For only the second time in franchise history, the Pittsburgh Steelers may soon be tasked with the assignment of trying to replace a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The Steelers did it once before in 1984 following the retirement of two Super Bowl MVP and former league MVP Terry Bradshaw. They may have to do it again this offseason with Ben Roethlisberger reportedly telling coaches and former teammates that he anticipates this being his final year with the franchise.
Roethlisberger did not deny or confirm those reports following Sunday's 20-19 victory. But based on the reports as well as the fact that he has no contract beyond this season, there is a very good chance Roethlisberger is currently writing the final chapter on his decorated career with the black and gold.
The Steelers have three paths to choose from in the event that Roethlisberger is not part of the team in 2022. They could reward Mason Rudolph's patience and give him a chance to win the starting job coming out of training camp. They could sign a talented veteran who could come in and keep the Steelers in the conversation for the playoffs or even a championship. Or, they could draft a quarterback in the first round for the first time since selecting Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick back in 2004.
While Roethlisberger and the Steelers continue to focus on the present, here are seven viable options to be Roethlisberger's successor for the 2022 season.
1. Aaron Rodgers
Why this may happen: Despite recently turning 38, Rodgers continues to play at an exceptionally high level. The reigning league MVP is in the middle of another sterling season that includes a 9-2 record as Green Bay's starting quarterback. Rodgers expressed his appreciation for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin before and after the Packers' Week 4 win over the Steelers. Rodgers also spoke highly of the Pittsburgh area.
If the money is right (Rodgers would likely have to accept a similar contract to the one Tom Brady signed with Tampa Bay in 2020), the addition of Rodgers would keep the Steelers in the conversation as a playoff and possible Super Bowl contender. Pittsburgh has good offensive weapons that includes a rising star in Diontae Johnson and a rookie running back in Najee Harris. He would be completed by a defense that includes perennial Pro Bowlers in Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Rodgers would also have one of NFL's most reliable kickers in Chris Boswell. The offensive line needs some work, but the unit has largely done a good job protecting Roethlisberger over the past two months.
Why this may not happen: This scenario would first require Rodgers to leave Green Bay. If Rodgers leaves, there's a good chance that he will want to continue to play with Davante Adams. While the Steelers certainly wouldn't mind making room for Adams, both players' salaries would likely create problems for Pittsburgh's salary cap; to make it happen, the Steelers would likely have to part with multiple talented players.
2. Kenny Pickett
Why this may happen: Steelers founder Art Rooney said that his biggest professional regret was not selecting former Pitt standout Dan Marino in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft. With that in mind, Rooney's grandson, Steelers president Art Rooney II, may be inclined to have his team select the Panthers' current quarterback in the 2022 draft.
Pickett, who passed Marino for first on the Panthers' career touchdown pass list during Pitt's ACC Championship Game victory over Wake Forest, is arguably the best quarterback prospect in the draft. Along with his gaudy passing statistics, Pickett has good mobility that would surely be utilized in Matt Canada's offense. Pickett would also be on a rookie salary, which would give the Steelers more flexibility in the salary cap.
Why this may not happen: This Steelers may decide to use free agency to acquire their next quarterback while using the draft to address other needs, specifically on the offensive line, cornerback and inside linebacker. Pittsburgh would also have to be in position to select Pickett, as our CBS Sports NFL Draft experts have Pickett going as high as No. 7 and as low as No. 13 in the first round. The Steelers currently have the 18th pick in the draft. But if they are in position to draft him, it's hard to see Pittsburgh passing on another prolific Pitt passer.