Thursday, February 22

Tim Benz: Steelers quarterback situation makes it hard to buy what Art Rooney II is selling on Super Bowl goals

season finale press session, Art Rooney II made one thing clear. His franchise has no thoughts of rebuilding. The goal is to have a Super Bowl-winning mindset heading into 2022.

“I would never sit here and say we’re going to change our goal from trying to win a Super Bowl,” Rooney said. “Every season, that has to be the goal, as far as I’m concerned.”

If I’m applying logic, that means one of three things about the team’s approach to replacing Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.

• The Steelers are seriously considering an aggressive move in the draft, in a trade or through free agency to land a new quarterback.

• Rooney is selling himself with goals for the next year.

• Rooney is selling us goals for the next year.

I hope it’s the first. But I doubt it.

I don’t think it’s the latter. So, I guess it’s the third.

Because I can’t believe Rooney II actually thinks a Super Bowl is an achievable goal with Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins at quarterback.

I also can’t believe he doesn’t know that his team is at least in the beginning stages of a rebuild.

The Hall of Fame quarterback is retiring, as is general manager Kevin Colbert. That’s not to mention replacing the defensive coordinator, the offensive line coach and potentially numerous players at defensive back, wide receiver and on both lines of scrimmage.

At least.

I mean, in theory, if part of the logic behind why the team can’t go after the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or Derek Carr is that the roster is so bleak that it needs every possible draft pick to support any quarterback, so that sounds like a rebuild to me.

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To be fair, I’m not going to condemn the Steelers for something they haven’t done yet. In terms of acquiring a veteran to compete for the starting job or perhaps selecting one, Rooney insisted: “We certainly won’t be closing any doors at this point. It is still early in the process. There will be many doors to open and look at.”

That echoes recent comments from Coach Mike Tomlin. So let’s hope they’re paying more than lip service for those claims if the stated goal of trying to compete for a Super Bowl is also legitimate.

Because if Rooney, Tomlin and Colbert felt Rudolph or Haskins were worthy of Super Bowl contention, why didn’t they start last year? They weren’t getting a Super Bowl-worthy game out of Roethlisberger at quarterback. Why was Roethlisberger brought back after the clear warning signs of his limitations at the end of 2020?

As a result, in 2021, the Steelers were fourth in passing attempts but 15th in yards and 30th in yards per attempt. That is not efficient. Especially when so many of those yards were on desperate comebacks when opposing defenses were willingly trading yards for time.

Specifically, the Vikings, Chargers, Chiefs and Bengals (twice).

Roethlisberger ranked 29th in average yards per attempt. He was ranked 24th in the standings.

If Haskins and Rudolph are honestly capable of contending for a Super Bowl, then one of them should have been on the field because this Steelers team was at least (barely) capable of making the playoffs.

Thanks again, Jacksonville. I feel compelled to mention it every time the Steelers’ postseason spot is referenced.

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So was 2021 really about the Super Bowl race, too? Or was it more about building an acceptable exit for Roethlisberger, who obviously wasn’t ready to retire after 2020?

I guess what Rooney says in these media scenarios is more perfunctory than functional, so I’m not going to get too hung up on his choice of words. The rare occasions when Rooney comes out in the open are often more about fulfilling an obligation to spread some offseason talking points to fans. It’s not so much an opportunity to make broad public statements about the course of the franchise.

Additionally, attendance has dropped at Heinz Field. Local television ratings have been down for a year when they were up in many other NFL markets. Rooney is never going to say, “Yes. We are rebuilding.” Especially not in circumstances like that. The closest he came to that recognition was calling life after Big Ben “a new chapter.”

However, if the Steelers enter 2022 with the status quo at quarterback, I won’t blame any fans in Pittsburgh who are hesitant to buy what Rooney is selling.

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