As strange as this sounds after that big win against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, it might be time for Kevin Colbert to start thinking about the 2014 draft—specifically, in regards to drafting a quarterback.
I know what you must be thinking: “The Steelers just won a huge game against the Ravens, which proved that this season is far from over. Why should the team think about anything beyond the next game?”
That is precisely the mindset that has allowed the Steelers to become complacent, to the point where they are starting seasons 0-4 and are having to do a complete 180 (which it appears they are about to do) in order to salvage the season. Colbert can savor the present, but he also needs to have his sights set on the future of the franchise.
The Steelers have more pressing needs than quarterback, mainly along the offensive line, the defensive front and at wide receiver. Regardless, the team needs to start planning for a world in which Ben Roethlisberger will no longer be under center.
Roethlisberger has been a fixture with the Steelers since he was drafted in 2004. Three Super Bowl appearances, two rings and countless huge plays later, he is undoubtedly one of the two best quarterbacks in Steelers history (arguably better than Terry Bradshaw).
During his career, Roethlisberger has thrown for 31,339 yards, 197 touchdowns and has a total passer rating of 92.5. The man has already etched one heck of a legacy that includes his uncanny ability to extend plays and make something out of nothing.
But Roethlisberger, though he still has some fight left in him, is on the decline. He may still be elusive and mobile, but he is beginning to show a little regression. It has been nothing drastic, but it has been enough for the team to be worried.
He has gotten back into his bad habit of holding the ball too long, which leads to bad throws and more hits. Speaking of which, one day the questionable offensive line is going to slip up one time too many times and allow a huge hit on Big Ben. Even Roethlisberger has his limits; after taking so many hits, he soon will not be able to recover.
In order to be prepared for when that inevitable hit comes (probably at the hands of James Harrison for a bit of poetic justice), it is time to get serious about grooming a replacement for Roethlisberger.
No, I am not talking about a placeholder in the same category as Landry Jones, a 2013 draft project who is unlikely to break out anytime soon. Instead, the Steelers need to draft someone they feel can be the next Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers was able to study under Brett Favre before he took over the Green Bay Packers, and he quickly led them to a Super Bowl victory (over the Steelers, of course). Steve Young rode the bench and watched Joe Montana play before it was his turn to be the man in San Francisco.
Since Big Ben probably has two or three more years of semi-elite play left in him, now is the perfect time to draft a quarterback and treat him like the heir to a dynasty. Whomever is chosen will have the opportunity to learn from Roethlisberger and, if all goes well, that player will be ready to lead the team upon Roethlisberger’s retirement.
Due to a two-game winning steak, the Steelers are probably no longer in contention to draft Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater—who is almost unanimously considered to be the best quarterback in college football—next season.
So who has the potential to be a franchise quarterback out of next year's draft class?
What the Steelers need is another Roethlisberger-type who can play behind a shaky offensive line while still making plays. Someone who can both tuck and run and stand strong in the pocket would be ideal.
The first guy that comes to mind is Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, but he is too much of a wild card for an organization as classy as Pittsburgh to gamble on. Let him go to the Cleveland Browns or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as they probably need him more.
The team could use a guy like Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who has already won two national championships. Besides being a born winner, McCarron is a talented game manager, which is what the Steelers could use as long as the defense stays dominant.
If Alex Smith can lead the Kansas City Chiefs to a 7-0 record as a game manager, there is no reason to believe that McCarron could not do the same thing with the Steel Curtain on his side.
Guys like Clemson’s Tajh Bod and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller are more mobile options who are definitely a bit raw, but they could be groomed into real talents in the right circumstances.
Whomever the Steelers choose, though, it needs to be a guy they feel can step in immediately when Roethlisberger calls it quits. Finding the next Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson will not be easy, but if any organization can do it, it is the Steelers.