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  • The Steelers said that Ben Roethlisberger is the “unquestioned leader” leader in the locker room. But with the problems surrounding Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, is Pittsburgh giving their QB too much leeway?
By Conor Orr
February 22, 2019

When it comes to some NFL quarterbacks, we tend to bend over backwards to find ways to couch their everyday behavior as some master class in leadership because it’s a universally accepted idea that all quarterbacks must be great leaders. Oh, he jokes with his teammates? Leader. He helps out new receivers who don’t know the offense? Lombardi under center.

While, in some ways, the position demands certain inherent traits that would require others to respect you, or at least tolerate you, sometimes those of us writing about football for a living break a sweat trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. The team-leader quarterback is nearly as trope-ish as the diva wide receiver or the young whiz-kid head coach, and it’s often rooted in the same organic biases that tend to grow out of control without proper maintenance and routine fact-checking. Of course, sometimes it’s true—quarterbacks can, and often are, an invaluable extension of the coaching staff. But… it’s interesting how certain signal callers are able to maintain that stature even if the team goes completely haywire around them.

Take, for example, the Steelers this week reaffirming that Ben Roethlisberger is the “unquestioned leader” of the team; a guy who “has 52 kids under him, quite honestly,” according to their general manager (side note: How many grown men in that locker room are going to be thrilled at being called a child?). All of his off-field behavior to the contrary notwithstanding (and, I guess some of his Steelers-related behavior, too), is it fair to ask what share of the blame—if at all—the unquestioned leader takes for two of the best skill position players in team history flamethrowing their way out of town? While Le’Veon Bell’s situation was more about money and a fair market-value contract, he doesn’t seem to be shedding tears over playing in a new zip code. Antonio Brown specifically mentioned the quarterback’s personality as a reason for him not wanting to be there anymore.

Should teams be asking more of a quarterback than many big corporations ask of their CEOs, who—despite littering their office with progressive, trendy tomes on modern leadership—would take a similar path as the Steelers and simply exile the personnel standing in their way of harmony? Or, because of our universally accepted ideas of the quarterback leader, is there an expectation that the largest cap hit on the team also comes with some psychological finesse that can keep everyone in the same orbit? It may be a gargantuan ask, after all. Not everyone is Tom Brady. On top of learning the offense, healing physically, spending time with their families, completing their extraneous media requirements, practicing and watching film, do we really think most quarterbacks have time to massage 52 egos?

If the Steelers believe a team without Bell or Brown is their best path back to a Super Bowl, which they haven’t won in the Roethlisberger era without other established leaders like Hines Ward, Alan Faneca and Troy Polamalu in tow, the team may be gambling on the idea that Roethlisberger can lead them there.

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