Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers were expected to take a project quarterback to start grooming as a back-up and potential future starter. However, when they drafted Oklahoma’s Landry Jones in the fourth round of the draft it was much higher in the draft than most expected for them to target a quarterback. Immediately afterward fans were wondering why they had drafted a quarterback so early with other needs on the team and were worried that it may mean something about Ben Roethlisberger’s future with the team.
Roethlisberger, 31, is getting older and only has two years left on his contract with the Steelers. He has also only played a full 16 game season once in his career which means the Steelers have had to turn to their back-ups to win games multiple times during his career. The one player that has come through many times in that position is veteran quarterback Charlie Batch.
In week 13 of the 2013 season Charlie Batch was coming off of a three interception performance against the Cleveland Browns and he was set to start his second straight game against the arch-rival Baltimore Ravens. Batch led a game winning drive in that game and helped the Steelers remain right in the middle of the playoff race late in the season. In a recent interview with Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Batch said that after that game he and Roethlisberger, who was expected back from a shoulder injury, ”…both knew he was coming back the next week. At that moment, I think we both realized that game could possibly be it for me in the NFL.”
The drafting of Landry Jones means that Batch’s week 13 start was, in fact, the end of his NFL career unless he chooses to play for another NFL team. That, however, seems unlikely given Batch’s age, love of Pittsburgh and focus on his work off-the-field. With Batch not returning to the Steelers that means the 2013 season will be the first of Ben Roethlisberger’s ten year career that he will not have Batch mentoring him on the sidelines.
When Roethlisberger was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft he was supposed to sit behind Tommy Maddox for a year and then become the starter. However, an injury to Maddox pushed Roethlisberger into the starting role and Charlie Batch was his back-up with Maddox out injured. That one-two on the quarterback depth chart has been a mainstay over the past nine years, but it looks like it has now ended and don’t be surprised if Batch announces his retirement prior to the start of the 2013 season.
“It’s definitely not going to be the same,” Roethlisberger said about Batch not returning. “Charlie and I always sat next to each other. I’m going to miss the laughs and the talks that we had. I owe so much to him.”
“I feel like I could go on for hours about Charlie,” Roethlisberger said. “He meant so much to me. I told him numerous times, ‘You made me what I am today.’ From on the field to off the field, as a quarterback and as a man. He truly is one of the best guys I’ve ever been around.”
Batch also had some feelings about the Steelers drafting of Landry Jones and he doesn’t think the Steelers were looking to replace him as the third quarterback. Instead, he thinks the Steelers may have been looking for a future starting quarterback.
“Maybe they weren’t happy with what they had behind Ben and Bruce. That could be. But ultimately, I think this isn’t about replacing me. Big picture, maybe they’re thinking, ‘Can we develop Landry Jones to be the starter? Maybe two years from now, he could be our guy for the next 10 years.’ We don’t know. But with the contracts for quarterbacks these days, he’d certainly be a heck of a lot cheaper than Ben at age 34 or 35 or 36.”
In two years Ben Roethlisberger’s deal will be up, unless he gets a contract extension. At that point the Steelers could choose to let him walk and go with Jones at quarterback. That move would save a lot of cap space for the team and allow them to make other moves, but it would also mean they would start a full rebuild with a new franchise quarterback. If Jones doesn’t become the next Roethlisberger it could also mean another long wait until the Steelers next run of success much like the wait between Terry Bradshaw and Roethlisberger.
As for Batch he is expected to remain living in Pittsburgh and will continue his work off the field. For the 2012-2013 season Batch won the NFL’s Byron “Whizzer” White Man of the Year Award, which goes to the player who best serves his team, community and country. As Batch said to Cook: ”I want to be remembered more for what I’m doing off the field than what I did on it.”