Thursday, April 15, 2010

Should Ben Stay or Should He Go?

First, let's dispense with one thing. I don't like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some might say that I hate the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they wouldn't be completely wrong. There's certainly something that feels like hate brewing inside of me when I talk about them.

That being said, I've generally been able to be pretty objective when it comes to talking about them in Joe and Joe context, or in any analytical context, so I'm going to take a crack at the current situation with Ben Roethlisberger.

Let's start with the facts. Roethlisberger faced criminal charges on sexual assault in two different circumstances. In both instances, the charges were eventually dropped, though there's still a civil suit outstanding in one case. Additionally, the Steelers have had a well-publicized and long-cultivated reputation for being intolerant of people with poor characters, parting ways with Bam Morris (marijuana), Plaxico Burress (attitude), and Cedrick Wilson (hit his girlfriend) for character issues. Additionally, just this week the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets after finding out he'd be suspended the first four games of the 2010 season, for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

But hang on. Right around the time Cedrick Wilson was cut for hitting his girlfriend, James Harrison broke down his girlfriend's door, snapped her cell phone in half, and slapped her across the face. Harrison faced no punishment from the Steelers' front office. Why? The company line was that each instance was viewed independently, and the two situations were not the same. To Pittsburgh apologists, the difference was a closed fist versus an open hand. To everyone else, the difference was that Wilson was a fourth string wide receiver, and Harrison was arguably their best linebacker. To fans in the rest of the league, it was a message saying that the Steelers are no different than any other team; on-field performance outweighs off-field transgressions.

It should then come as no surprise that Santonio Holmes was only traded once it was determined that he would miss four games in 2010 due to suspension. Pittsburgh likely felt they could make a statement and cut someone who was going to play at most 12 games anyways, so the decision was easier.

But now, with a large public outcry, specifically from the African-American community, the Steelers are faced with the decision on what to do with Ben Roethlisberger. The commissioner's office is expected to make a ruling soon on whether or not Roethlisberger will be punished through the NFL's personal conduct policy, and a 4+ game suspension by Roger Goodell could take the Rooneys off the hook. They'd be able to say, "We agree with the commissioner's decision, and consider the matter closed." Most teams have abided this general train of thought, and suspended players' teams have not been held accountable for discipline as a result (I cite Michael Vick on the Eagles, Adam Jones on the Titans/Cowboys, and Tank Johnson on the Bears/Cowboys). The commissioner has basically agreed to play bad cop for the whole league, allowing the teams to be the good cops.

And so now we come to the real question, and the title of this post. Should the Pittsburgh Steelers actively attempt to trade Ben Roethlisberger? I've heard and read that the rumors floating around about a trade to the Rams are untrue, and generally I believe that, since franchise quarterbacks rarely get traded. But we're not here to talk about "will it happen" or "won't it happen"; that's for the experts and the insiders. I'm an opinion-speaker, and so I will state my opinion.

If there were an offer from the Rams of this year's #1 overall pick and a first round pick next year, I think that the Steelers should think long and hard before turning it down. The reasons:
  1. The window on this team's potential short-term success may already be closed. The defense is getting older, Hines Ward probably will be gone in two to three years, you just traded Santonio Holmes, and Troy Polamalu, the team's most popular and most important player, has two years left on his deal, and will almost certainly command a $10 million/year contract. That means he'll likely be gone as well.

  2. The #1 overall pick is a great pick to have. If the team and Mike Tomlin both like Sam Bradford or Jimmy Clausen, you have the chance to draft a guy you believe will be your next franchise quarterback. If you're not wild about either of them, you can take Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy and have an elite defensive tackle for the next ten years. Furthermore, the opportunity to trade down always exists, and the Steelers have been fantastic at finding good talent between picks 10 and 75.

  3. The resulting PR would be a boon. Right now, the Steelers are in a no-man's land between "character counts" and "anything to win." Among sports analysts or more passive sports fans, these minor hypocrisies are irrelevant. To the average sports fan, though, they're unacceptable. Most Steelers fans I've met take pride in their team's "no nonsense" stance when it comes to character issues, and are either emotionally torn or uninformed regarding James Harrison's infractions. Not that Pittsburgh needs much of a boost when it comes to fanship, but you can never have too many fans.
That's my theoretical analysis of the trade. My personal opinion? No way you trade him.

See, I fall into the "anything to win" camp much more distinctly than most. I think it's silly that no team has signed Barry Bonds. I thought it was ridiculous that Terrell Owens got deactivated for the second half of the season for saying he'd rather have Brett Favre as his quarterback than Donovan McNabb. Does that mean that I buy into guys like Albert Haynesworth, who seem to care very little about their team and winning? Sometimes, yes. But it's not like Roethlisberger hasn't shown that he wants to win. He leaves it all out on the field, and his track record is impressive, even if you're accounting for him being backed up by one of the best defenses in the world.

Of course, I also say you pay Troy Polamalu whatever he asks for.

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