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Updated April 21, 2010 @ 1:44 p.m. ET
If, as several media outlets are reporting, the Steelers are open to trading Ben Roethlisberger before the NFL draft, who would be their most logical trading partners?
Let's start by setting aside the teams that would be unlikely to have much interest in Roethlisberger, who was suspended by the NFL on Wednesday for the first six games of the 2010 season for a violation of the league's personal-conduct policy, for the following reasons:
• They have an established starting quarterback.
• They have invested heavily in, or are gambling big on, a quarterback who has yet to become a star but has flashed such potential.
Using these criteria, we'll rule out the Bears, Buccaneers, Bengals, Chargers, Chiefs, Colts, Cowboys, Eagles, Falcons, Giants, Jets, Lions, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Redskins, Saints, Texans, Titans and Vikings. We will also rule out the Browns, for it is unlikely the Steelers would deal their most dynamic offensive player to a division rival.
All told, we've eliminated 21 of the 31 potential trading partners from discussion, leaving us with 10 hypothetical suitors for Roethlisberger. Let's take a closer look at each, with reasons why they could have interest in Roethlisberger if he ever were available in trade: (Teams listed in alphabetical order)
Cardinals — Imagine Roethlisberger in that talent-laden offense. Of course, whether Roethlisberger and head coach Ken Whisenhunt would want to be reunited is another issue altogether; the two reportedly have had a strained relationship at times.
Bills — They desperately need better QB play to compete in the AFC East. The Jets and Dolphins have significantly bolstered their rosters in the offseason, and the Patriots are still formidable. Also, the Bills' new assistant general manager and director of pro personnel, Doug Whaley, was once the Steelers' pro personnel coordinator.
Panthers — Can you see Roethlisberger scrambling, throwing and hitting a streaking Steve Smith in stride? (Aside: with head coach John Fox entering the final year of his contract, rumors of a Roethlisberger-Bill Cowher reunion in 2011 would start immediately.)
Broncos — Roethlisberger would be a significant upgrade over Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn.
Jaguars — They drafted very well last year and have a blue-chip running back in Maurice Jones-Drew. Roethlisberger would give them two stars on offense and could help stir up more interest in the team.
Dolphins — Young Chad Henne has flashed promise, but Roethlisberger could make Miami's offense elite.
Raiders — The Raiders passed on Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft, and their QB play has ranged from inconsistent to abysmal in recent years. Wouldn't they have to consider him if he became available?
Rams — They seem likely to take Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick, but if they changed course, Roethlisberger would be a fine alternative.
49ers — Why have Alex Smith and David Carr compete for the starting job when you can give it to Roethlisberger and immediately become NFC West favorites?
Seahawks — They traded for Charlie Whitehurst and still have Matt Hasselbeck, but with Roethlisberger, the Seahawks would have a better shot of winning the division in 2010.
Now that we've put Roethlisberger in charge of 10 new offenses, let's outline the reasons why a trade would be difficult:
• Though he was never charged with a crime in connection with an alleged sexual assault investigated by Georgia authorities, Roethlisberger is nonetheless under close scrutiny by the NFL, which announced a severe six-game suspension for his violation of its personal-conduct policy and will be monitoring his behavior going forward.
• Roethlisberger is signed for six more seasons, and the money he is due in the years to come could give interested parties pause. He is slated to make $11.6 million in salary in 2011, '12, '13 and '14. His salary-cap number from 2011-13 (assuming the cap ever returns) is scheduled to be $15.8 million. He will be 33 in 2015, the final year of his contract, and he is due $12.1 million in salary. Teams who might consider a trade for Roethlisberger could look at those numbers, note his rugged, hold-the-ball-until-the-last-moment style of play (which opens him to a lot of big hits) and think twice.
• The Steelers' asking price for Roethlisberger likely is high, considering his age (28), positional value and résumé. (Yes, I know this argument is weakened somewhat by his suspension and the fact that they traded WR Santonio Holmes for a mere fifth-round pick.) The above factors would not strengthen their bargaining position if they sought to make a deal. Unless the Steelers are motivated to trade him at all costs, would they be able to receive fair value for their franchise quarterback?
My conclusion: Roethlisberger would make the Cardinals and 49ers strong favorites to win their division and perhaps make a playoff run, too. The same also could be said for the Broncos, Dolphins, Jaguars, Panthers and Seahawks. He would help the Bills, Raiders and Rams, too, but probably not enough to capture a division title.
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