April 22, 2010

Reactions are reaching far and wide in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension, which also comes with published reports that the team may be trying to trade him away. Suddenly, these aren't your older brother's Steelers anymore. Heck, they don't even look like your Steelers anymore, if you're a Pittsburgh fan.

Many fantasy experts, a lot of them who I have a ton of respect for, are already dropping Roethlisberger in their player rankings, maybe boosting Rashard Mendenhall, and now wondering about the value of Mike Wallace, who has already been anointed a "riser" by some fantasy types. I say withhold all judgments for now. The Steelers team you see on a virtual depth chart right now is by no means the same one you will see on the field when the season opens.

Whether it's six games, or ultimately four, Pittsburgh now must choose between Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich as the replacement for Roethlisberger early in the season. Both options are very less than ideal. Dixon has some upside and looked good briefly as a starter for one game last year, but if opponents get a chance to prepare for him for a significant stretch, they can definitely exploit his inexperience and weaknesses. So the Steelers brought back Leftwich, who was erratic in his heyday with the Jaguars, and can only be worse as an extended four to six-game starter with a Steelers team that has a changing supporting cast.

I would not be surprised to see the Steelers make a move to land a more stable "interim" starter, especially when it's becoming more apparent that Roethlisberger is an off-field risk who also absorbs a ton of hits on the field as well. Even if he straightens his act out, there are no guarantees that he can avoid injuries, either. I just can't believe the Steelers are comfortable with a Leftwich/Dixon combination in case of emergency. There's also Charlie Batch, who I would actually take over Leftwich, if healthy, but none are ideal options for a four or six-game stretch.

I could be way off base here, but having such unattractive backups to Roethlisberger also makes me believe the Steelers could be inclined to deal Roethlisberger. The trio of reserves is much better served behind a guy who can come in and start right away, not as plug-in options. If the Steelers can deal their starting QB in a package that includes another QB in return, it would serve them well.

There is also a solid and believable rash of opinions that say the Steelers will stick with Roethlisberger and forgive him, and their fans will likely forgive him as well. If that's the case, I simply cannot envision them opening the season with any of their current backups as possible interim starters. I also believe that when Roethlisberger returns, he will be primed to make a positive statement and put the controversies behind him with outstanding play. I say draft him as a high-end No. 2 QB and stash him, even if he serves a full six games, you'll be glad you saved him for the second half of your fantasy regular season.

As for the Steelers, I just don't see Dixon to Wallace being a featured combination early in 2010. After the draft, more of the remaining free agents who remain unsigned will find work. While Wallace has upside, I question whether he is fully ready to step into a starting role. The Steelers would likely be more comfortable with him being a luxury as a No. 3 WR again, or at least need to acquire another veteran to compete with him or act as insurance in case Wallace isn't quite ready to step forward.

Ultimately, it's all about there being some unfinished business in Pittsburgh. Each time I type a sentence here, I hear another rumor of a Roethlisberger trade. While it would look somewhat questionable for the Steelers to dump him in his darker moments after he won two championships for them, the fact that they have not yet moved to secure better alternatives makes me believe their opening week starter may not be on their roster right now.

Therefore, I will reserve any firm fantasy judgments for now on the outlook for the Steelers from a fantasy perspective in 2010. I have no real idea who will open the season as their starting QB, and I am not sold that Wallace will be the clear No. 2 WR yet, no matter what is said publicly. In addition, I am not moving Rashard Mendenhall up on my boards, when he may face stacked defensive fronts for four to six games.

I can certainly see the Pittsburgh braintrust being tired of all the Roethlisberger headlines, and if he is indeed dealt, I believe he can fit in very well elsewhere and even play well on teams that lack outstanding supporting casts. Roethlisberger is the type of player who can make his teammates look better, and will spread the ball around effectively if he lacks ideal targets. As we have seen in Pittsburgh, he will create his own room to throw if the offensive line lets him down.

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