Labriola on Ben's response to picking a QB

Ready or not, here it comes:

• Joe Flacco should be worried. Tyrod Taylor, A.J. McCarron, and Sam Bradford, too. But Ben Roethlisberger? Don’t be ridiculous.

• Six teams picked quarterbacks during the first three rounds of the recently completed NFL Draft, and five of those six did so out of necessity. And yes, that does describe the Ravens, because even though they have Joe Flacco, who owns a Super Bowl MVP trophy, the team has gone three straight seasons without making the playoffs and Flacco’s yards-per-attempt in 2017 was a high-schoolish 5.7.

• The Steelers were the sixth team, and apparently Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t happy about that. The addition of the word “apparently” is to reflect the possibility that what he said was mostly for effect as opposed to him being actually unhappy about how the 76th overall pick of a particular draft was used.

• First, let’s get to the highlights of Roethlisberger’s comments:

• Let’s start with something that has been getting a lot of play: “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 who can help this team now,” Roethlisberger said. “And 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. 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.”

• Then came the qualifier that walked back the tone just a bit: “But, you know, that’s not my decision to make. That’s on the coaches and the GM and the owner and those kind of things. So if they feel like he can help our team, so be it. But I was a little surprised.”

• There was some more, but it’s also worthwhile to understand how all of this came to be.

• That being how this is a real dead spot for members of the media who earn mortgage payments by covering the NFL, what with the draft over and OTAs close to a month away from starting, and how interesting are OTAs anyway? And so what’s a savvy beat man to do? Call the veteran quarterback and ask him what he thinks of his team using a premium pick on another quarterback.

• To be clear, this isn’t the first time since Roethlisberger arrived as the 11th pick of the 2004 NFL Draft that the Steelers have used one of their selections to add a player at his position, but a rundown of those names make it clear this time was different.

• Omar Jacobs, Dennis Dixon, Landry Jones, and Joshua Dobbs are the quarterbacks drafted by the Steelers in between Roethlisberger on the first round in 2004 and Mason Rudolph on the third round a few weeks ago. But none of those picks elicited the reaction because each of those guys represented an attempt to develop a backup.

• Developing your own backup quarterback always is preferable to going the veteran free agent route, both from a cost effectiveness standpoint and also from an availability standpoint, as the Steelers learned during those years they had to deal with repeated injuries to Charlie Batch and/or Byron Leftwich.

• Remember that Jones was drafted on the fourth round in 2013, which meant he was eligible to hit unrestricted free agency in March 2017, and he signed a two-year contract for a reported $4.4 million shortly before he could have hit the open market. The Steelers liked how drafting and grooming their own backup quarterback worked with Jones, and I believe that’s what led them toward Dobbs in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

• Because it typically takes a couple of years of seasoning for a backup quarterback to learn the offense, become familiar with the team’s personnel, and also develop a feel for playing the sport at the NFL level, adding another player into that pipeline made sense from a competitive standpoint, and it also made salary cap sense.

• Sure, Jones re-signed at a reasonable rate, but what if some team gets ridiculous when his current contract expires? What if Jones decides he wants to take a shot at being a starter and has come to the realization it’s not going to happen for him in Pittsburgh? There is no such thing as a plug-and-play backup quarterback who’s affordable and on the correct side of his 30th birthday, and so you’ve got to plan ahead. That’s what the Steelers were doing with Dobbs.

• That 2017 offseason also was the one where Roethlisberger – again during a radio appearance – waffled on playing in 2018. While perfectly within his rights to do so, and arguably a wise move for any player in his mid-30s, it was he who brought the line of succession into the forefront of everyone’s thoughts.

• Granted, Roethlisberger ended the 2017 season by saying he was interested in playing three-to-five more years, but his hesitancy a year earlier likely got the Steelers thinking about a succession plan. But even if they were thinking about it, that plan doesn’t get acted upon in this most recent draft if a talent like Rudolph wasn’t available to them on the third round.

• General Manager Kevin Colbert won’t say that the Steelers had a first-round grade on Rudolph, but that can be inferred when he said they had Rudolph ranked among the other well-known quarterbacks available this spring. Those guys obviously were first-round prospects, which means Rudolph was seen as a first-round prospect by the Steelers as well.

• And in my admittedly unsophisticated eye for quarterback talent, Rudolph and Sam Darnold were the two prospects from this crop who looked to be most capable physically to play the position the way that’s necessary to be a big-time success in the NFL. Which made picking Rudolph in the third round a no-brainer to the extent that it could’ve been considered football malpractice not to.

• And not that it matters a whit, but I also was opposed to spending a first-round pick on a quarterback, and in my mind even doing so in the second-round would’ve been a tough sell, but at some point having a ridiculous combination of value/talent staring you in the face has to trump need. As it apparently did in 2004, when the Steelers settled on a quarterback from Miami (Ohio) instead of a big offensive tackle to make their incumbent quarterback’s life easier.

• “But the Steelers need an inside linebacker to help the team win now,” is the cry of those who disagree with picking a quarterback, but the kind of inside linebacker the Steelers were most likely to get at that stage was more of a Sean Spence type than a Ryan Shazier type, and how did that exactly work out last season?

• Purported to be an accurate and accomplished deep-ball thrower, Rudolph then was right on target in his first go-round with the media, which took place on a conference call back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex shortly after the Steelers picked him.

• “I’d say I’m a completive person. I’m competitive to the bone,” said Rudolph in response to a question about how he perceived the situation he was now a part of with the Steelers. “I’m going to come in and work my butt off to learn the system as quick as I can, have a great rookie minicamp. I look forward to getting whatever reps I can, throws at OTAs, and try to take strides. And obviously, it’s not Ben’s job to teach me anything. It’s my job to learn, and that’s the way I’m going to look at it. Obviously, you’re sitting behind an unbelievable player and a good dude, so I’ll just kind of take it day by day and try to learn what I can each and every day.”

• Perfect. Rudolph was deferential to Roethlisberger but still maintained his competitiveness. He indicated a willingness to be coached, and he displayed a degree of humility that is a nice touch when walking into a locker room and having to assimilate with a group of talented, veteran players.

• This might have made for some valuable fodder on the talk-show circuit and on social media, but all of it – what Roethlisberger said, how Rudolph came off in his first interview with the Pittsburgh media, etc. – is absolutely meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

• Ben Roethlisberger is the Steelers starting quarterback, and he represents the team’s best chance to win a championship in the immediate present/future. If he wants to, and is physically able to play for three-to-five more years, he will be signed to a contract extension and be paid according to his status and his production over the course of his brilliant career. The Steelers then will continue to do their best to surround him with the kind of talent that can help him succeed – funny, there was no complaining about “wasting” a third-round pick on a mammoth, athletic offensive lineman who was rated by one scouting service as the No. 12 overall prospect in the entire draft. Just saying.

• As we close, allow me to come down squarely in Roethlisberger’s corner when he intimated that it wasn’t his job to teach Rudolph how to be an NFL quarterback. He’s absolutely right. It’s not his job. That’s Randy Fichtner’s job to teach, and it’s Rudolph’s job to learn and work to hone his craft.

• Roethlisberger’s job is to be one of the top quarterbacks in football and help the Steelers win games and compete for championships. As long as he’s doing that, it doesn’t matter who gets drafted or when they get drafted, because it will remain Roethlisberger’s job.

• And he’ll be paid accordingly and revered properly.

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