Ben Roethlisberger is our John Elway
In each of their first nine seasons in the NFL, John Elway and Ben Roethlisberger led their teams to seven winning seasons, six playoff appearances, four AFC Championship Game appearances and three Super Bowl appearances. The only difference between the two is that Roethlisberger is 2-1 in those Super Bowl appearances, while Elway was 0-3 in his first three. That could be attributed to Roethlisberger having a better defense in his early years than Elway did, but otherwise, their career arcs are strikingly similar.
However, between 1992 and 1995, the Broncos hit the skids, finishing with a combined record of 32-32, and missing the playoffs three times in those four seasons. The talent level on the team declined despite Elway still being in his prime, and people began to forget about him with the rise of QBs like Brett Favre, Steve Young and Troy Aikman, and the continued success of his 1983 QB classmates, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. In fact, the Broncos drafted Tommy Maddox in 1992 as a potential successor to Elway.
The Broncos still had a talented core with players like Elway, Steve Atwater and Shannon Sharpe, but reinforcements were clearly needed. They asked Elway what he wanted, and he said he wanted a better offensive line due to all the physical punishment he'd been taking, so they signed Gary Zimmerman in 1993 and Mark Schlereth in 1995, and they drafted Tom Nalen in 1994. They also provided him some excellent weapons in 1995, when they drafted Terrell Davis and Rod Smith, and signed Ed McCaffrey.
In 1996, the Broncos bolstered their defense by drafting John Mobley and signing Bill Romanowski. At this point, Elway had a complete team around him again, and that was reflected in their records between 1996 and 1998: 13-3, 12-4 and 14-2, respectively, with two Super Bowl championships as the final reward. In the process, people remembered that Elway was still one of the premier QBs in the NFL.
Right now, the Steelers are in the same limbo that the Broncos were in between 1992 and 1995, with a franchise QB and a small core of players all still in their primes, but not much in the way of reinforcements. The same way the Broncos built their team around Elway, Atwater and Sharpe, the Steelers now need to build their team around Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley.
The Steelers have invested heavily in the offensive line in recent years, so they're a bit ahead of the game compared to the Broncos during Elway's 10th season. The linemen are all young and inexperienced, though, so they'll need time to get used to working together with each other. This won't happen overnight, but it will happen over the course of the season. And LeVeon Bell won't have to be Terrell Davis in order to be productive and give the offense an extra dimension. All the offense needs now is a tall, physical WR, whether they draft one or coach up Derek Moye, and possibly another offensive lineman if one of the young ones doesn't pan out.
There also appears to be reinforcements coming on defense, with Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas impressing coaches, and Steve McLendon and Cortez Allen stepping rather seamlessly into their starting roles. The secondary will need to be rebuilt as aging players are let go, so that could delay the team's progress for another season, but as long as the Steelers have another good draft in 2014, they should be a complete team contending for championships by 2015 at the latest.
Trading Ben Roethlisberger now would be tantamount to the Broncos trading John Elway in 1992. Could you imagine if they did that? They'd probably still be waiting for their first Super Bowl championship if they did. Instead, they committed to Elway and quietly stockpiled enough talent to give him a second wind and a victorious ride off into the sunset. For all that Roethlisberger has done for the Steelers, he deserves the same consideration. His favorite QB as a child was Elway, and his body of work is virtually identical so far, so let's hold on tight through the next rough season or two while the Steelers restock, and then watch Roethlisberger ride off victorious into the sunset like the guy who inspired him to be a QB in the first place.