No. 35: What If Ben Roethlisberger Was Traded to Oakland Before the 2010 Draft?
Starting on February 14, 2014, Sam Quinn and The Sports Post have decided to run down the 52 Greatest What Ifs in NFL History, one per week, for the next year. For a list of published What Ifs, as well as the introductory piece, click here.
After several legal issues during the 2010 offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers appeared to finally be fed up with Ben Roethlisberger. There was no real pressure to keep him after winning two Super Bowls, so the team explored their options on the trade market.
Oakland and Cleveland were the two most serious suitors, and while trades were certainly discussed, one was obviously never consummated. Considering Oakland's history of trading for troubled players, they seemed to be the favorite to land Ben. So what if the Raiders actually found their franchise quarterback?
The Raiders send their first round picks in 2010 and 2012 to Pittsburgh for Roethlisberger, who use Oakland's No. 8 overall pick to select Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The Steelers fall apart under Clausen and miss the playoffs, handing the division to the rival Baltimore Ravens. Without the Steelers in the playoffs, the New York Jets win the AFC championship on the road in Baltimore following a big comeback from a 21-point deficit.
The Jets defense stifles Aaron Rodgers in the Super Bowl just as they did in their Week 8 matchup. Darrelle Revis keeps Greg Jennings out of the game, Mark Sanchez throws two first-half touchdowns, and Rex Ryan keeps his promise of winning the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, in Oakland there's a bit of an adjustment period for Roethlisberger. His teams in Pittsburgh always had great defenses, a strong running game and a few solid weapons for him to throw to. As the Raiders have none of those things, his first season in Oakland is a disappointing 6–10 campaign.
The 2011 season is better for Oakland, and Roethlisberger's heroics allow the Raiders to steal the division from the Tim Tebow-led Broncos on the last day of the season. The win sends them into a playoff game against underdog Cincinnati led by Andy Dalton.
Speaking of the Bengals, the Raiders have neither the assets nor the motivation to trade for Carson Palmer, meaning he is still stuck in retirement purgatory. After Dalton's rookie success, Palmer sees an opportunity to force a trade and reports to the Bengals the following training camp.
Knowing that the Bengals would never keep him as a backup or bench Dalton, they have no choice but to trade him. Where? To the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are eager to cut the cord on Jimmy Clausen after two disastrous seasons.
Palmer isn't Roethlisberger, but Clausen's incompetence gives them much better draft position and the Oakland trade netted them an extra first round pick. This puts Pittsburgh in a position to start competing for championships once again.
But back to the Raiders. After beating Cincinnati in the first round, they fall in New England in the final minutes of their Divisional Round game. It’s not a Super Bowl, but it’s farther than the Raiders have been in years and the Roethlisberger trade is immediately hailed as a success for Oakland.
The Patriots go on to beat Baltimore in the AFC Championship game and face San Francisco in the Super Bowl. The question on everyone’s lips is: What will the sensational C.J Spiller do next? San Francisco certainly wasn’t expecting him to be available when they chose at No. 11 in the 2010 Draft, but after Clausen went to Pittsburgh, Rolando McClain ended up in Buffalo, and Tyson Alualu was taken by Jacksonville they gladly scooped him up.
Behind San Francisco’s sensational offensive line, Spiller and Frank Gore create the most dangerous rushing tandem in football, but with Gore getting the bulk of the carries the Niners are forced to find other uses for Spiller. He leads the league in receptions as a running back, averages over six yards per carry and takes the league by storm as the best young punt returner in football. His return for a touchdown against the Giants in the NFC Championship Game seals the win for San Francisco.
In the Super Bowl, though, Bill Belichick takes Spiller and Gore out of the game and forces Jim Harbaugh to beat him with Alex Smith. Smith just isn’t good enough to win a shootout with Tom Brady, and the Patriots beat the 49ers 28–17. Brady’s fourth championship makes him the nearly unanimous best quarterback ever, but San Francisco is more than ready to try to dethrone him in 2012 and beyond.