PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been a "win now" team.
When the 2020 season ended - in a nearly unimaginable loss to the Cleveland Browns in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs - it immediately became clear the Steelers needed change. The first thoughts were a switch at offensive coordinator, new linemen, a running back, and Ben Roethlisberger.
As the 38-year-old sat on the bench alongside Maurkice Pouncey at Heinz Field on January 10, it embedded itself in the minds of us all that it was the last time we'd see No. 7 in a uniform. Even if we didn't know for sure, it felt like that was the lasting moment we'd remember for years to come.
Sitting on the bench, in defeat, with tears running down his face.
Maybe that moment made it okay with most of us that this is the end. That a change is coming, and even if it's not for the better, it's finally here.
Or maybe, it put the thought in our minds that Roethlisberger is stuck in defeat after watching the pain following the team's fifth loss in six games.
Either way, the thought is wrong. The Steelers want Roethlisberger to return for another season not because they want to be respectful, but because they understand it's their best opportunity to win.
"Ben assured me that he is committed to coming back to help us win, and I told Ben that we would like to have him back to win a championship," team president Art Rooney II said in a statement.
And he was spot on. This team is built to win right now. They aren't built for Roethlisberger to win for them, with a ton of help needed on the offensive line and no chance of developing a run game without a change a running back, but they're built to win with him.
The defense will keep enough pieces to stay one of the best in the NFL, and as many teams have shown before, a quarterback who doesn't lose you a game can be just as good as a quarterback who wins them. (Ex. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos).
Even if Roethlisberger retired and the Steelers cap hit lowered to $22 million instead of the $27 million it'll be after a restructure, it's not doing enough to replace what an experienced quarterback brings to a team.
You don't go out and replace Ben Roethlisberger without losing all the pieces you'd lose by keeping Ben Roethlisberger.
Does that make sense? The Steelers likely won't get to keep Bud Dupree or JuJu Smith-Schuster. They'll lose out on Cameron Sutton and getting to retain players like Robert Spillane.
They'd lose these players either way, though. Smith-Schuster isn't returning to a team with Mason Rudolph at quarterback, and you can't afford Smith-Schuster if you sign a big-name quarterback.
Dupree and the rest of them are gone no matter what.
If there was a contingency plan in place, then this story would be different. People could be upset about holding onto a 38-year-old quarterback who's won three playoff games in 10 years if there was someone sitting behind him worth playing.
They don't have that, though. They have Rudolph, Josh Dobbs and Dwayne Haskins. Meaning Ben Roethlisberger is by far their best choice, no matter what the money says.