To Ben or Not to Ben

Although it appears as if the Jaguars needle is pointing up, the team just completed its second consecutive last-place season and they currently have the worst starting quarterback in the AFC South. Jacksonville could change it's fate in one fail swoop as Pittsburgh Steelers troubled, yet talented quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is said to be on the market. Should the Jags take this chance?

The Jaguars have one of the worst quarterback situations in the NFL, as starter David Garrard is 32 years old, locked into a high-dollar contract and since the team inked him they've won just 12 games and finished in last place twice. With no legitimate young quarterback option on the roster and a head coach and owner that both need to win right away, the idea of trading for Roethlisberger is something that has to be explored.

Ben Roethlisberger has been magic on the football field since his rookie season in which he led the Steelers to a 14-2 regular season record and an appearance in the AFC title game. Ben may not be chiseled out of stone, but there are few quarterbacks that are tougher and he can make plays with his feet and his arm. In six seasons as a starting quarterback, Roethlisberger has led his teams to the playoffs four times including two Super Bowl titles. His regular season record as a starting quarterback is 60-26.

During that same period of time, Jacksonville has logged just 52 regular season victories, and are 1-2 in the postseason.

The question isn't whether Ben Roethlisberger would be a viable upgrade over anyone the Jaguars currently have, because that's obvious. The real question is exactly how "nuclear" is this guy right now. Roethlisberger was slapped with a conditional six-game suspension by the NFL for his violation of the league's conduct policy. As tough as it is to defend Roethlisberger on the field, it may be tougher to defend his actions off the field.

"In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Roethlisberger in a letter. "I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track."

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a much different situation than the Jaguars. If the Steelers decide to jettison their troubled quarterback, they can do so with unconditional fan approval. You get that unconditional love and support when your team appears in Super Bowls in nearly every decade and has won a pair of them in the last five seasons. Jacksonville's future as an NFL town is in doubt and although ticket sales have increased during the offseason, there are likely more Steelers, Dolphins and Giants fans living in Duval county than fans of the home team.

Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver must balance risk and reward when it comes to trading for such a volatile figure as Roethlisberger.

On the field, Roethlisberger can make everyone on the offense better, and the Jaguars will have a quarterback that the team can believe in during crunch time situations for maybe the first time ever.

Off the field, Roethlisberger looks like a guy who has lived a life of entitlement, and routinely makes poor decisions that up until today he's never had to pay for. Can people change? Sure. Can Roethlisberger change? That remains to be seen.

"My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor," Goodell stated. "That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."

When weighing the decision to bring in "the Pittsburgh Pariah," Weaver must determine whether winning, which is far from guaranteed, will put rear ends in the seats. What message does it send to the players when the team runs off wide receiver Matt Jones for a drug problem and then acquires Roethlisberger who although never arrested, is now the current face of sexual assault in professional sports?

Fans love winners and will usually defend their guys to the bitter end. In this situation, Roethlisberger isn't a Jacksonville guy. Will the fans accept him? Is it worth a first-round pick to find out? That's exactly what Wayne Weaver, Gene Smith and Jack Del Rio are pondering right now.


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