Ben Roethlisberger may have been cryptic about his future in recent seasons, but the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have lit a fire under their quarterback by drafting a potential replacement.

Ben Roethlisberger future
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, pictured during a 2016 game vs. the Miami Dolphins, says he plans to play another 3-5 years. (Image: Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Last Friday, Pittsburgh drafted Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round of the NFL draft. The most set Rudolph up as the likely successor for the 36-year-old Roethlisberger, who has been the starting quarterback for the Steelers since his rookie season in 2004.

Big Ben Changes His Tune

Over the past two years, Roethlisberger has made occasional comments about potentially retiring in the near future. Before the 2017 season, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he wasn’t looking more than a single year ahead at this point in his career.

“If we look past this year we’re cheating ourselves and we’re cheating other people,” he told the newspaper last May. “We have to give this year everything we have because ultimately what we have is right here and right now.”

But the prospect of being replaced seems to have brought about a change in Roethlisberger. In comments made to the Post-Gazette on Tuesday, he responded sharply to the idea that Rudolph might have his job in a year or two.

“I plan on playing for three to five more years, depending on how the line goes and staying healthy, if I can stay healthy,” Roethlisberger told the Post-Gazette. “If he’s going to be their guy, that’s great, but in my perfect world it’s not going to be for a while.”

Steelers In No Rush to Make Changes

The Steelers weren’t in a rush to find their next franchise quarterback heading into this year’s draft. But Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert jumped at the chance to take Rudolph when he was still available in the third round, as the team had him rated among the quarterbacks they believed were worthy of a first round pick.

“This kid was available at a very easy selection point and that’s a critical position,” Colbert told the Post-Gazette.

That make take some pressure off of Roethlisberger, as the Steelers made it clear even before the draft that they weren’t planning for him to leave anytime soon. And Rudolph has made it clear that he’s not expecting the current starter to give him any special treatment or groom him for the job.

“It’s not Ben’s job to teach me anything,” Rudolph said, according to a report on “It’s my job to learn.”

Still, with Roethlisberger aging, Rudolph’s opportunity could come – whether due to retirement, injury, or ineffectiveness – sooner rather than later. Rudolph told the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette that he will be ready for any role that comes his way.

“I’m just going to do whatever the coaching staff wants me to do,” Rudolph said. “I’m going to prepare like I’m the starter – whether that’s the case or not – every single week.”

For now, Roethlisberger remains at the helm, and the Steelers are a better team for it. Pittsburgh is among the Super Bowl favorites for next season, with Paddy Power listening them at 9/1 odds. That’s equal with the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, with only the New England Patriots (6/1) being given a better chance at winning the next championship.