John Steigerwald: Steelers have proven they can win without a franchise quarterback, too
Hurry, before the window closes.
That seems to be the consensus from fans and many in the media when it comes to the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger.
In the days leading up to him signing a two-year contract extension that will pay him around $35 million a year, most of the analysis seemed to be the Steelers have only three more years before their franchise quarterback is gone, and when the Roethlisberger window closes fans, should be prepared to wander in the desert until the next savior shows up.
You probably shouldn’t expect to go to or win a Super Bowl without a franchise quarterback, but, in Steelers history, there’s plenty of evidence to allow the fans to keep the faith.
The Steelers won 12 games and went to the AFC championship game in 1994 with Neil O’Donnell.
The next year with O’Donnell, they were 11-5 and went to the Super Bowl.
They won 10 games with Mike Tomczak in 1996.
Kordell Stewart took them to an 11-5 record and the AFC championship game in 1997.
In 2001, with Stewart at quarterback, they went 13-3 and back to the AFC championship game.
That’s one 13-win season, one 12 win season, two 11 win seasons and a 10 win season before Roethlisberger showed up.
They have been to the Super Bowl three times and won twice with Roethlisberger, and he is the second-best quarterback in Steelers history. But that last Super Bowl win was 11 years ago.
There have been some very good regular seasons in those 11 years with a 13-, a 12- and two 11-win seasons, but there also have been two 8-8 seasons and last year it was 9-6-1.
Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but, since that last Super Bowl win, the Steelers are 5-6 in the post season.
He has 15 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Those aren’t franchise quarterback numbers.
So if there ever was a window, might it have already closed?
If the Steelers don’t go back to the Super Bowl at least once in the next three years, does that mean the window closed a long time ago?
The NFL is a lot more pass happy now than it was 15 or 20 years ago, but there’s more than enough proof the Steelers can win 10 or more games and get to an AFC championship without a franchise quarterback.
• The Steelers have had plenty of success in the past trading up in the draft, and, by all accounts, they might have done it again by getting the inside linebacker they wanted — Devin Bush — by trading up for the 10th pick. But the real steal might be Diontae Johnson, the wide receiver from Toledo whom they took in the third round.
He’s from the Mid-American Comference, same as Antonio Brown. Johnson is about the same size and appears to have Brown-like quickness and can make the tough catch.
He didn’t catch as many passes as Brown did, but he averaged 16 yards per catch to Brown’s 10. Brown’s success has come from his quickness and his ability to find an open spot in the secondary when a play breaks down.
That’s how you put up numbers in the NFL these days. There aren’t a lot of good tacklers out there.
The good news is, on tape, Johnson looks a lot like Brown. The bad news is, as good as Brown was, he started only three games his first two seasons.
It might take a while. The Steelers just have to hope that the window is still open when Johnson is ready to arrive.
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.