difficult to duplicate.

As noted by Mike Sando of The Athletic, the Steelers are 216-115-2 (.652) since Colbert assumed the GM role, with a 15-10 playoff record. And in 21 Colbert-led drafts, the team has selected 21 Pro Bowlers, including seven first-team All-Pros. That includes 10 Pro Bowlers and six AP First-Team All-Pros since 2010 despite picking within the top 15 just once during that time period.

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