They say that fame and fortune can go to one’s head. When it comes to a couple of AFC North quarterbacks, that seems to be the case this offseason.
After the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowls with Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, respectively, the teams both drafted high-profile quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft. And neither of those incumbent captains seem to be willing to take the rookies under their massive wings.
The big story has recently been between Roethlisberger and Steelers third round pick, Mason Rudolph. After a massively productive career at Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh played the foresight card and planned for their future.
Roethlisberger isn’t keen on the team selecting a potential heir-apparent this year. This became national headline news after Big Ben made some interesting remarks when asked about the selection on a local radio station.
“Maybe in the third round, you know you can get some really good football players that can help this team win now. Nothing against Mason, think he’s a great football player,” Roethlisberger told the Cook and Poni Show on Pittsburgh’s 93.7.
“I don’t know him personally, but I’m sure he’s a great kid. Umm I just don’t know how backing up or being a third, well who knows where he’s going to fall on the depth chart, helps us win now, but you know that’s not my decision to make that’s on the coaches and GM and all those kind of things. If they think he can help our team, umm so be it, but I was a little surprised.”
Meanwhile, Flacco reportedly hasn’t endeared himself to Lamar Jackson, who Baltimore selected after trading up to the No. 32 overall pick last month. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner was a bit of an enigma going into the draft, but the Ravens felt he is the dual-threat to receive the baton that Flacco is seemingly unwilling to pass.
Per multiple reports, Flacco has yet to reach out to Jackson in a gesture of goodwill. It hasn’t garnered the same kind of attention that Roethlisberger’s comments have, but these actions speak volumes.
Saw the news today that Joe Flacco still hasn't returned Lamar Jackson's calls/texts or otherwise spoken to him. I get the competition factor, but between him and Big Ben can only imagine the media reaction if certain other QBs acted in the way these guys are— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) May 10, 2018
As with many other pro athletes and ones who have won championships, it’s hard to talk about “hanging up the towel” and/or mentoring your replacement when you think you still have ample playing time left.
And, as we all know, various media outlets can make mountains out of molehills. Remember the Patriots’ 2-2 start in 2014 that prompted Bill Belichick’s “we’re on to Cincinnati” mini-rant? That was largely a by-product of sports news going crazy over headlines. And, it’s not going away as just recently Jeremy Hill reference it.
We also know that the NFL can be a cutthroat business. It’s why ‘golden child’ Peyton Manning was allowed to leave Indianapolis back in 2012 and why so many salary cap casualties happen every season.
Still, what these two star-crossed AFC North quarterbacks fail to realize is that these moves actually make sense for their respective clubs. From an age perspective, Flacco is entering his 11th season, while Roethlisberger is coming up on his 15th. We’re not exactly talking about spring chickens, here. Not, to mention, Roethlisberger has threatened to retire more than once.
The other aspect is in health and overall availability. The NFL is built upon parity and when teams lay all of their eggs into a quarterback basket that isn’t the most reliable, problems can occur.
Because of the way he plays the game, Roethlisberger hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2014. In fact, in his previous 14 seasons “Big Ben” only has three full, 16-game seasons as a starting signal-caller to his name.
Flacco has been more durable in his career, but did miss a good chunk of the 2015 season. Still, he has a bit of “Eli Manning Syndrome”, in that his teams have been a bit feast-or-famine in terms of recent success.
Aside from the 2012 Super Bowl campaign and a postseason win in the 2014 season, Baltimore has struggled the past three seasons. The Ravens haven’t made the playoffs in the span (a 20-22 record) and Flacco has thrown for just 52 touchdowns against 40 interceptions.
And, as for the guys filling in for Flacco and Roethlisberger in their absences? The Steelers went 5-3 in those games Roethlisberger missed from 2015-2017, while the Ravens went 2-4 back in 2015 during Flacco’s injury. Even if Jackson and Rudolph were brought in as band-aids should the current starters miss time again, they were understandable draft selections.
I mean, get a clue, guys, right?
All of these facets may be in play here, but something else is permeating through the other AFC North locker rooms, too: childishness. Nobody likes to look over their shoulder when it comes to their livelihood, but these guys have some recent warts on the resume—even though both have received some of the most lucrative paychecks in the league and could garner Hall of Fame consideration.
Media members and Cincinnati Bengals fans can say what they want about Andy Dalton, but it’s a near-certainty that he would not act in such a way if he were in the same shoes. Yes, Dalton hasn’t had the same level of success as Flacco or Roethlisberger, but we’re talking about a guy who has 63 wins over seven seasons and three Pro Bowl berths.
He’s not exactly a schlub.
Still, that hasn’t stopped some (including myself) from having the desire for the Bengals to bring in a viable option to push Dalton as the starter. Cincinnati hasn’t overly pushed him since he arrived in 2011, but that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t totally left him unchallenged.
As a rookie, the team brought in Bruce Gradkowski as a possible “bridge option”, though Dalton took the torch and ran with it. Then, even though a fifth round option doesn’t sound like a threat, the Bengals grabbed three-time NCAA National Champion AJ McCarron four years later.
McCarron didn’t challenge Dalton for the Bengals’ starting job in his four Bengals seasons per se, but some hold the opinion that Dalton did have a peripheral eye on the former Crimson Tide signal-caller. Questions especially arose after McCarron started in relief of Dalton in 2015 and almost led the team to one of its biggest wins in franchise history against the Steelers back in January 2016.
Though it may not be the same as the selections of guys at the same positions in the first three rounds, there was pressure. Some believe McCarron should have been drafted earlier than the third day and those calls became louder in the 2016 offseason.
More on this in a minute.
Even so, Dalton took the acquisition and the noise in stride. Shortly after the Bengals selected McCarron in 2014, Dalton, in a one-eighty from Flacco and Roethlisberger, congratulated McCarron on his arrival.
McCarron also has high regards for Dalton, given their relationship.
“He’s our quarterback. It sucks to see for me, personally, because of my relationship with him,” McCarron told Dan Hoard of Bengals.com back in September of 2017. “People booing him—I mean, like, do you think he wants to have tipped balls at the line that turn into interceptions? Has he worked his whole life for that? Has he worked all week for that? No.”
“I wish people in this city would back him (Dalton) and go with it,” McCarron continued. “Listen, I think I’m a great quarterback and I think he’s an unbelievable quarterback—yeah, I love him to death—but, he’s our quarterback. Stop making it into something else—it isn’t something else.”
And, in a personal story, I had the privilege of running into both McCarron and Dalton in downtown Phoenix back in 2015. As they waited for their rides in front of the hotel, both were chatting and laughing as good friends would.
Yes, Dalton and his teammates have flopped in the postseason. And, yes, Dalton doesn’t have as many accolades as Flacco and Roethlisberger, thus his lower weight in this debate. Still, do you have any doubts that Dalton would have been more professional than some of his counterparts in the division?
Logan Woodside said he’s spoken to Dalton and did nearly immediately after the Bengals drafted him.
We can look at No. 14’s openly-religious convictions as a possible reason for his affable nature, but there’s more to it than that when it comes to a mentorship. Others will point to his resume lacking the asterisks on those from Roethlisberger and Flacco.
But, do nice guys always finish last?