The present clashes with the future with the Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger has paid at least some lip service toward retirement after both the 2015 and 2016 seasons and now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have rolled the dice on a potential heir apparent — former Oklahoma State star Mason Rudolph — “Big Ben” seems at least a little slighted.

“I was surprised when they took a quarterback because I thought that, maybe in the third round, you know you can get some really good football players that can help this team now,” Roethlisberger told 93.7 The Fan, a Pittsburgh-area radio station.

Truth be told, that’s not a terrible take because if you are on the cusp of a Super Bowl run, carpe diem is always the soundest strategy.

There is always a difficult balancing act for any NFL general manager, however, especially in a city used to success like Pittsburgh. One that has to serve two masters: the win-now mentality while also building for the future.

In the case of Roethlisberger, even if he had never mentioned or intimated retirement in the past, the reality is that the two-time Super Bowl winner just turned 36 and has taken a ton of punishment over the years.

So while the Steelers want to maximize what shelf life Roethlisberger has left, Kevin Colbert, the Steelers’ GM, understands his six-time Pro Bowl selection is far closer to the finish line than the starting gun.

With that in mind, you can’t kill Colbert for attempting to take orders from both of those aforementioned masters, first attempting to bolster the Steelers’ defensive backfield with 28th overall pick Terrell Edmunds and then giving “Big Ben,” another weapon to play with — Oklahoma State receiver James Washington.

Only then did the focus turn toward the future and grabbing the guy who threw to Washington in Stillwater, Rudolph, a player at least some evaluators thought could go as high as the late first round if someone was interested in trading up for the fifth-year option on a QB, something that ultimately happened when Baltimore went up to No. 32 to get Lamar Jackson.

Perhaps realizing his football mortality is growing ever closer, Roethlisberger didn’t seem to like what the Steelers’ pick of Rudolph represented.

“Nothing against Mason. I think he’s a great football player. I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid,” Ben said before pivoting. “I just don’t know how backing up or being the third guy, well, who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart, helps us win now.”

Admittedly it doesn’t.

If all goes to plan in Pittsburgh this season, Rudolph will never take the field and the Steelers certainly could have gotten a piece that helps Roethlisberger hold up another Lombardi Trophy next February at No. 76 overall.

The disconnect seems to be that year-to-year for Roethlisberger has magically turned into playing for another three to five years, which would, of course, takes Pittsburgh through Rudolph’s entire rookie contract.

“I think they believed me,” Roethlisberger said of his plan of continuing to play in the foreseeable future. “Once they drafted a quarterback in the third I wasn’t sure if they believed me or not.”

There weren’t too many people in this league who took Roethlisberger’s previous comments about retirement all that seriously and an NFL source told that virtually all of the angst was tied to Roethlisberger’s often combative relationship with former offensive coordinator Todd Haley, something that is no longer an issue with Haley relocating to Cleveland.

Add that to all the money Roethlisberger would have left on the table and it now seems like the QB himself believes Colbert should have realized how empty his own words were in the past and pushed all of the Steelers’ chips to the middle of the table at the expense of any succession plan.

A cynic might also say that Roethlisberger is threatened by the presence of a more legitimate prospect in Rudolph versus his 2017 caddies, backup Landry Jones and 2017 fourth-round pick Joshua Dobbs, players no one really believes will be leading the Steelers in the post-Roethlisberger era.

There is always an interesting dynamic in any locker room around the NFL.

To be a good teammate, you have to mentor young players who may ultimately take your job. In some ways that’s against human nature and the idea of career survival. Brett Favre didn’t like when Aaron Rodgers showed up in Green Bay and now Roethlisberger is following in the same petty path with Rudolph especially after getting a taste of the rookie’s confident personality, one which doesn’t even expect the future Hall of Famer to be a mentor.

“I don’t think I’ll need to [mentor him] since he said he doesn’t need me,” Roethlisberger quipped. “If he asks me a question, I might just have to point to the playbook.”

Cooler heads and professionalism may ultimately prevail here when new OC and quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner gets his two Alpha males in the same space but this isn’t a great start for Colbert’s attempt to ensure a seamless transition in Pittsburgh at the game’s most important position.

If Rudolph ever does get an opportunity in Pittsburgh in the next few years, he will sink or swim without Roethlisberger’s help.

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About John McMullen

-John McMullen is a national NFL columnist for and the NFL Insider for ESPN South Jersey. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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