The Pittsburgh Steelers haven't talked with other teams about dealing embattled quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but they've had significant internal discussions about the matter, a source with knowledge of the situation said Thursday.
According to the source, Steelers ownership remains dismayed and embarrassed by Roethlisberger's actions in a Georgia college town this offseason and finds his string of off-the-field incidents troubling. The team has been closely monitoring the public backlash against Roethlisberger.
"The Rooneys are livid," the source said.
The Steelers' front office has talked internally about possible trade scenarios that could be feasible and what makes sense for the team. According to a source, if other teams called about Roethlisberger, the Steelers would intently listen.
The Steelers could envision several trade scenarios, but they're skeptical about other teams taking on Roethlisberger, given his baggage. However, they also realize his contract is tradeable in an uncapped year, with the bonuses already paid and Roethlisberger signed for six more years at a manageable salary for a franchise quarterback ($8.05 million in 2010, $11.6 million per year from 2011 to 2014, and $12.1 million in 2015).
In particular, the Steelers are enamored with likely No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford. They essentially view Bradford as a sure-thing franchise quarterback and have considered what it would take to move up to the No. 1 pick in a trade with the St. Louis Rams, according to a source. However, the Steelers know executing such a move would be highly difficult, and they figure the Rams have limited interest in Roethlisberger.
Steelers officials aren't worried about how Roethlisberger's return will impact the locker room. The Rooneys' concern is born of the history and prestige of their franchise, the recent fan backlash and public perception about Roethlisberger and their belief that no player is bigger than the team.
However, the source noted that this isn't "a Santonio Holmes situation," alluding to the Steelers dumping the talented but troubled receiver for a fifth-round pick over the weekend as he faced a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
"This is not a case of having to get rid of this guy,'" the source said. "There would have to be fair value."
Roethlisberger, drafted 11th overall in 2004, has performed at an elite level for the Steelers. He's among the winningest quarterbacks for his age and already possesses two Super Bowl rings. His size, improvisational skills and ability to escape the rush and deliver the ball to all parts of the field make him among the best in the league.
Should Roethlisberger have another off-the-field misstep, however, his Steelers career likely would be over, according to team and league sources. And, if a legitimate trade scenario materialized, that end could come much sooner.
Teams that aren't committed long-term to a starting quarterback include the Rams, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals.
The Steelers refused to entertain dealing Holmes within the AFC North, and that would apply with Roethlisberger as well. A trade likely would have to involve a quarterback or put the Steelers in position to draft one they like (Pittsburgh is high on its young backup, Dennis Dixon, however).
Finding the right deal is remote, the Steelers know, but not necessarily impossible.