Ben Roethlisberger is 34 years old, and he is probably aged about double that with all the hits he has taken in the NFL. Roethlisberger today said that he wasn’t ready to commit to playing in 2017.
That has largely been met with skepticism: Ben being Ben or embarking on the Brett Favre career path.
I’ll take a different position. The uncertainty on his future is likely earnestly held, and would not be an outrageous decision if he chose to walk away from football. The primary barrier is money: Roethlisberger signed a new extension two years ago and got $31 million in a bonus up front. If he walks away, he would have to return the pro-rated portion of that. In addition, he’s got a roster bonus of $12 million that he can collect for the upcoming season. Those are strong incentives.
Then again, Roethlisberger has made over $150 million in his career to date. If he has managed his money wisely, and can afford to walk away from the remaining money, then he may consider other factors, like long-term heath and quality of life, more important.
Roethlisberger–even with reduced sack numbers in recent years–has taken a ton of hits in the NFL. Here is a list of the most sacks taken through age 34, among guys who were still active at that age, not including other active players:
The average age of the last start for this group was 36.5 years old, with 22 more starts. Favre is a clear outlier here, and nine of the 15 started 12 or fewer games before retiring.
It’s not just the sacks, but the number of injuries that continue to mount. A few years ago we recounted all the various injuries that Roethlisberger had suffered, and they have continued, including the knee injury at Miami this year. Earlier this season, Roethlisberger said he hopes his kids want to pick up golf, as he considered risks of the sport of football.
Here is a list of the quarterbacks with the most seasons by age 34 when they had between 8 and 15 starts (an indicator of injuries that build up). Ken Anderson is there with 12, but three of those seasons were 14 games, when that was the length of the schedule. Same with Bradshaw.
So, no quarterback has played as many partial seasons as Ben Roethlisberger (10) by the same age. He’s not Favre or Manning playing every game for a decade. The quarterbacks just behind him at nine seasons are Troy Aikman, Anderson, Chris Chandler, Vinny Testaverde, and Michael Vick.
Tom Brady’s aging at a glacial rate has spoiled us. That’s still not the norm. Roethlisberger has put in more than a full career in the NFL, and if he chose not to return, if the desire is gone, well, it wouldn’t be that unusual. He may think on it and give it another shot, but I don’t think we’ll see him playing at age 39 like Brady was this year.