Word came down on Wednesday that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be suspended for 4 to 6 games next season. Shortly thereafter, rumors circulated about the Steelers trading the Super Bowl-winning quarterback for a top-10 draft pick.
Would it not be easier to simply forfeit the next five seasons?
Roethlisberger is a two-time Super Bowl winner. He is one of the -- mentally and physically -- toughest players in the league. At age 28, the Steelers have him locked into a contract that could keep him in Pittsburgh for a very long time, likely through his prime. Countless clutch plays in big games have made him a proven winner.
Yet none of that seems to matter.
If a trade occurs, one of the most storied franchise in sports history is content with going into the 2010-11 season with an all-scrub quarterback core of Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and an irrelevant rookie to be named later.
Let’s assume the Steelers are miraculously able to draft Oklahoma's Sam Bradford in exchange for Roethlisberger. They will still have an unproven young quarterback who was injured in his final college season and has not played a real football game since. Not only would they be uncertain about his NFL capabilities, they would still have to pay him a bloated rookie contract, regardless.
The suspension, the trade rumors, are over two accusations of sexual assault in less than a year. Not charges, accusations. The first accuser had her own co-worker testify against her. The co-worker admitted the accuser had hoped she was impregnated by Roethlisberger. With the second accuser, despite having a 527-page Georgia police report to work with, the district attorney could not find justifiable cause to charge Roethlisberger.
So far, the only charge anyone has stuck on him is that he's a dumb young male putting himself in stupid positions. The only thing Roethlisberger has been proven guilty of is repeated bad judgment.
Nobody is excusing the Steelers quarterback’s actions. It’s been said many times that one sexual assault accusation could be forgiven as a fluke, whereas two becomes a pattern. He deserved his lengthy suspension. That's indisputable. He brought embarrassment upon the league and his team. The punishment handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was warranted and in-keeping with the league’s code of conduct policy.
However, the Steelers trading him would be overkill. It would forfeit winning for the next half-decade for the sake of a month’s good publicity with their fans -- the same fans who will turn on them as soon as the month is up because the team is losing. There would be no greater example of cutting off your nose to spite your face than this in recent professional sports history.
It comes down to this for the Steelers: You're at a fork in the road. Either let Roethlisberger serve his suspension, then welcome him back and hope he learns from his mistakes. Or take the politically correct route and give your franchise quarterback away for peanuts, and sell the move as “caring more about integrity than winning.”
Your decision will define whether you are a winning or losing franchise for the next five years.