As this NFL offseason kicks into high gear just 10 days after the confetti rained down on the winners of Super Bowl LI, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said that in terms of stocking and re-stocking the talent at the various positions on the roster, he will proceed under the impression that Ben Roethlisberger will be back for the 2017 season.
"Where it stands is, Ben said that it's a possibility, and we'll treat it as such," said Colbert when asked if Roethlisberger has provided the team with any update on his status that came into question during a Jan. 24 radio appearance when Roethlisberger said he wasn't yet prepared to commit to playing in 2017. "We hope he doesn't retire. If he does, then as an organization we'll try to move on, and we will move on. It doesn't change our planning. When we scout in the fall, we scout every position. Even when Ben was a young player, we still evaluated the quarterback class, because how the quarterbacks stack up (in the draft) is going to affect how the tackles stack up and how the receivers stack up. We always evaluate every position, and if Ben would decide to retire we would be prepared then to move accordingly. I hope we don't get to that situation for a few more years.
"I'm working under the assumption that until he says he's retired officially, then he's not. If he decides to (retire), then we'll act accordingly, but in the meantime we're not going to get out of sorts with potential retirements."
In terms of the NFL offseason calendar, the Scouting Combine doesn't begin until March 1, and free agency is set to kick off at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 9. But what already has begun is the window for teams to designate players with the franchise or transition tags. That started yesterday, and it continues until March 1.
For the Steelers, the only real possibility there is Le'Veon Bell, who is one of a dozen of the team's players who can become unrestricted free agents on March 9.
"The tag is always an option, and it's something we'll use if necessary," said Colbert. "We have until March 1 to make the decision. Again, this thing is very fluid. It changes daily, once you start into talks with players and start to see how it's all going to fit. We know that's an option. Even if we were to use the tag on Le'Veon, we would certainly want to do something long-term and have him be a member of the Steelers for life."
Unlike some offseasons in the recent past, the Steelers don't have to worry about March 9 in terms of getting into compliance with the 2017 salary cap. This time around – based on the makeup of the team in terms of veterans vs. ascending young players on their roster – the Steelers aren't looking at any mandatory cuts or restructures just to get themselves under the bar when the NFL officially turns the page from 2016 to 2017.
As Colbert put it: "We're in a different world. We're always real close to the cap. I think we're in a situation where we don't have to make any moves to get into compliance with the cap."
And so they are able to turn their attention toward their own free-agents-to-be, prepare for what might be available to them on the open market starting on March 9, and then get themselves ready for April 27 when the draft will begin.
Colbert said that the Steelers already are negotiating an extension with Antonio Brown, who would enter the final season of his existing contract this coming season. Colbert said last year the Steelers told Brown he would be a priority for a new contract this year, and Colbert revealed the team is in discussions with Brown's agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
In terms of the other potential unrestricted free agents, Colbert said the team has had some contact with each individual, either through a conversation with the player's agent, or via Coach Mike Tomlin's exit interview with each player. Colbert said he believes all of the team's potential free agents would be interested in coming back to the team, but that as always it comes down to finding a way to fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together.
"What we always ask the agent is to keep us informed," said Colbert. "If you are getting an offer, or if you are getting interest, let us know and we'll see if we can manage or meet your expectations. I can say that Antonio is the only one we're in specific negotiations with now. I can say unequivocally that we want Antonio Brown to retire as a member of the Steelers just as we want Le'Veon Bell to retire as a member of the Steelers."
As for Roethlisberger, after explaining the team's approach to his decision this offseason, Colbert also shed some light on how he views quarterback with regard to roster-building:
"Our quarterback situation: again, I'm hopeful and confident Ben will be back," said Colbert. "Landry Jones is a free agent, and I'd love to have Landry stay in the mix. But right now we have two quarterbacks (Roethlisberger and William Gay) under contract. Will we add a young one, in some form or fashion? Absolutely. When? It's hard to say. We have to balance that (quarterback) class against other positions (in this draft), but sooner or later, we will have to address that. Ideally, the organizations that have been successful through eras have had the next guy in place. San Francisco went from Joe Montana to Steve Young. Green Bay went from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. If you want to be a continuously a successful organization, you should have a quarterback succession plan in place."