Kevin Colbert has had a rough offseason as the Steelers’ GM, but one of his recent mistakes towers over all of his other missteps.
The Steelers are a franchise that prides itself on continuity. Pittsburgh’s resistance to change led GM Kevin Golbert to a huge mistake this offseason. His decision to give Ben Roethlisberger one more season as the team’s starting quarterback will simply push off the painful rebuild steaming towards fans in the Steel City.
In fairness to Colbert, the team had pretty well painted itself in a corner when it came to Big Ben heading into the offseason. Simply leaving his contract alone would have allowed Roethlisberger to count as $41.25 million against the team’s 2021 salary cap. The roster implications of allowing the veteran quarterback to take up over 20% of the team’s total cap would have been too severe for the franchise to realistically handle.
That doesn’t mean Pittsburgh was obligated to give Roethlisberger a deal that allowed him to continue as the team’s starting signal-caller. The team’s decision to ink him to a new deal gave them valuable salary cap room to work with this offseason but it also will cost them $10 million in dead money next year when Roethlisberger presumably rides off into the sunset of retirement.
The Steelers should have pulled the plug on Roethlisberger this season and accepted the need to enter into a legitimate rebuild. Keeping him in the fold might help them with a few extra games this season, but Pittsburgh is only a fringe playoff contender (at best) with him at the helm. That limited upside isn’t worth the price of postponing the rebuild for another season to placate Roethlisberger’s ego.
What Colbert and his staff should have done is make the tough choice to go ahead with a quarterback change this offseason. That likely would have positioned Pittsburgh as one of the weakest teams in the NFL, but they could at least be charting a course towards future Super Bowl contention. As it stands, they are a team treading water with no real plan of how to reach the promised land anytime soon.
Some Steelers fans might point to letting Bud Dupree walk or spending $8 million to bring JuJu Smith-Schuster back as Colbert’s biggest mistake of the offseason. Those decisions pale in comparison to the team’s costly mistake with Roethlisberger. It’s a stubborn effort by the Steelers to remain relevant. In the end, it will only make their rebuild more painful.