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Tim Benz: Time for Steelers to start preparing for life after Ben Roethlisberger

| Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, 6:27 p.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger call signals against the Ravens Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore Md.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger call signals against the Ravens Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore Md.

Exactly how bad was Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday?

Well, that five-interception display might have been the worst quarterbacking performance since Johnny Moxon in the hangover-game scene during the movie “Varsity Blues.”

Eventually “Mox” recovered. And there is plenty of reason to believe Big Ben will as well.

Maybe this week against Kansas City.

OK. Too bold? Then perhaps next week against the Bengals? Reggie Nelson doesn't play for them anymore does he?

But even if Roethlisberger does bounce back, it's time for the Steelers organization and its fans to acknowledge their quarterback's football mortality.

And it's time to start planning for the next chapter at the position.

The same conversations are starting or have been underway for some time in Southern California and New York about Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. All three signal callers are in their 14th season. All three have contracts through 2019 with manageable outs after 2018 featuring dead cap hits in the $6.2-$7 million range ( according to Spotrac ).

And all three teams should make succession plans this offseason by drafting or acquiring future starting quarterbacks.

That process could be expedited by what appears to be an unusually deep quarterback draft class. Maybe those clubs could seamlessly transition or even improve from 2018 to 2019 as Pittsburgh did in 2004 when Roethlisberger took over for an injured Tommy Maddox.

What has been strange though is the schizophrenic way in which coach Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger have discussed his inevitable path toward retirement.

It all started after last season when Roethlisberger announced on his KDKA-FM radio show that he had to consider his future before determining whether or not to return.

It was jarring to hear at the time. Even after deciding to play, Roethlisberger has maintained he will go through the same evaluation process each year moving forward.

That's appropriate. As was the team's reaction this offseason.

“He said it. So you do take it seriously,” Tomlin said after the 2016 season. “That's a fair assessment of where he is in his career.”

“We're always open to putting a quarterback in the mix because it is the most critical position in our game,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said before the draft. “We have a great quarterback. We think he is going to be here for a while. We hope that. But we need to be prepared.”

But with Roethlisberger's season thus far being OK-at-best to terrible-at-worst, that talk about the future has turned from a cozy theory to stark reality.

So when a frustrated Roethlisberger blurted, “Maybe I don't have it anymore,” after the 30-9 Jacksonville loss Sunday, we shouldn't have been surprised. Even if he just voiced it out of disgust, he isn't wrong to consider such a possibility.

Prior to Roethlisberger's media session in the locker room, Tomlin flatly stated, “He isn't playing well. I'll let him speak for him.”

Maybe that knee-jerk reaction should be contemplated.

Despite all that, for some reason Tomlin dismissed media inquiries about Roethlisberger's view of his own status and future.

“Last year after a very disappointing playoff exit, he talked about retirement. You guys ran to the moon and back with that,” Tomlin quipped Tuesday.

Well, gosh, Mike. Based on the quotes outlined above, maybe you didn't come all the way to the moon with us, but you were at least in orbit.

Also Tuesday, Roethlisberger (again on his radio show) said, “You wake up Monday morning, and you realize, ‘Man, I'm still one of the best at what I do,' and I'm gonna have that confidence.

“I have that belief that I'm one of the best that's ever done it, one of the best that's ever played this position.”

Tomlin told us to take Roethlisberger's Sunday statements “with a grain of salt.”

I do.

But the same should be done regarding Roethlisberger's quotes Tuesday as equal parts self-motivational speech and an attempt at mollifying his postgame remarks.

Roethlisberger's long-term future is in Canton, Ohio.

Yet, his short-term future is more foggy. And there's nothing wrong with having the discussion. Especially since the team and the player are already on record as having thought about it.

I say start preparing for life After Ben the minute 2017 is finished. Because by the end of 2018, it might be upon us.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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