One of the NFL’s great players hasn’t committed to playing in 2017, and no one particularly cares.
As April approaches, Ben Roethlisberger’s refusal to definitively say he’s playing football again remains odd, but the collective dismissal of his waffling is downright funny.
Way back on Jan. 24, Roethlisberger told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh that he needed to “take some time away to evaluate next season, if there’s going to be a next season.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spoke later that same day and didn’t sound particularly troubled.
“He said it, so you do take it seriously,” Tomlin said, sounding like a parent who wants to validate his child’s feelings without believing a word of it.
Just a day later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted a veteran teammate who said he’s “heard that before” from Ben. The piece also said that no one in the organization was taking Roethlisberger’s words seriously. In the weeks to follow, Steelers president Art Rooney II and general manager Kevin Colbert both said they expect Roethlisberger to play, despite his comments.
This refusal to take a leader’s public statements at face value echoes in our daily news, and it makes me wonder what Roethlisberger is thinking. At what point does he go mad or get slightly depressed that no one believes him?
He has kept the story alive into free agency, despite the Steelers failing to address the quarterback position with any urgency in March. Speaking at a conference at Liberty University over the weekend, Roethlisberger allowed that he’s “leaning towards” playing again without fully committing.
The story is reminiscent of the annual offseason indecision from Brett Favre, the original quarterback who cried wolf. But at least Favre had to flip-flop a few times before people stopped taking him seriously. People just don’t believe Roethlisberger right off the bat.
Perhaps it’s Roethlisberger’s penchant for in-season drama, his self-documented history of recovery from injuries. Perhaps it’s more insidious, a background of distrust built from multiple sexual-assault allegations, a lack of trust in Roethlisberger that lingers in his hometown to this day.
At some point before April 18, when Steelers players report to the team facility for “Phase One” of organized team activities, the greatest Steelers player of this century should announce he’s playing football again. The story likely will be treated with indifference, raised eyebrows and a few wisecracks, because no one took Ben Roethlisberger seriously in the first place.
Storylines that deserve more attention
1) Wide receiver Adam Thielen’s three-year, $17 million contract ($11 million guaranteed) with the Vikings is the type of win-win deal that smart organizations make. After his incredible rise from local tryout feature story to starting wideout, no one blames Thielen for signing a team-friendly contract that sets him up for life a year before he hits unrestricted free agency.
Still, it’s a bargain when compared to other receiver contracts signed this off season. In 12 combined NFL seasons, Kenny Britt and Kenny Stills have produced one year with more yardage than Thielen’s 2016 campaign. Both Kennys received four-year contracts worth $32 million, with more guarantees than Thielen.
Thielen showed an impressive ability to get deep last season and will form a nice duo with Stefon Diggs in the coming years. The Vikings just need a third receiver to complete the mix, with last year’s first-round pick Laquon Treadwell a question mark.
2) Thielen was my favorite move in an otherwise odd Vikings off season. Replacing Adrian Peterson made sense, but doing so with Latavius Murray was curious. Murray was a sixth-round pick in Oakland whom the Raiders had no interest in re-signing because they believed they could do better. The move continues a trend that the Vikings started with their offensive line signings. They are paying big money to replacement-level starters, never a great recipe for long-term success.
3) The Bengals don’t dip into free agency often, but the team’s one-year deal for 26-year-old inside linebacker Kevin Minter could pay dividends. Cincinnati is often short-handed at the position, with Vontaze Burfict injured and Rey Maualuga a poor option on passing downs. Minter was a team captain in Arizona and was ranked third by Pro Football Focus in pass defense among inside linebackers last year.
4) Jared Cook and his agent blew it. He reportedly could have stayed in Green Bay for slightly less than the contract Martellus Bennett wound up signing, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that GM Ted Thompson blanched after Cook’s agents “pulled the amateurish ‘talks have broken down’ card.”
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr will be the beneficiary. While Cook didn’t get the money he was hoping for, the potential for big numbers remains. Oakland’s offense had nearly everything last season except a dynamic pass-catching tight end and a difference-making early-down running back. GM Reggie McKenzie checked the box at tight end and now he’s working on that running game. Speaking of which …
Narratives that were busted
1) So much for Marshawn Lynch retiring. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Lynch’s potential comeback is “realer than it’s ever been” and he would only play for the Raiders. MMQB’s Peter King passed along the sourced nugget that Lynch “really wants” to play for Oakland. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks, who hold his rights, getting anything in return for Lynch. Why not set him free?
Like the Cordarrelle Patterson acquisition, it’s somehow heartwarming when the Raiders pick up guys the late Al Davis would have signed. Lynch would’ve fit right in on some of Davis’ best teams.
2) Jay Cutler isn’t going to the Jets after all. The $6 million guaranteed on Josh McCown’s contract with the Jets indicates he’s not just being signed to help tutor the team’s young quarterbacks. McCown is the likely Week 1 starter.
This should make Jets fans hoping to “Scam for Sam” very happy. (For the uninitiated, that’s the theory that the Jets should tank to get the No. 1 overall draft pick and select USC quarterback Sam Darnold, which presumes Darnold would even enter the draft.) McCown can’t stay healthy for long, much less protect the ball, which means Bryce Petty and/or Christian Hackenberg could play plenty for the 2017 Jets.
There’s no telling where this leaves Cutler. The Texans are not an option, according to Rapoport. Barring a major training camp injury to a starting quarterback, it’s growing more possible that Cutler retires.
Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, Case Keenum, Blaine Gabbert and Robert Griffin III combined to start 35 games in the 2016 season. None have jobs at the moment.