The Denver Broncos are being linked to every quarterback under the sun this offseason. While the team still has Drew Lock under an extremely favorable contract for the next two years, it seems the 25-year-old didn’t show enough on tape last season even with obvious improvement down the stretch for new GM George Paton to be 'all in' on him as the understood starter for the 2021 season.
This doesn't mean that Lock won’t wind up starting for the Broncos in 2021 and it doesn’t mean he can't eventually become a franchise-caliber quarterback for the organization. However, with Broncos insider Mike Klis just recently reporting how aggressive Paton and the Broncos were in their pursuit of Matthew Stafford, as well as how interested the team will be (along with half of the league) if the Houston Texans make Deshaun Watson available, there is no way around it: the decision-makers in the front office are not satisfied going into next season with the likes of Lock, Jeff Driskel, and Brett Rypien as the quarterback room.
Given the Broncos’ uncertainty at quarterback, it makes sense that the bettors of Las Vegas would install the team with some of the best odds of landing some of these bigger-name veteran QBs. With so many teams needing signal-callers, the game of musical chairs that will be the quarterback vacancies will be one of the most intriguing storylines as 2021 may bring about a carousel never before seen.
If you can think of a free agent or a likely-to-be-traded quarterback, it’s likely the Broncos have been linked to obtaining that player. Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Mitchell Trubisky, Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor, or Jameis Winston via free agency. On the trade market, there are possibilities like Alex Smith, Marcus Mariota, Nick Foles, and Gardner Minshew — to say nothing of the aforementioned Watson, so Paton is without a doubt going to add someone to the quarterback room
One quarterback who has yet to be connected to the Broncos and other teams is that of Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. After a year where it appears Roethlisberger’s physical skills appear to be dwindling, it seems possible that the Steelers may have to make the tough decision and release the future Hall-of-Famer due to his play and a diminished 2021 salary cap.
Gregg Rosenthall of NFL.com hashed out just why Big Ben may be the most surprising but realistic cut candidate of the entire AFC this offseason:
Owner Art Rooney II made it clear back in January the Steelers are ready to release Big Ben if necessary. Teams do not ask players to take pay cuts -- much less talk about it publicly -- unless they are prepared to move on if the negotiations don't pan out. Roethlisberger has also made it clear publicly he's willing to take a pay cut, but general manager Kevin Colbert's noncommittal words recently indicate that may not be enough.
Roethlisberger's buddy, Maurkice Pouncey, has retired. The Steelers let go of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, whom Roethlisberger was close to. JuJu Smith-Schuster may be next to go. It's possible that Steelers brass view this offseason as the appropriate time to rebuild the machine, especially after the team's 1-4 finish to the 2020 campaign. Cutting Ben, while painful, would save $19 million against this year's cap. It may be the cleanest way to massage their difficult salary cap situation, currently projected to be $30 million over the cap.
Would the Broncos be interested in Roethlisberger? Given how the team is being linked to every QB, ranging from obvious talents that would supplant Lock as the starter to the kind of players fans groan with displeasure when reading rumors of their team linked to them, it seems inevitable that if the Steelers do release Roethlisberger, a discussion in Denver will in the very least take place.
Would Big Ben Make Sense in Denver?
Why would Roethlisberger make sense? If Denver is honestly considering such non-needle-moving quarterbacks such as Dalton, Foles, and Taylor, Big Ben’s play on the field cannot be worse than those options, right?
Roethlisberger would come with a high pedigree, can play from the shotgun in a scheme that heavily emphasizes 11 personnel (hello, Pat Shurmur), and can offer a veteran solidifying presence on offense. Hard to imagine Fangio wouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief not having to worry as much about the offense knowing he had Roethlisberger under center so Vic Fangio could better allocate his energy on his bread and butter; the defensive side of the ball.
This no doubt would not be met with bells ringing and people dancing in the streets of Denver. Roethlisberger has his fair share of concerning off-the-field concerns during his professional career and based on his play over the last few seasons, it appears as if father time is either already here or at least on the doorstep of Roethlisberger’s game. Big Ben’s arm isn’t the same and his mobility continues to degrade.
The match of Roethlisberger to Denver isn’t a clean fit with what the local media has been spouting this offseason. The narrative currently is that the Broncos, if they cannot obtain an obvious difference-maker franchise quarterback, would look for a veteran that could come in and compete with Lock for the starting gig in 2021.
That likely wouldn't be the case if Denver were to sign Roethlisberger. Rather, if Denver did pursue Big Ben, he would likely need to be guaranteed he would be the starter come Week 1.
Such a promise would not be a long-term commitment, though. If Big Ben struggled and showed signs of further decay, such as Peyton Manning in 2015 or Drew Brees this year, it’s likely the Broncos go back to Lock who would hopefully have grown further during his time behind Roethlisberger, but this is undoubtedly a slightly different path than that currently being portrayed by many in their vision of a quarterback camp battle with Lock versus a veteran.
Would Denver be willing to do that? Is Roethlisberger the caliber of quarterback at this point where he would be an obvious improvement over Lock who still has room to grow and improve versus the declining skillset of the soon-to-be 39-year-old veteran? That’s for the decision makers in Dove Valley to decide.
While some will point out that Roethlisberger will likely want to go to a more obvious contender to close out his career the corresponding question should be, which team in that category is even looking for a quarterback?
The teams currently in the quarterback market would be the Jaguars, Jets, Eagles, Panthers, 49ers, Patriots, Bears, Washington, and Saints. A few of those teams are exceedingly likely to nab one of the 'Big Four' quarterbacks in the NFL draft, that just isn’t a list of contending teams.
The only true contender among them is the Saints, who are in such a salary-cap kerfuffle that they may not be able to do much of anything this offseason in free agency. The Broncos, when considering the offensive supporting cast oozing with talent, might just be the most promising landing spot.
It is worth asking, though; would the Broncos even want Roethlisberger at this point? Given the years of Broncos O-line coach Mike Munchak’s work with the Steelers and Big Ben, there is at least one connection that could give Denver some insight as to whether Roethlisberger would be worth pursuing as a short-term stop gap option or not.
There is a possibility that the Steelers work something out to retain Roethlisberger, or even that the last remaining first-round quarterback from the 2004 draft calls it quits. The Steelers do seem ready to move on and roll with Mason Rudolph for a year, meaning there is a real possibility Roethlisberger finishes his career outside the Steel City.
Roethlisberger may not move the needle much for fans these days given his declining play as of late. That said, outside of the Broncos obtaining a Watson, Russell Wilson, or Dak Prescott — or drafting one of Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, or Trey Lance — none of these quarterbacks are going to do much to move the needle.
That’s just the reality of where the Broncos are at with the quarterback position. Paton will continue to explore all avenues available to him, and if Roethlisberger and the Steelers part ways, make no mistake, he will be discussed as a potential option.
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