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Updated 10:42 p.m. EST on Wednesday, April 21
The NFL has suspended Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 season for violating its personal-conduct policy, the league announced Wednesday.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will require Roethlisberger to undergo "comprehensive behavioral evaluation" by medical professionals, the league said. According to the NFL, Goodell will assess Roethlisberger's progress before the season and could elect to reduce the player's suspension to four games. However, Goodell also has the right to extend Roethlisberger's suspension if he does not cooperate, the league said.
According to the NFL, Roethlisberger cannot participate in offseason team activities until he has completed the behavioral evaluation and Goodell, after consulting with the medical professionals, clears him to return to the team, which could include participating in training camp and preseason games.
"Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare," Goodell wrote in a letter to Roethlisberger that detailed the NFL's decision on discipline.
Roethlisberger, 28, was investigated by Georgia authorities in connection with an alleged sexual assault at a Milledgeville, Ga., nightclub in March, but he was not criminally charged. However, Roethlisberger has received a torrent of criticism in the aftermath of the incident.
In his letter to Roethlisberger, excerpts of which the NFL made public on its Web site, Goodell explained the basis for his decision:
"The Personal Conduct Policy makes clear that I may impose discipline 'even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime' as, for example, where the conduct 'imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person'," commissioner Goodell stated in his letter to Roethlisberger. "As (Ocmulgee [Ga.] Judicial Circuit district attorney Fred Bright) concluded, the extensive investigatory record shows that you contributed to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol by purchasing (or facilitating the purchase of) alcoholic beverages for underage college students, at least some of whom were likely already intoxicated.
"There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk. The Personal Conduct Policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that 'undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.' By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard."
The Steelers, clearly in preparation for the potential of a Roethlisberger suspension, acquired QB Byron Leftwich from the Buccaneers for a 2010 seventh-round pick on Tuesday. Leftwich played with Pittsburgh in 2008. Leftwich and Dennis Dixon are the top candidates to replace Roethlisberger in the lineup, with Charlie Batch another option.
The Steelers' first six games are vs. Atlanta (Sept. 12), at Tennessee (Sept. 19), at Tampa Bay (Sept. 26), vs. Baltimore (Oct. 3), vs. Cleveland (Oct. 17) and at Miami (Oct. 24). The Steelers' bye is in Week Five, the second weekend in October.
The PFW spin
With the questions about discipline for Roethlisberger having been cleared up, it's time to ponder Roethlisberger's future in Pittsburgh.
Trade chatter about Roethlisberger, who has six years left on his contract, continues in earnest, with ESPN.com reporting Wednesday that the Steelers have called teams with top-10 picks to ask if they would consider trading their selection for Roethlisberger. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also reported Wednesday that the team had received trade "feelers" from other clubs and hadn't ruled out a trade of Roethlisberger, though the paper also said the club was not believed to be "actively" trying to deal the quarterback.
The addition of Leftwich (who signed a contract extension through 2011 on Wednesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) gives the Steelers more flexibility if they were to deal Roethlisberger. Leftwich played well in limited snaps in Pittsburgh in '08 and knows Bruce Arians' offense. The Steelers also could turn to third-year QB Dennis Dixon, who started in place of an injured Roethlisberger at Baltimore last season. Though he made the game's pivotal mistake in overtime, throwing an interception that led to the Ravens kicking the game-winning field goal, he helped keep Pittsburgh competitive in the game and displayed some intriguing skills.
Let's look at the prospect of a Roethlisberger trade from the perspective of the Steelers and any prospective suitors.
On the Steelers' side of the ledger, there are the issues of 1) how willing they are to trade Roethlisberger and 2) what they could command for him in trade. Issue No. 1 could very well influence the second issue; if the Steelers truly want to move Roethlisberger, perhaps they are willing to be flexible on price.
On the other side of the equation, teams contemplating the prospect of dealing for Roethlisberger have to weigh, among other factors, 1) the fact he won't be playing a full season, 2) his contract, which runs for six more seasons and 3) how the move will be received by their fan bases. Then, of course, there is the issue of what the Steelers might want for Roethlisberger. If a top-10 draft pick is what they may be eyeing for their franchise quarterback, as the ESPN.com report suggests … well, that's no small price to pay in a strong draft.
In short, there are many layers to this issue.
Should the Steelers keep Roethlisberger, the short-term on-field concern turns to how they will be affected in the four games he's certain to miss, at a minimum. Of Pittsburgh's first six games, the toughest — the Oct. 3 matchup with Baltimore — is at Heinz Field. With plenty of talent on the roster, and with either Leftwich or Dixon adequate short-term starting options, the Steelers wouldn't fall apart in Roethlisberger's absence.
Perhaps the point that was most evident in the wake of Roethlisberger's suspension Wednesday is that his NFL career hangs in the balance. Any missteps off the field could lead to additional, and stronger, NFL discipline. Both the league and the team have publicly registered their disappointment in him. Moreover, his image in Pittsburgh has clearly taken a hit.
However, he is getting a second chance to continue his career. Now, it's up to him to make the most of it.
"I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you," Goodell wrote to Roethlisberger in the letter released Wednesday. "My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life."
Related link: If Roethlisberger available, who'd be interested?
For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.