If Big Ben goes, Steelers have plenty of options at quarterback

The Pittsburgh Steelers could be facing a serious dilemma, and soon. If quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger is charged with sexual assault in Georgia, the team might need to make alternative plans at the position for 2010 — and possibly beyond.

Even if Roethlisberger isn’t charged, one more false move could prompt the Steelers to pull the plug on a franchise quarterback who has given the franchise a few too many headaches.

So what would the Steelers do if they suddenly didn’t have Roethlisberger at their disposal? Let’s consider the possibilities.

Dennis Dixon could get his shot at starting if the Steelers need to replace Ben Roethlisberger.
Dennis Dixon could get his shot at starting if the Steelers need to replace Ben Roethlisberger.

1. Dennis Dixon

The 2007 Heisman candidate, who played during his senior year with a torn ACL, saw his draft stock plunge. But his loss was Pittsburgh’s gain: The Steelers scooped Dixon up in round five of the 2008 draft.

Like so many great college players who find themselves thrust into the anonymity of the lower tiers of an NFL depth chart, Dixon was largely forgotten — until he received an opportunity to replace Roethlisberger at Baltimore during the 2009 season, putting together a performance that prompted comparisons to a young Randall Cunningham.

Widely regarded as a favorite of coach Mike Tomlin, Dixon would get the first crack at stepping up.

If he stumbles, that’s when things could get interesting.

2. Charlie Batch

In 2002, the former Lions starter turned unwanted free agent came home to Pittsburgh to assume a backup role. Eight years later, Batch has started only four games — and he has won two Super Bowl rings.

He’s currently an unrestricted free agent, but if Roethlisberger’s legal entanglement results in a suspension or worse, the Steelers likely would consider bringing Batch back for at least another year, if for no other reason than to assist with the week-in, week-out process of preparing Dixon to play.

And to be ready to play if Dixon is injured.

3. Byron Leftwich

When Batch broke a collarbone during the 2008 preseason, Leftwich quickly was added to the team. He was solid in limited duty throughout the season, winning a Super Bowl ring and making himself attractive to the Buccaneers as a free agent.

Currently languishing on the Tampa depth chart, Leftwich likely could be had for a late-round pick. It might be wise for the Steelers to try to get the deal done now, before the Bucs acquire even more leverage via Big Ben doing a perp walk.

4. Daunte Culpepper

After the Batch injury in August 2008, the Steelers brought in both Leftwich and Culpepper for a look-see, and the team was contemplating signing both of them. If they now can’t pry Leftwich away from the Bucs, Culpepper could be a viable fallback.

And to the extent teams look at what a player did against them in making decisions in this regard, consider the fact that Culpepper helped the Lions give the Steelers everything they could handle in October, with Pittsburgh winning at Ford Field by only eight points. Against Pittsburgh’s otherwise stout defense, Culpepper completed 23 of 37 passes for 282 yards.

Given that the class of 2010 quarterback free agents is weak, Culpepper is one of the best available. Though plenty of teams might not agree with that assessment, the Steelers’ might come to a different conclusion, given what they saw from Culpepper during the 2009 season. 

5. Mike Vick

Coach Mike Tomlin, a native of eastern Virginia, has an affinity for players who are from that area. Mike Vick is from that area.

In the past, Tomlin has spoken of Vick in positive terms. So if Tomlin were forced to move forward without Roethlisberger, would Tomlin be interested in bringing the Eagles’ third-stringer to the other side of Pennsylvania?

It’s highly unlikely, given the circumstances that franchise is facing with Roethlisberger. Whether Ben stays or goes, the franchise has a P.R. problem that wouldn’t be improved with the addition of Vick. Though the protests against him during his first season back in the league generally weren’t as bad as most believed they would be, the scene at the recent Ed Block Courage Awards dinner provided a reminder of the animosity that still lingers regarding a man who admitted not only to dogfighting but also to killing dogs deemed unfit to fight.

6. Tim Tebow

Two years after picking up in the fifth round a Heisman contender whose draft stock fell due to injury, the Steelers could be in position to snag a Heisman winner whose draft stock is plunging due to multiple mechanical flaws.

And while many are troubled by the fact that Tebow has a release slower than Byron Leftwich’s, Leftwich did well with the Steelers. Indeed, the Steelers generally have been able to "coach up" their quarterbacks successfully, finding ways to get the most out of a player’s skills while also minimizing his weaknesses.

Though Tebow lacks the downfield burst that will make him another Steve Young or Mike Vick, Tebow is sufficiently mobile to buy more time horizontally, like Roethlisberger does. Then there’s the fact that the coaching staff and front office will likely be in place long enough for the payoff, if/when Tebow finally becomes a solid NFL quarterback.

Given the headaches that Roethlisberger has caused for the franchise, Tebow would be an anti-Ben — a guy who says and does all the right things, and who never would be accused of anything other than being a little bit too blatant about his benevolence.

Still, we’ll take allegations of self-righteousness over allegations of sexual assault any day. The Steelers undoubtedly would agree.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

The Pittsburgh Steelers could be facing a serious dilemma, and soon. If quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger is charged with sexual assault in Georgia, the team might need to make alternative plans at the position for 2010 — and possibly beyond.

Even if Roethlisberger isn’t charged, one more false move could prompt the Steelers to pull the plug on a franchise quarterback who has given the franchise a few too many headaches.

So what would the Steelers do if they suddenly didn’t have Roethlisberger at their disposal? Let’s consider the possibilities.

Dennis Dixon could get his shot at starting if the Steelers need to replace Ben Roethlisberger.
Dennis Dixon could get his shot at starting if the Steelers need to replace Ben Roethlisberger.

1. Dennis Dixon

The 2007 Heisman candidate, who played during his senior year with a torn ACL, saw his draft stock plunge. But his loss was Pittsburgh’s gain: The Steelers scooped Dixon up in round five of the 2008 draft.

Like so many great college players who find themselves thrust into the anonymity of the lower tiers of an NFL depth chart, Dixon was largely forgotten — until he received an opportunity to replace Roethlisberger at Baltimore during the 2009 season, putting together a performance that prompted comparisons to a young Randall Cunningham.

Widely regarded as a favorite of coach Mike Tomlin, Dixon would get the first crack at stepping up.

If he stumbles, that’s when things could get interesting.

2. Charlie Batch

In 2002, the former Lions starter turned unwanted free agent came home to Pittsburgh to assume a backup role. Eight years later, Batch has started only four games — and he has won two Super Bowl rings.

He’s currently an unrestricted free agent, but if Roethlisberger’s legal entanglement results in a suspension or worse, the Steelers likely would consider bringing Batch back for at least another year, if for no other reason than to assist with the week-in, week-out process of preparing Dixon to play.

And to be ready to play if Dixon is injured.

3. Byron Leftwich

When Batch broke a collarbone during the 2008 preseason, Leftwich quickly was added to the team. He was solid in limited duty throughout the season, winning a Super Bowl ring and making himself attractive to the Buccaneers as a free agent.

Currently languishing on the Tampa depth chart, Leftwich likely could be had for a late-round pick. It might be wise for the Steelers to try to get the deal done now, before the Bucs acquire even more leverage via Big Ben doing a perp walk.

4. Daunte Culpepper

After the Batch injury in August 2008, the Steelers brought in both Leftwich and Culpepper for a look-see, and the team was contemplating signing both of them. If they now can’t pry Leftwich away from the Bucs, Culpepper could be a viable fallback.

And to the extent teams look at what a player did against them in making decisions in this regard, consider the fact that Culpepper helped the Lions give the Steelers everything they could handle in October, with Pittsburgh winning at Ford Field by only eight points. Against Pittsburgh’s otherwise stout defense, Culpepper completed 23 of 37 passes for 282 yards.

Given that the class of 2010 quarterback free agents is weak, Culpepper is one of the best available. Though plenty of teams might not agree with that assessment, the Steelers’ might come to a different conclusion, given what they saw from Culpepper during the 2009 season. 

5. Mike Vick

Coach Mike Tomlin, a native of eastern Virginia, has an affinity for players who are from that area. Mike Vick is from that area.

In the past, Tomlin has spoken of Vick in positive terms. So if Tomlin were forced to move forward without Roethlisberger, would Tomlin be interested in bringing the Eagles’ third-stringer to the other side of Pennsylvania?

It’s highly unlikely, given the circumstances that franchise is facing with Roethlisberger. Whether Ben stays or goes, the franchise has a P.R. problem that wouldn’t be improved with the addition of Vick. Though the protests against him during his first season back in the league generally weren’t as bad as most believed they would be, the scene at the recent Ed Block Courage Awards dinner provided a reminder of the animosity that still lingers regarding a man who admitted not only to dogfighting but also to killing dogs deemed unfit to fight.

6. Tim Tebow

Two years after picking up in the fifth round a Heisman contender whose draft stock fell due to injury, the Steelers could be in position to snag a Heisman winner whose draft stock is plunging due to multiple mechanical flaws.

And while many are troubled by the fact that Tebow has a release slower than Byron Leftwich’s, Leftwich did well with the Steelers. Indeed, the Steelers generally have been able to "coach up" their quarterbacks successfully, finding ways to get the most out of a player’s skills while also minimizing his weaknesses.

Though Tebow lacks the downfield burst that will make him another Steve Young or Mike Vick, Tebow is sufficiently mobile to buy more time horizontally, like Roethlisberger does. Then there’s the fact that the coaching staff and front office will likely be in place long enough for the payoff, if/when Tebow finally becomes a solid NFL quarterback.

Given the headaches that Roethlisberger has caused for the franchise, Tebow would be an anti-Ben — a guy who says and does all the right things, and who never would be accused of anything other than being a little bit too blatant about his benevolence.

Still, we’ll take allegations of self-righteousness over allegations of sexual assault any day. The Steelers undoubtedly would agree.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*