PITTSBURGH -- It's the most important question of the Pittsburgh Steelers' offseason - is Ben Roethlisberger retiring?
More importantly, who's playing quarterback? Who do the Steelers want to play quarterback? Who gives the Steelers the best shot at a Super Bowl run at quarterback?
Right now, we don't know much. The season ended in heartbreak, bringing dozens of questions that need answers to the surface. As the Steelers sit now, only days after their loss to the Cleveland Browns, this team is a blank canvas with much-needed paint.
On paper, 12-4 and a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 is a successful year. For the Steelers, it was a failure.
"It is the loss, the nature of the loss, where we were, how we were trending," head coach Mike Tomlin said on the Steelers' defeat to the Browns. "The fact that we are simply not playing this week. It's all something to deal with."
Which makes you wonder what needs to change? If losing in the Wild Card round of the postseason is as far as this group got them, what can they do to improve it?
"Change is a part of our business," Tomlin said. "I'll acknowledge the possibility for that. We are just beginning the process of having those types of meaty discussions that usually produce changes or non-changes. And so, it is that time of year. I anticipate those discussions happening and happening rather soon as we plot a course to move forward."
So, let's talk about Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers know they hold a Hall of Fame quarterback on their roster for the 2021 season. But a $41.5 million cap hit at 38-years-old is not ideal, especially as the league's cap space declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They also have Mason Rudolph. Maybe not every Steelers fans' first choice as a Big Ben successor, but the player this organization brought in with the intention of at least giving him a try.
"I thought he displayed that he took a step in growth and development in his performance, even though it was a small sample size," Tomlin said. "I would imagine that he is going to continue with that growth and development."
Rudolph's only start - a 24-22 loss to the Browns in Week 17 - he completed 22 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns to one interception.
But much like fans, Tomlin doesn't sound sold on the third-year quarterback.
"We will see where that leads us in terms of what he is able to provide us," said Tomlin. "I'm excited that he was able to display that and I think it is reasonable for me to expect or him to expect that general trajectory to continue."
There are other ways for the Steelers to replace Roethlisberger if needed. The 2021 NFL Draft brings prospects such as Alabama quarterback Mac Jones and others. There's also the possibility of landing a free agent.
Tomlin didn't seem like a coach who's about to lose his quarterback, though. Following the playoff game Sunday, Roethlisberger said the decision would take time and depend on prayer and talks with family.
Tomlin's timeline was similar.
"I don't know what the timeline is for those types of decisions, to be honest," said the head coach. "Like I mentioned, I'm still very much assessing what transpired and just beginning the process of evaluating what transpired and information gathering in an effort to plot a course in terms of moving forward. Those roads usually converge in the upcoming weeks or so, and I imagine that they will. I don't know that I have any level of anticipation specifically as I sit here of when that might be."
The team hasn't begun making decisions on who stays and who goes.
"We haven't made any decisions about any of our personnel along those lines," Tomlin said. "As I mentioned, all of those discussions are interrelated, and we are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of what 2021 looks like in terms of the make up of our team and the issues relative to it."
But this run might not be over yet.
"I think it is reasonable to assume that there is a chance that he will be back," Tomlin said.
Leading us to believe Roethlisberger could be on his way back for the 2021 season. At least for right now