Steve Saunders

AFC Notes: Tomlin, Big Ben, Ravens, Texans

The Steelers announced Tuesday that Mason Rudolph will start in Week 17 against the Browns as Ben Roethlisberger rests up for the playoffs, but that isn’t the only quarterback question lingering over the franchise. Big Ben’s play fell off dramatically after the early part of the season, which has understandably led to some questions about the 38-year-old’s future. We heard just last week that Roethlisberger was planning on returning for 2021, the final year of his contract, but it might not be entirely up to him. Interestingly, head coach Mike Tomlin “will play a critical role in however Pittsburgh moves forward” at quarterback, sources told Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has indicated he could be headed for retirement soon, potentially giving Tomlin even more power here. La Canfora writes that the team is putting off these questions to the offseason, but while he cautions the team isn’t talking too much about Roethlisberger’s decline internally, it sounds like a lot of it will come down to what Tomlin wants to do. Obviously Tomlin and Big Ben have a close bond, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll immediately toss him aside, but “he will have a significant voice in the composition of the quarterback room in 2021,” La Canfora writes. Assuming Roethlisberger comes back, that could mean that Tomlin has more of a direct role in acquiring a potential successor. The 25-year-old Rudolph was serviceable at times last year, but also struggled mightily at others. He hasn’t shown much to inspire confidence that he can be a franchise quarterback. It’ll be a very interesting offseason in Pittsburgh.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • The Ravens dealt with a brutal COVID-19 outbreak in the middle of their season, and the league has determined they were partially at fault. The NFL has slapped Baltimore with a $250K fine for protocol violations, as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk writes, although they were not docked a draft pick like the Saints were. New Orleans lost a seventh-rounder, Las Vegas forfeited a sixth-rounder, and the Titans were fined $350K, so this is actually on the lighter side of COVID punishments. In a separate piece, Florio writes that strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders was the previously unnamed coach who was suspended for his role in the outbreak. Saunders is now back in the building with his job back after serving a suspension of about a month.
  • The Texans have a lot of work to do this offseason, most notably finding a new coach and GM after the firing of Bill O’Brien. Houston owner Cal McNair reportedly wants Deshaun Watson‘s input on who the next coach will be, but the team apparently isn’t in any rush to make a hire. That’s because the Texans do not intend to take advantage of the new NFL rule that would allow them to interview head coaching candidates currently on staff with other teams before the season ends, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports. Instead Houston is sticking to their plan of hiring a GM before a coach. They have however been interviewing candidates not currently with a team, including Marvin Lewis and Jim Caldwell recently. There have been murmurs that Watson would like Eric Bieniemy, who obviously is still currently employed by the Chiefs, so that interview won’t be happening immediately.