There's been a distinct trend in recent years of NFL players, even very good ones, calling it quits several years (or more) before they've hit the age that was typical of retirement in previous eras. With the ongoing studies that show increased risk of CTE, there's a real question of how long an NFL career should last, and it's resulting in many players erring on the side of caution. This is understandable for their personal health and wellbeing, but it does affect the roster on any given team. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been reported to be considering retirement, and Pittsburgh may be weighing their options for a new franchise quarterback in the near future.
Big Ben is 34-years-old, and while that certainly isn't young by the standards of a professional athlete, in previous eras he may have been able to sustain for a few more years. Now, that isn't a given. The Steelers need to have a plan for who will replace him. They have numerous high-quality skill players to take the edge off a newcomer, but they still will need someone who can be consistent for the long-term. There are some appealing options, intermixed with some that deserve a hard pass. Let's see which quarterbacks fall into each category for the Steelers.
Ranked below are eight quarterbacks who could replace Ben Roethlisberger, and seven who shouldn't.
15 COULD: Jimmy Garoppolo
While he's somewhat of an enigma thus far in his NFL career, that's only because Garoppolo has been on the Patriots, and that's clearly not the place to be for a young quarterback looking to establish himself. Still, he was able to flash some of his ability when Tom Brady had a four-game suspension levied against him, and Garoppolo performed very well, until he himself missed the final game of that four-game span. It would depend on whether the Patriots want to part with him considering Brady's age (although there is no indication that he needs to retire, even in his late-30s), and what it would cost. Then there's the question of whether Garoppolo's game is legitimate, or whether his new team would have a Brock Osweiler-type situation on their hands. So many questions here, but if Big Ben walks away, Garoppolo is one of the best options available with age on his side.
14 SHOULDN'T: Ryan Fitzpatrick
After receiving his payday, following an offseason of holdouts and contract negotiating, Fitzpatrick was wholly underwhelming in his second year as the Jets starter. He proved once and for all that he was a journeyman quarterback, not fit to be an NFL starter on a consistent basis. While he was able to fool the Jets' front office on this, he won't be able to do so to the Steelers, who have younger, better options at their disposal. Fitzpatrick is, and always was fool's gold, and probably won't be starting for another NFL team as long as he stays in the league. For a while, it looked as if he had turned the corner of mediocrity, but it just wasn't to be. The Steelers won't make the mistake that others have made, and firmly pass on Fitzpatrick as a potential starter.
13 COULD: Mike Glennon
It's a rare case in the NFL, but Glennon is a current backup quarterback who kind of got a raw deal in the first few years of his career. He was drafted out of North Carolina State to the Buccaneers, and started for his first season in 2013 with the team. He didn't have a bad season in the least for a rookie. However, a lack of playing time in the proceeding seasons, in part because of the acquisition of first overall pick Jameis Winston, made Glennon second fiddle on the depth chart. In a Steelers offense with a surplus of good skill players, he could be a relatively cheap option that has success, if he can conjure up the same type of play he exhibited in the 2013 season. Not a slam dunk option, but an intriguing one that has some upside for Pittsburgh.
12 SHOULDN'T: Brock Osweiler
After signing a massive contract in the offseason with the Texans, Osweiler proved himself to be highly inconsistent, and his future with the team is uncertain. There's a decent chance that he may be looking for a new team in the near future, but the Steelers will want to stay away from the former Peyton Manning-backup. Simply, even with a good offense in Houston, Osweiler struggled during the 2016 season. He didn't live up to his billing, and isn't going to be worth the price that a trade would command, on top of the fact that the Steelers would have to pick up at least a portion of his huge contract. Some team is likely to take the bait if he hits the market, but the Steelers should know better, and steer clear of a quarterback in Osweiler who has been overhyped for the last several years.
11 COULD: Geno Smith
While Smith certainly has shown his detriments as an NFL quarterback, he still has enough inherent ability to make him worth at least looking at. With the amount of skill players on the Steelers offense, they won't need a quarterback to do absolutely everything, and carry them in games. Smith has fallen out of favor with the Jets, and he can probably be had for a relatively cheap price. On most teams, he wouldn't be a target, but if the Steelers are going to need a stopgap with some upside after Roethlisberger retires, Smith could be a decent option. Smith was hindered by a poor Rex Ryan regime in New York, and could benefit from a better coaching staff in Pittsburgh. Like to happen? Perhaps not, but there are certainly worse options out there.
10 SHOULDN'T: E.J. Manuel
The first round pick out of Florida State ended up being a massive bust for Buffalo, and there's little chance of Manuel being some sort of reclamation project. He's gotten enough playing time from the Bills to know exactly what he is, and it's not someone who can be a reliable starter for an NFL team. Particularly for the Steelers, who's new quarterback will require a strong arm to spread the ball around the field to their assortment of offensive weapons, Manuel just isn't up to snuff. He doesn't have the arm talent, and is too keen on running out of the pocket to get him away from pressure. All things considered, Manuel is confirmed bust, and shouldn't be in the running for the franchise slot in Pittsburgh.
9 COULD: Landry Jones
While Jones doesn't have near the ability that a quarterback like Roethlisberger possessed, he's still worth possibly keeping around considering his familiarity the Steelers offense. Whether or not he can be a consistently reliable option as a starter remains to be seen, but he's probably done enough to be considered in the competition, filling inn admirably for Big Ben when he's gone down with an injury. Though Jones is a free agent this offseason, he would only cost a minimum of expense to bring back in the fold, and then if needed, be a quarterback option that knows the system and coaching staff. Similar situations have both worked and failed before, but Jones is an option that's right there for the taking, as he's on the team already.
8 SHOULDN'T: Mark Sanchez
At this point in his career, Sanchez's main career highlight has been the infamous "butt fumble" incident during his years with the Jets. That's not the kind of resume that the Steelers will be looking to bring into the fold. While he has experience, Sanchez has proven at every opportunity that he just isn't starting quarterback material. He doesn't even have the skill set that will be suited to the Steelers brand of football on offense. Weak arm, and shaky accuracy isn't usually a formula for success. Most likely, Sanchez is looking at backup quarterback gigs for the rest of his career, and though he'll be available to the Steelers, they'll have no interest in giving him a shot. One of the easier calls on this ranking.
7 COULD: Ryan Mallett
Mallett is an oft-forgotten Patriots castoff who spent some seasons with the Texans in their quarterback carousel, and has currently been a backup for the Ravens for the last couple of seasons. He's had up-and-down performances when he's gotten playing time, but Mallett has the type of rocket arm that would suit an offense like the Steelers with the dynamic skill players that they have. There are definitely question marks surrounding him, but there stands a chance for a good coaching staff to get the most out of him. Mallett is unproven overall, but he has the kind of skill set that could provide the big plays for Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Something to consider for Pittsburgh in Big Ben's possible absence.
6 SHOULDN'T: Matt Cassel
Much like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cassel has spent his years in the league being a journeyman backup quarterback and spot starter. Last season with Tennessee, in his limited playing time he lived up to what he had done his entire career. He's definitely available for another starting role, but the Steelers should pass on him. Forced into being a starter with the Cowboys in 2015, he failed to impress, and he just showed that the traces of ability he had shown earlier in his career, had left him at this point in his mid-30s. While Cassel is a veteran option, he isn't a very good one right now, and he should stick with the backup gigs until he finally retires. Next to no chance of Pittsburgh giving him a shot.
5 COULD: Case Keenum
This one may be a bit of a reach, but Keenum actually played surprisingly decently for a quarterback that everyone had written off as totally useless. It's not the most ringing endorsement, but there are aspects of Keenum's game that really showed through during the 2016 season with the Rams. He's relatively young at the age of 28, and he still has some years left to turn the trajectory of his career around. It's all but certain that he won't remain with the Rams, who know have first overall selection Jared Goff to man their quarterback duties. If Roethlisberger does indeed end up retiring, then the Steelers could do worse than to give Keenum a shot as a potential stopgap option. This is a sleeper, but one that makes more sense than some others.
4 SHOULDN'T: Blaine Gabbert
Despite his high first round selection several years ago, Gabbert has done nothing, except prove that the Jaguars bullish attitude on him was a mistake. Last season he saw time with the 49ers as starting quarterback, and was wholly ineffective, showcasing extremely limited arm talent. He won't interest the Steelers in the slightest. Gabber has proven time and time again that he isn't cut out for the NFL game. Though he has some nice running ability, his arm talent just isn't there, and at this point in his career it won't get any better. Expect a hard pass on the Steelers considering Gabbert as a suitable option for the long-term franchise quarterback spot.
3 COULD: Deshaun Watson
Of course, another feasible option for the Steelers is spending a high draft pick on a quarterback. If that turns out to be the case, at their draft position they'll likely be shooting for Deshaun Watson out of Clemson. Some would consider him the best available player at the position in the entire 2017 draft, and it's hard to argue against it. However, Watson is going to command interest from several teams, and the Steelers may find themselves not wanting to pay the price necessary to acquire him. There are a million variables when talking about drafting a quarterback, and it remains to be seen if that would interest Pittsburgh in any way, but Watson seems to have the kind of franchise potential that they would hope for if they pulled the trigger. This is a scenario to keep an eye on.
2 SHOULDN'T: Tony Romo
It's all but certain that the Cowboys will be trading Romo in the offseason, given their sticky cap situation at the moment, and the emergence of Dak Prescott. They're going to try and get max value for him, but frankly, Romo isn't worth the risk for any team, much less the Steelers. Trading any assets for a quarterback nearing the end of his career, who has suffered a major injury three times in the last two years is a sucker move. There's likely going to be a suitor for him, but not a team with stability such as the Steelers. Romo had a great career, but he serves no purpose playing just one or two seasons in Pittsburgh, when he's likely going to get hurt, and then the team will be right back to square one all over again. It's an intriguing proposition, but one that's ultimately left without pursuit. Honestly, Romo should just retire all together, but Dallas will ship him off to salvage some much needed cap space.
1 COULD: Jay Cutler
Despite all the deserved negative attention Cutler has gotten from the NFL landscape for his lack of leadership and sour attitude, there's no denying that he has the skill set necessary to be a good NFL starter. Just beginning to enter his mid-30s, and all but done with the Bears according to every indication, Cutler is a curious option for the Steelers, but one that actually may make more sense than most candidates. If Roethlisberger indeed does end up calling it quits, Cutler's phenomenal arm strength, playoff experience (albeit several years ago), and mobility could be an asset for the Steelers brand of offense. There would certainly be a good amount of things that would have to go right in order for this to work, but Cutler has more inherent skill than everyone on this ranking. The right coaching staff could give his career the leg up that it needs, and the Steelers may fit the bill.