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Could Ben Roethlisberger have succeeded in New York?

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As part of SB Nation’s ‘What If?’ week, we ask the question

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Minicamp
Ben Roethlisberger
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The 2004 draft day trade for Eli Manning shaped the last 15 years of football for three franchises, the New York Giants, the now Los Angeles Chargers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. What if, however, that trade had never happened?

The SB Nation flagship is doing a “What If?” theme week, and has asked football sites around the network to come up a variety of “what if” scenarios. For the Giants, I can’t think of a bigger “what if?” than the repercussions had the Giants and Chargers never hooked up in the draft day deal that landed Manning in New York and Philip Rivers in San Diego.

So many legacies could have been altered and so much history changed. Let’s just think about it for a bit.

All three quarterbacks — Manning, Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger — would have had different careers. Would the Giants have won two Super Bowls? Would they have won more? Less? Would Ernie Accorsi, the GM who made the trade, be beloved by Giants fans? Tom Coughlin? Would a magical thing like the Helmet Catch have happened? Would there have been different magical moments?

So many things to talk about. I want to focus on one thing. Could Big Ben have been a successful quarterback with the Giants?

Accorsi has been clear on a number of occasions that he would have been perfectly happy to select Roethlisberger with the No. 4 overall pick had he not been confident he could complete the Manning trade.

So, what if Roethlisberger and not Manning had become the Giants’ quarterback in 2004? He has two Super Bowl titles of his own with the Steelers, matching Manning’s total. Could he have done that in New York? Would he have done even better than Manning over the past 15 seasons?

Nobody, of course, knows. It’s all just conjecture, opinion, speculation. Roethlisberger has had a spectacular career, and it’s not hard to make the argument that overall he has been better than Manning. He has more Pro Bowl appearances, more passing yards, a higher completion percentage, more touchdown passes (by only three), fewer interceptions, a lower interception rate, and a higher passer rating than Manning.

I still wonder, though, if he could have accomplished all of that in a Giants’ uniform. What if it had been him instead of Manning that Accorsi should as the franchise quarterback?

I don’t wonder about the talent. What concerns me is whether or not the younger version of Ben Roethlisberger could have handled the heat from New York media and from Giants fans.

Manning has always been a solid citizen. A great representative of the Giants’ franchise. A guy who never made headlines for the wrong reasons.

Roethlisberger, not so much. At least early in his career.

There was a motorcyle accident exacerbated by his refusing to heed advice and wear a helmet. There were sexual assault allegations that led to an NFL-imposed four-game suspension. By his own admission, he was a selfish player and not a good teammate during the early part of his career.

That has apparently changed as Roethlisberger has matured, but you wonder if he would have survived all of that in New York or been run out of town. Where would the Giants have turned for a quarterback? What would have become of his career.

So may questions, all without real answers. A real “What If?”