The most telling nugget from Thursday's press conference by Steelers president Art Rooney came not from anything he said in his prepared remarks, but in response to a question regarding whether there's any truth to the notion that the team is willing to trade quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"We don't talk about trades in advance," Rooney said. "That's been a consistent policy, and I think that's the way we'll proceed. The only thing I'll add is at this point we have not discussed a trade with any other club."
The Steelers, based on Rooney's remarks, are occupying the position that Pennsylvania's other NFL franchise assumed after the 2010 season. They will not say that their starting quarterback is on the block, they will not say that he isn't, and they will wait for the phone to ring.
It makes sense. Last week's Santonio Holmes fire sale, which arose when the Steelers called around the league in an effort to find an immediate trade partner, occurred when the team initiated the process. This time around, the Steelers will sit back and see whether anyone makes an offer between now and the draft, which launches a week from today.
And an offer could be coming. Earlier today, a non-Steelers team source told me that potentially interested teams already are comparing notes in an effort to determine whether Roethlisberger can be had.
Given that the draft launches in seven days — and Rooney has said that discipline won't be imposed against Roethlisberger until the week after the draft at the earliest — it's hardly a stretch to conclude that the one of the true purposes of today's press conference was to open the bidding without sacrificing any leverage. Though at a certain level it seems like a silly proposition, a sophisticated negotiator recognizes the power of not being the party to make the first move.
The lack of a salary cap makes it easy for the Steelers to make a move. No bonus acceleration would apply, and the new team would have no obligation to write a large bonus check in exchange for a six-year commitment that includes, according to NFLPA records, base salaries of $8.05 million in 2010, $11.6 million in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, and $12.1 million in 2015.
Then there's the question of discipline. For now, it appears that the Steelers will, in coordination with the league, levy a suspension for conduct detrimental at some point after the draft. But if he's traded prior to or during the draft, the Steelers would no longer have jurisdiction over him. If Roethlisberger is traded, the league would then be acting alone.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
So who would be interested? The Bills, Jaguars, Broncos, Raiders, Panthers and every team in the NFC West should be studying tape and deciding whether to get in the bidding. Given that he's five years younger than McNabb, under contract for six years, and sufficiently scared to swear off barhopping and VIP rooms for at least seven years, it would be easy to justify giving up a first-round pick for a very good player who has been thoroughly humiliated and humbled.
Unless the Steelers want substantially more, it's not all that crazy to conclude that, for a first-round pick, a deal could be done.
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