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Once the Steelers decided to bring back Ben Roethlisberger for another year, any hopes of the Steelers trading for Sam Darnold were over. They were just not going to give up draft picks when they have the mindset of going all-in with the 39-year-old Roethlisberger for one last run. Right or wrong, the organization still believes they can compete for a Super Bowl with the talent they have on their roster.
It was announced yesterday that the Jets traded Darnold to the Panthers for a 2021 sixth-round pick and a second- and-fourth round picks in 2022. The compensation given up wasn't bad for an inconsistent quarterback like Darnold. If the Steelers decided to move on from Roethlisberger, I wouldn't have had a problem with them giving up that much for Darnold's services.
Darnold is only 23 years old, but he's a big unknown. He's had a tumultuous career so far, but you have to consider that he's been playing for one of the worst run organizations in the NFL in the Jets. In his three years in New York, Darnold completed 729 of 1,219 of his passes (59.8%) for 8,097 yards and had a 45-39 touchdown-interception ratio, along with a 78.6 quarterback rating. So, yeah his stats were not impressive, but he has shown spurts of potential on a terrible team with very few weapons.
The Steelers would have saved $19 million in cap space if they released, traded, or forced Roethlisberger to retire. They would have had $22.25 million in dead money regardless also, however. Roethlisberger took a $5 million pay cut and saved the team over $15 million in cap space, so the difference would have been only around $4 million. It would have been a bold move by the Steelers to just flat-out part ways with Roethlisberger and trade for a much younger quarterback in Darnold. Roethlisberger still wanting to play and willing to take a pay cut, would have taken great offense to such a move also.
If the Steelers wanted to play hardball, they could have done it, though. Darnold's owed $4.605 million in salary and roster bonus for 2021, which wouldn't have been an issue with Roethlisberger off the books. They would have had to decide on Darnold's fifth-year option, however, before May 3 and that contract is $18.8 million in fully guaranteed money as well. That would have been probably too rich for the Steelers with Darnold being such a wildcard. They could have just seen what Darnold was made of on a one-year prove-it deal and reevaluate following the 2021 season.
In the end, though, the Steelers' plan all along is to find Roethlisberger's heir apparent through the draft. That's just how they conduct business.
However, the Darnold scenario could have worked if they decided to not bring back Roethlisberger, especially for the compensation that Carolina ended up giving the Jets.