The verdict is in. NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell has suspended Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 season and ordered him to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation.
This development will have wide-ranging consequences, even if Goodell decides to reduce the suspension to four games after taking the temperature of Roethlisberger’s progress before the season:
• On Roethlisberger: He was barred from participating in any more offseason activity with the Steelers until he completes the behavioral evaluation. Although Roethlisberger wasn’t charged after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexually assaulting her in a Georgia nightclub on March 5, Goodell found him guilty of violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
This will hurt Roethlisberger in the wallet, too. He stands to lose close to $2.85 million in salary for next season if he misses six games.
• On the Steelers: Without the quarterback that helped lead them to two Super Bowl championships, they could struggle out of the gate. Although their first six games includes only one playoff team from the ’09 season (Baltimore), that early schedule may be more challenging than it looks.
The Steelers open at home against the Falcons, whose third-year quarterback Matt Ryan is one of the league’s rising stars. Their second game is on the road against the Titans, who made a late surge last season after Vince Young was reinstalled at quarterback. And Baltimore, their Week 4 opponent, is a division rival that is always tough.
• On Roethlisberger’s backup: The Steelers already had Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon on their roster before acquiring Byron Leftwich from Tampa Bay for a seventh-round draft pick on Tuesday night. Although Batch has started in place of Roethlisberger before and Dixon started a game last year in his second season, Leftwich likely will get the call to start the 2010 season.
Leftwich backed up Roethlisberger in 2008, when he completed 21 of 36 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns in five games. He is familiar with the Steelers offensive system and most of the personnel, and he’s the best candidate to step in as the starter until Roethlisberger returns.
• On Roethlisberger’s advocacy: Although his teammates have outwardly expressed support for their quarterback, they may be starting to get weary of all the off-field distractions. First, there was the motorcycle accident in which Roethlisberger suffered serious injuries. Then, there was a similar assault accusation made against him last year by a woman who worked at a casino in Nevada.
• And what about Steeler Nation? Most Pittsburgh fans put the team first. They aren’t likely to support a player — premier quarterback or not — whose behavior continues to taint the franchise. Don’t be surprised if Big Ben gets a cold reception when he returns, whether it’s five or seven weeks into the season.
Dennis Dillon is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.