The Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly had a deal in place to trade Ben Roethlisberger to the 49ers in 2009. What would the team have looked like if this had happened?
I was a big fan of Marvel’s “What if…?” miniseries that came out this past year, as their talented team of writers explored different avenues of what the stories of the Marvel Cinematic Universe could have been like if things had gone just a bit differently. While the NFL isn’t something out of science fiction, there’s a ‘what if’ scenario I would love to dive into.
Believe it or not, the Steelers were remarkably close to executing a trade that would have sent QB Ben Roethlisberger to the San Francisco 49ers, once upon a time. Recently, Dan Pompei of The Athletic shed light on just how close this scenario was to playing out back in 2009.
However, it was former 49ers head coach Mike Singletary who ultimately vetoed the trade. Here’s what Pompei had to say in his article:
Quarterback Alex Smith was in his fifth season in [Mike] Singletary’s first full year as head coach. The former first pick of the draft had been a massive disappointment, and moving on would have been best for all. But Singletary liked Smith, saw his potential, and knew he had worked with four coordinators in his first four years. He wanted to give him a chance, and he told him he would.
Then, 49ers owner John York, CEO Jed York, director of player personnel Trent Baalke and other executives called Singletary to a meeting. They had a trade in place with the Steelers for Ben Roethlisberger, who had recently been accused of sexual assault.
Roethlisberger was two years removed from a Pro Bowl appearance in 2007 and already had two Super Bowl victories under his belt. After the 49ers rejected this offer, Roethlisberger would go on to play 13 more years in his legendary Hall of Fame career.
Singletary finished his coaching career in San Francisco with an underwhelming 18-22 record. Needless to say, the failed former head coach would do things differently if given the chance. Pompei continued:
[Singletary] felt an obligation to Smith, and he also believed he needed to stand for what he had been preaching.
“I had been telling the team I wanted a team of character,” [Singletary] says. “I felt I had to be true to that. But if I could do it again, I’d do it differently.”
Steelers fans wouldn’t want to know a life without Ben Roethlisberger (or at least one that has him playing the majority of his career elsewhere). But this trade was incredibly close to playing out, and we just can’t help but wonder… what if?
What would Steelers look like if they traded Roethlisberger?
Fortunately, this isn’t the scenario that came to fruition. However, it’s worth thinking about what would have happened with the team if Mike Singletary had pulled the trigger on the trade.
At the time, Roethlisberger’s reputation had taken a hit after sexual assault accusations, so it’s hard to determine what his trade value would have been, and the specifics of the deal were never released. Hypothetically, let’s say the Steelers were able to get a first-round pick out of the 49ers. Because the reported trade proposal took place after the 2009 NFL Draft, the Steelers would have been looking at San Francisco’s top pick in 2010.
Following the 2009 season, the 49ers ended up with the 11th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft — a pick that would have likely been later if Roethlisberger was leading the team. The Steelers held the 18th overall pick this year.
Sam Bradford was the top quarterback selected, as he went to the Rams with the first overall pick. Even if the Steelers would have packaged their two first-round picks together after trading Ben, landing Bradford would have been unlikely.
So who was the next QB selected in 2010? None other than Florida Gator’s legend, Tim Tebow. Unfortunately, Tebow was a failed experiment in the NFL, and there’s no guarantee the Steelers would have had enough interest in him to take him with one of their first-round picks. Just one quarterback was taken in the second round: Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen.
Of course, had the Steelers executed a Roethlisberger trade with the 49ers, they could have explored trading for a QB to take his place, or perhaps they simply would have waited to take a QB in a stronger draft class the following year with players like Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder.
The other quarterbacks already on the roster at this time included Charlie batch (age 35), Dennis Dixon (age 25), and Byron Leftwich (age 30). More than likely, the team wouldn’t have been satisfied moving forward with any of these players as the starter.
Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers are fortunate that this trade didn’t go through. Ben Roethlisberger gave this city another 13 years of successful seasons and will be in the Hall of Fame soon. Though the Steelers wouldn’t go on to win another Super Bowl with him, who would have been a better option in Pittsburgh than Big Ben?