A series idea I’ve been kicking around that I’ll explore until training camp begins. A set of Pittsburgh Steelers “what ifs?” that could’ve changed the course of a moment in time or the entire franchise’s history. Some questions are bigger than others and no one has a time machine to know the answers. Let’s dive right on in.
STEELERS’ WHAT IFS – WHAT IF Pittsburgh Didn’t Draft Ben Roethlisberger?
We spent an unexpectedly amount of time this offseason talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2004 draft decisions. Whether that was hearing about it from our interview with Dick LeBeau to Bill Cowher’s perspective when he joined Ben Roethlisberger on the Footbahlin podcast, I’m still unsure if there’s a consensus. Dan Rooney once said he nudged the team to draft Roethlisberger over an offensive lineman; Cowher says a quarterback was going to be their pick if one of the “Big Three” (Philip Rivers, Eli Manning the other two) was there; LeBeau says Roethlisberger wasn’t the team’s top quarterback on the board.
For the next four hundred words, let’s put all that aside. Assume Roethlisberger was passed on. Or assume he was off the board, taken by the Cleveland Browns or some other team (the New York Giants were set to take him if they didn’t hammer out the Manning/Rivers swap). Let’s just assume the Steelers don’t draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2004 draft.
They probably do take an offensive lineman. Cowher and Rooney have asserted as much. If not a quarterback, then o-line. And it almost certainly would’ve been Shawn Andrews. Aside from Robert Galley No. 2 overall, the only other offensive linemen besides Andrews taken in the first round was Vernon Carey, who went 19th overall.
Andrews would’ve been a Day One starting guard opposite Alan Faneca. He was a talented player before neck injuries and mental health battles limited his career. But the more interesting question would’ve been – who would’ve been the team’s next first-round QB?
It probably would’ve come in the 2005 NFL Draft. That year, the Steelers picked 30th but they wouldn’t have gone 15-1 without Roethlisberger, even knowing he managed the game that year more than he made game-changing plays. Perhaps they would’ve still had a good season but been picking in the 20s.
And what quarterback fell into the 20s in the 2005 Draft? Aaron Rodgers, who tumbled to No. 24 before Green Bay stopped his fall. The Steelers would’ve never had Heath Miller but it’s plausible they would’ve selected Rodgers.
Meaning, Pittsburgh’s career-arc might’ve looked…pretty similar actually. While impossible to know, these are all hypotheticals, Rodgers probably would’ve had a high-end career with the Steelers just as he did with the Green Bay Packers. He probably wins at least one Super Bowl and potentially two. Of course, the Steelers’ franchise still would’ve been forever changed but with a franchise quarterback who played into his 40s, they would’ve likely been the same competitive franchise. Just erase your memories of “The Tackle,” the Super Bowl touchdown to Santonio Holmes, fending off Terrell Suggs in a classic Steelers/Ravens matchup.
Obviously, no one should argue that outcome is preferable. Pittsburgh got its ROI on Roethlisberger, a two-time Super Bowl champ who appeared in a third (in which the Steelers were defeated by Rodgers). A lot would’ve changed if Roethlisberger wasn’t their guy but their overall story might’ve been the same. Now, if Roethlisberger went to Cleveland and Rodgers landed in Pittsburgh the following year, that would’ve been a heck of a chapter to read about.
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