49ers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? It almost happened!

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

In a parallel world, the 49ers would have traded for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to upgrade over Alex Smith, but Mike Singletary got in the way.

The NFL is full of “what if?” scenarios, and the San Francisco 49ers have been no strangers to them over the years.

Perhaps the biggest one, of course, is what if the Niners elected to use the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers instead of now-retired QB Alex Smith?

That storyline has been overplayed a lot in the years since, yet this other notable development from Dan Pompei of The Athletic (h/t KNBR 680) keeps Smith as one of the main characters in yet another what-if scenario.

One that involves a near trade for just-retired Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

49ers wanted to trade for Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Let’s rewind back to 2009, the first full year of then-San Francisco head coach Mike Singletary, who took over from the head coach who drafted Smith in the first place, Mike Nolan, and eventually gave up on him not that long thereafter.

By 2009, Smith had become a disappointment, associated with a “bust” moniker despite having played under a slew of different offensive coordinators and systems since his rookie 2005 season.

Here’s where Pompei’s report gets interesting:

"Quarterback Alex Smith was in his fifth season in Singletary’s first full year as head coach. The former first pick of the draft had been a massive disappointment, and moving on would have been best for all. But Singletary liked Smith, saw his potential, and knew he had worked with four coordinators in his first four years. He wanted to give him a chance, and he told him he would.Then, 49ers owner John York, CEO Jed York, director of player personnel Trent Baalke and other executives called Singletary to a meeting. They had a trade in place with the Steelers for Ben Roethlisberger, who had recently been accused of sexual assault."

Roethlisberger was two years removed from a 2007 Pro Bowl campaign that saw him toss 32 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions.

Smith, meanwhile, missed all of 2008 with a shoulder injury, and the 49ers experimented with a carousel of other quarterbacks to fill the void, none with any measurable success.

Mike Singletary nixed 49ers trade for Ben Roethlisberger

Roethlisberger’s accusations of sexual assault appear to be the primary reason why the would-be trade never went through.

Pompei reported that Singletary “vetoed the deal” and elected to stick it out with Smith, perhaps as part of the “I want winners” campaign the former head coach famously tried installing upon taking over that role in the tail end of 2008.

More from Pompei with quotes from Singletary himself:

"He felt an obligation to Smith, and he also believed he needed to stand for what he had been preaching.“I had been telling the team I wanted a team of character,” [Singletary] says. “I felt I had to be true to that. But if I could do it again, I’d do it differently.”"

The Niners eventually stuck it out with Smith, just not with Singletary, who was dismissed before the final game of the 2010 regular season, the year before San Francisco onboarded head coach Jim Harbaugh, who received the bulk of the credit for resurrecting the former No. 1 overall pick’s NFL career.

Read More: 49ers fans should appreciate Alex Smith more after Project11

By 2013, though, Smith was jettisoned in favor of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

And while Smith had a respectable and honorable career, including a return from a nearly life-threatening leg injury in 2018, Roethlisberger likely goes on to become a Hall of Famer.

It might not be as notable as the Smith-Rodgers comparison that has been played out for years. But perhaps the what-ifs surrounding Roethlisberger will be part of the discussion now, too.

Next. 10 best quarterbacks in 49ers franchise history. dark