In May 2022, longtime Pittsburgh Steelers beat writer Gerry Dulac said it was “very, very safe to assume” that there was “bad blood” between longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers over how his 18-year career ended. Many Pittsburgh fans scoffed at the suggestion, even after former Steelers offensive guard Ramon Foster offered a possible explanation for the so-called bad blood.
On Friday July 22, Roethlisberger indirectly addressed the issue when he told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Steelers management wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about him returning for the 2021 season.
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Ben Roethlisberger: Kevin Colbert Was ‘Ready to Move On’
“It was mostly Kevin [Colbert]. He was ready to move on,” Roethlisberger told Cook, speaking about the organization’s longtime general manager, who made the decision to retire in January 2022 and was formally replaced by Omar Khan four months later.
“I think Mike [Tomlin] was a little ready to move on, but I think he was OK with me coming back,” added Roethlisberger, referring to the team’s head coach.
But because team president/owner Art Rooney was the ultimate arbiter, Roethlisberger returned for one last season, albeit at a reduced salary.
“I think Mr. Rooney really wanted me to come back last year to play,” concluded Roethlisberger, who went on to say that his arm feels pretty good and he’s “pretty confident” he could still play at a high level.
Roethlisberger: ‘I Never Wanted to Stay Too Long’
Ben Roethlisberger went on to address the issue of how his career ended, saying, “I thought I went out on my terms. I never wanted to stay too long. I know some people might think I did. ‘You stayed last year.’ But I thought I played pretty well last year,” he concluded, a season in which he won nine of 16 starts and threw for 3,740 yards but finished with an 86.8 passer rating, the third-lowest rating of his career (exempting 2019, when he appeared in just two games).
At the same time, it’s easy to understand why Colbert & Co. had doubts about him coming back for an age 39 season, especially after he faded down the stretch in 2020 — and after what transpired in the first half of the January 2021 playoff loss against the Cleveland Browns.
Nevertheless, Big Ben was able to go out on a high note, at least insofar as the 2021 regular-season was concerned. He took an emotional victory lap before leaving Heinz Field one last time in wake of the home finale win over the Browns, then vanquished the Baltimore Ravens in the regular-season finale.
“It has truly been a blessing,” he said, after the Steelers were doubled-up in the playoffs by the No. 2 seeded Kansas City Chiefs, 42-21.
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Mike Tomlin on Life After Ben Roethlisberger
Now the Steelers face the prospect of moving forward without Roethlisberger at quarterback for the first time since 2003. The team signed former No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky in free agency, who will compete with 2022 first-round pick Kenny Pickett and veteran backup Mason Rudolph for the right to be the opening day starter.
Mike Tomlin recently said the prospect of trying to replace Roethlisberger is “scary, but exciting,” and that he expects the organization to sustain success regardless of who is under center in 2022 and beyond.
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