After 18 seasons in the NFL, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement on Thursday. Although Big Ben will obviously be retiring as a Steeler, that almost didn’t happen and that’s because Pittsburgh came close to trading him more than 10 years ago.
As a matter of fact, the trade was so close to happening that it was basically viewed as a done deal. Former 49ers coach Mike Singletary revealed these new details during a recent interview with The Athletic. According to Singletary, he got called into a meeting with the big decision-makers in San Francisco — then owner John York, CEO Jed York, director of player personnel Trent Baalke — and they told him that they had cut a deal with the Steelers to acquire Roethlisberger.
The Steelers were looking to trade Big Ben, who had recently been accused of sexual assault. The only thing standing in the way of the trade was that the 49ers wanted to make sure Singletary was on board. However, he refused to sign off on the deal for two big reasons: He wanted to give Alex Smith a chance to prove himself and he didn’t want to seem like a hypocrite.
“I had been telling the team I wanted a team of character,” Singletary told The Athletic. “I felt I had to be true to that. But if I could do it again, I’d do it differently.”
It’s not clear when this potential trade almost happened, but it was likely in 2010. After Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault in March 2010, which was the second accusation against him, the Steelers made it clear that they were looking to trade him with the Raiders even being mentioned as a top candidate.
During the 2010 offseason, Singletary was coming off his first full year on the job and during that 8-8 season, the 49ers offense was a big disappointment. Although most head coaches wouldn’t have the power to veto a potential trade like this, especially if the owner, CEO and director of player personnel were all on board, it’s not crazy to think that Singletary was able to convince them that acquiring Roethlisberger would be a horrible look for the team from an optics standpoint.
Going into the 2010 season, Roethlisberger ended up being hit with a six-game suspension that eventually got reduced to four games. Although he only started 12 games that year, he was still able to lead the Steelers to the Suepr Bowl.
As for Singletary, he ended up getting fired after a Week 16 loss to the Rams dropped the 49ers to 5-10.
If the 49ers had acquired Roethlisberger, it’s a trade that would have changed the course of NFL history, but Singletary kept it from happening by vetoing the deal.