“When I hear the badmouthing about him being a not great quarterback and everybody is ready to elevate other quarterbacks, I’m like, what have they done?” Heyward said. “This guy is a proven winner, but yet we’re ready to discount him.”
Roethlisberger, 39, participated in Tuesday’s practice along with the three other quarterbacks on the Steelers’ roster. Early in the offseason, Roethlisberger restructured his contract, previously set to cost the Steelers $41.25 million in salary-cap space, to a one-year, $14 million deal with voidable years on the back end to reduce the team’s cap hit by more than $15 million.
Roethlisberger threw 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions last season and attempted 608 passes.
Although Roethlisberger threw seven interceptions in the last six games, including four in the home playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, Heyward believes in his quarterback.
“I think we’re just blowing it out of proportion,” Heyward said. “The dude went 11-0 to start the season. How many other quarterbacks did that? I think we can sit up here and talk about we lost the game last year. We lost to the Cleveland Browns. Ok so be it. We fell off at the end, but we still made the playoffs.
“But I’m not here to say my quarterback’s not able to do it. I’ve seen this guy win Super Bowls on TV. I’ve seen him day in and day out compete. You just get frustrated because I know Ben puts in work. I know how much he cares about this team.”
In addition to showing up for the first day of OTAs, Roethlisberger has also been welcoming some of the 2021 draft picks to Pittsburgh. During rookie minicamp, he hosted the offensive selections — Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green and Dan Moore — for dinner.
“He called me the day after I got drafted,” Freiermuth said during rookie minicamp. “He reached out, he’s an awesome guy. … He texted back and forth a little bit. It’s pretty cool seeing him when I was a young kid, watching the NFL, like, oh that’s Ben Roethlisberger, and now, like, my locker is right next to him.”
Though OTAs are voluntary, Heyward stressed the importance of them for him and Roethlisberger because it’s a chance for them to get to know the new players.
“For me and Ben, we try to cultivate relationships right now,” Heyward said. “We try to learn different guys in new positions. That just comes with time. I think there’s growth that can happen. For younger guys talking to older guys, and younger guys like to emulate older guys during this time, but going forward, I tell my guys, this is voluntary.”