The eternally competitive Pittsburgh Steelers franchise underwent a makeover of unmatched proportions over the past year, shedding their two primary offensive playmakers in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell.
But, it's the sudden departure of their third offensive centerpiece, Ben Roethlisberger, that truly marks the end of a decade-and-a-half of innovation, sustained scoring, and a changing of the guard for a franchise traditionally built on defense.
Roethlisberger will miss the season, and potentially end his career, facing the prospect of serious damage to his throwing elbow. In the wake of this incident, perhaps now is the time for Pittsburgh to get back to its roots.
The best-laid plans of this franchise seemed to hit a traumatic turning point when Ryan Shazier, meant to anchor the defensive turnaround while the three Killer Bs went to work on the offensive side of the ball, suffered a career-ending neck injury on an innocent-seeming play. From that moment on, turmoil controlled the narrative, with Bell sitting out rather than playing in Pittsburgh, and Brown forcing his way out of town, as well. Much of the blame for the tumultuous tenure of the wideout fell on Roethlisberger's shoulders this past offseason; however, that tale swung wildly with each fluctuation in Brown's behavior on his two new teams.
Whether you viewed Roethlisberger as a two-time Super Bowl champion, mobile stalwart at QB, or as the controversial figure who came under fire for a series of sexual assault allegations earlier in his career, it's undeniable he was set to remain in Pittsburgh for a few more years, shaping the way this era of Steeler Football would wrap up without being flanked by his two previous compatriots. Now, that's been ripped from his control, and the narrative ends here.
The window is closed. It's Mason Rudolph's team, for better or worse, an entirely different Pittsburgh product than what existed yesterday. Don't be stunned if the team's next few drafts are heavily defensive-flavored. After all, prior to Roethlisberger's arrival and renovations, that's what always worked best.