Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh Steelers

Next in our Pittsburgh Steelers’ free-agent watch is outside linebacker James Harrison.

By the numbers: Harrison recorded 5 sacks and 45 tackles in 11 regular-season games. He missed two games because of a knee injury.

The case for keeping him: Harrison showed he still has plenty of football left in him after the Steelers talked the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker out of retirement following an injury to Jarvis Jones. He finished third on the Steelers in sacks and emerged as their best pass-rusher despite having to play his way into shape. Harrison announced recently on social media that he plans to play in 2015. For a team that registered 33 sacks last season -- its lowest total since 1989 -- and has so much uncertainty at outside linebacker, Harrison is an enticing option to at least provide veteran depth.

The case for letting him walk: The Steelers appear all in as far as getting younger on defense and Harrison turns 37 at the beginning of May. He might balk at returning if he doesn’t have a chance to compete for a starting job, and the Steelers have to commit to Jones at right outside linebacker.

Prediction: The Steelers are likely to wait on Harrison if they have any desire of re-signing him, to see how free agency and even the draft shakes out. There won’t be a big market for Harrison and he would probably like to stay in Pittsburgh to stay close to his two sons. But if former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wants Harrison to join him in Tennessee, Harrison is likely to play for the Titans in 2015. Harrison is fiercely loyal to LeBeau, Tennessee’s assistant head coach/defense, and LeBeau might want Harrison to help set an example for the Titans’ younger players and to bring some swagger to a team that won two games in 2014. The guess is that Harrison follows LeBeau to Tennessee.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are more than $10 million under the 2015 salary cap, putting them in good shape a week before all teams have to be in compliance with the spending ceiling.

The 2015 cap has been set at $143.28 million. The Steelers' adjusted cap, according to the NFL Players' Association is $144.058 million since they carried over just under $778,500 in leftover cap space from 2014.

The Steelers created $1.5 million in cap savings Monday when they released veteran wide receiver Lance Moore. That and the adjusted cap puts the Steelers around $10.3 million under the salary cap, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

And they can easily create more room through contract restructures, something they have already done with right tackle Marcus Gilbert and safety Mike Mitchell, and more cuts.

The Steelers have a tough decision to make with strong safety Troy Polamalu. The eight-time Pro Bowler and 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015 and has a cap hit of $8.25 million.

Polamalu is apparently intent on playing next season but will likely have to accept a pay cut to do so in Pittsburgh.

And that is if the Steelers want him back at a reduced price.
Here is the second half of the Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question, please tweet @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #mail.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: To be determined. I think the Steelers will sign an outside linebacker in free agency who can start in Jason Worilds ' spot. They could also re-sign Arthur Moats and have him compete for the starting job at left outside linebacker with a player on whom I assume the Steelers will use a high draft pick. But I think the Steelers - and their fans - will feel a lot better if they sign an outside free agent to come in and start.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Landon Collins is the only safety worthy of a first-round pick. If the Alabama prospect is gone before the 22nd overall pick, it doesn't make sense to address that position until later in the draft. If all things are equal, I agree that the Steelers should take an outside linebacker ahead of a cornerback. But if the Steelers sign an outside linebacker in free agency, I think cornerback becomes the Steelers' top priority in the draft. And if there is a corner they really like at No. 22 overall, it is time to finally use a first-round pick on one.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I can't see Bush signing with a team that has an every-down back who is as dynamic as Le'Veon Bell. There just won't be enough opportunities for Bush after Bell returns from an expected two-game suspension at the beginning of the season. And the Steelers will be wary of bringing in a proven back for what will be a bit role after what happened with LeGarrette Blount last season. Williams might be more agreeable than Bush to playing limited snaps. He isn't getting younger - Williams turns 32 in April - and the ninth-year veteran might accept a role as strictly a backup if he thinks he has a chance to win a ring. Williams also has a tie to the Steelers as he and quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner were at Memphis together when the latter was the offensive coordinator, there so there is that.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: No, no, no and no. The Steelers don't need pass rushers that bad to take a chance on a player with as much baggage as Hardy. There were questions about him off the field even before he was charged with domestic assault. The allegations against Hardy painted a very disturbing picture. I can't see the Steelers -- or a lot of other teams -- wanting anything to do with him.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't think the Steelers will re-sign Ike Taylor, who is the only free agent among the four. I think there is a very good chance that Troy Polamalu is released, as sacrilegious as that sounds. Polamalu is apparently intent on playing in 2015 but he will have to accept a reduction of his $6 million base salary in 2015 for there to be a chance of him returning to the Steelers -- with an emphasis on chance. James Harrison is an interesting case because if the Steelers don't sign an outside linebacker in free agency and Jason Worilds signs elsewhere, as expected, they will be both thin and inexperienced at the position. But I could see Harrison joining Dick LeBeau in Tennessee, especially if the Steelers wait on trying to re-sign Harrison. Brett Keisel, to me, is the most likely of the four to play for the Steelers next season. The 13th-year veteran showed last season that he can still play and he accepted a situational role in 2014. Bring Keisel back to provide depth and leadership for one more season and release Cam Thomas, who also has one year left on his contract.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Quinten Rollins comes to mind in the second round after he did not test very well at the NFL scouting combine. Rollins is a project after playing just one season at Miami (Ohio), but he is intriguing because of his production in2014 - he intercepted seven passes - and upside. Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is another cornerback who could drop into the late part of the second round after tearing his ACL in December. Like Rollins, the team that drafts Ekpre-Olomu may have to wait a little longer for a return on that pick, but he, too, is oozing with potential. One cornerback to keep an eye on in the third round is Oregon State's Steven Nelson. The 5-10, 197-pound Nelson doesn't have great size, but he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the combine and broke up 24 passes in his final two seasons at Oregon State.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: My guess is that there have been talks between the two sides. Whether serious negotiations have taken place yet, I'm not sure. The Steelers do want Moats back and he would be ideal as a No. 3 outside linebacker who can start and also play special teams. Moats really seems to like playing for the Steelers, so the question the fifth-year veteran has to answer is whether he wants to seek more money and an opportunity to start elsewhere. I do think Moats and the Steelers are a good fit and I expect him to re-sign with the team.
The Pittsburgh Steelers saved almost $4 million in regard to the 2015 salary cap when they restructured right tackle Marcus Gilbert ’s contract.

The Steelers converted a $3.5 million roster bonus that would have been due next month and $1.15 million of Gilbert’s base salary for 2015 into a signing bonus, per ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates, creating $3.724 million in cap savings for the upcoming year.

The Steelers were $1.92 million over the projected salary cap for 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information, before restructuring Gilbert’s five-year, $30 million deal.

That is based on the cap rising from $133 to $140 million, and ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter has reported that the salary cap for 2015 will be at least $140 million. The 2015 spending ceiling for teams could come in as high as $143 million, per Schefter.

The Gilbert restructuring should put the Steelers in compliance with the 2015 cap, something teams are required to do by March 10 at 4 p.m. ET.

The Steelers, however, have work in front of them as they have to create enough salary cap room to be active in free agency, which starts at March 10, the first day of the NFL’s new league year.

Troy Polamalu is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015 and the Steelers will have a hard decision to make if the eight-time Pro Bowl safety does not opt for retirement.

The Steelers could ask Polamalu to take a pay cut or release the future Pro Football Hall of Fame safety.

Team president Art Rooney II has said he wants Polamalu to play his entire career for the Steelers.

Steelers doing their homework on cornerbacks

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25

ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown discusses what the philosophy is with the No. 22 pick.
Under contract: William Gay, Cortez Allen, B.W. Webb

Free agents: Ike Taylor and Brice McCain will be unrestricted free agents if the Pittsburgh Steelers don't sign either before March 10. Antwon Blake is a restricted free agent.

The good: Gay, once a prime target of angry fans, set a Steelers record in 2014 by returning all three of his interceptions for touchdowns. It is well past the time to give Gay his due -- and to credit the Steelers for both drafting the Louisville product late in the fifth round in 2007 and then re-signing Gay in 2013 after he spent a season with the Arizona Cardinals. McCain proved to be a bargain after the Steelers signed him to a veteran's minimum contract last year. The sixth-year veteran tied Gay for the team lead with three interceptions and should be a priority as far as the Steelers re-signing him. They should also bring back Blake, who showed in 2014 that he can be more than just a core special-teams player.

The bad: Allen completely bombed after the Steelers signed the 2011 fourth-draft pick to a four-year, $24.6 million extension last September. He lost his starting job and then Blake replaced Allen as the nickel back in the Steelers' 51-34 win against the Indianapolis Colts in late October. Allen played sparingly the next three games and the Steelers eventually placed him on injured reserve because of a broken thumb. Taylor battled back from a broken forearm that the 12th-year veteran sustained in the third week of the season. But he looked overmatched after returning at the end of November and did not dress in the Steelers' final four games, including the playoffs. It will be a surprise if the Steelers bring Taylor back.

The burning question: Can the Steelers fix Allen? The 6-1, 196-pounder has good size and ball skills. He might be a premier cornerback if he had the moxie of the 5-9, 198-pound Blake, whose outsized confidence belies his size -- and serves him well at one of the most thankless positions in all of sports. Allen will likely get a mulligan for 2014 but he better bounce back in a big way to remain in the Steelers' future plans.

The money: Allen is due a base salary of $5.631 million in 2015. The Steelers would eat a little over $5 million if they dump Allen, but they could spread that out over the next three seasons as far as the salary cap. Gay is due a base salary of $1.5 million in 2015 and is a bargain. Webb has a base salary of $585,000 in 2015.

Draft priority: High. The Steelers have overlooked the position for too long in the draft. They haven't drafted a cornerback in the first round since 1997 and they haven't selected one in the second round since 2005. They will draft a cornerback in the first or second round this year.

He said it: "A lot of stuff is based off the eye test. I'm short in stature so I don't pass a lot of look tests but once I get on the field I don't think I play like a short guy. I'm just a firm believer that hard work pays off." -- Blake
Dick LeBeau, in his farewell to Pittsburgh earlier this month, paid homage to the 2008 defense that led the Steelers to the Super Bowl title.

LeBeau, the coordinator of that esteemed defense, talked at length on a day honoring him about the key players on that unit.

And he certainly did not forget about Ryan Clark, who was often overshadowed by the great players on that defense, and especially by fellow safety Troy Polamalu.

"One of the smartest men and, pound for pound, maybe one of the toughest men I’ve ever seen,” LeBeau said of Clark during a ceremony in which Pittsburgh City Council gave LeBeau a symbolic key to the city.

Steelers fans would do well to remember those words when it comes to Clark’s legacy in Pittsburgh.

As hard-hitting off the field as he was on it – and he backed down from no one -- Clark could rankle fans, reporters and maybe even some of his teammates with his nonstop chatter and outspoken nature.

He infamously referred to the Pittsburgh media as “turds” in the midst of the Steelers’ 2009 second-half collapse. Two seasons later, a Steelers media relations staffer had to separate Clark and another reporter after they nearly came to blows at training camp.

If Clark’s look-at-me ways could be grating, they were also not surprising.

Clark had to fight his way into the NFL after going undrafted in 2002 and signing with the New York Giants.

He climbed the ranks as an undersized safety and never lost his edge even after he established himself as Polamalu’s running mate on the back end of the Steelers’ defense.

Clark served an indispensable role on some great Steelers’ defenses as his familiarity with Polamalu allowed the eight-time Pro Bowl safety to play all over the field, knowing that Clark had his back.

And Clark could deliver a pop.

Willis McGahee will never forget the shot that Clark delivered at the end of the 2008 AFC Championship Game -- if the former Baltimore Ravens running back remembers it in the first place.

Clark hit McGahee so hard that fans at Heinz Field weren’t sure whether to gasp or cheer, and the ghastly collision knocked out both players.

That willingness to give up his body is Clark’s legacy, as are the strong opinions he routinely offered while not giving a hoot about whom they ticked off.

In the end, Clark did it his way.

And he did it for 13 seasons in the NFL, overcoming a life-threatening injury along the way, while staying true to himself right up until he announced his retirement.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will apparently let the market establish Jason Worilds' value before trying to sign the outside linebacker to a long-term contract.

Worilds, who tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks in 2014, is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 10.

The Steelers have the option of using a transition tag on Worilds for the second year in a row. But general manager Kevin Colbert has said the team is unlikely to do so even though tagging Worilds would allow them to match any offer he receives once free agency begins.

"He understands that if he doesn't get tagged, which we could still do, he will explore the market and see what is out there," Colbert said Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "We will stay in communication. Maybe he comes back. Maybe he moves on. But he's been a good player for us and we would love to have him back if it all fits."

The Steelers paid Worilds $9.754 million last season after he signed the one-year offer that came with the transition tag.

They would have to pay him at least $11.7 million in 2015 if they tag Worilds, and the fifth-year veteran again signs the one-year deal that comes with the transition tag.

Worilds is one of three Steelers outside linebackers who is set to become an unrestricted free agent next month.

James Harrison and Arthur Moats are the other two, leaving Jarvis Jones as the only outside linebacker on the Steelers' roster who has NFL experience and is signed for 2015.
A closer look at the areas the Pittsburgh Steelers could address in the draft. The final one is a look at the cornerbacks, which are scheduled to work out Monday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Forget that the Steelers have not drafted a cornerback in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997. The highest pick they have used on a cornerback since Mike Tomlin became head coach in 2007 is a third-rounder, and neither Keenan Lewis (2009) nor Curtis Brown (2011) is still with the team. With veteran Ike Taylor at the end of his career and unlikely to return in 2015 and Cortez Allen coming off a disastrous season, the Steelers have little choice but to make the position a priority in the draft.

Three cornerbacks the Steelers could target in the draft:

Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Steelers fans were calling for the team to draft Spartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard a year ago. The Steelers bypassed Dennard, who went No. 24 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals, and now they will take a hard look at his college teammate. The 6-1, 186-pound Waynes has good size and is tough and physical. He has good ball skills -- Waynes intercepted three passes apiece in his two seasons as a starter in East Lansing -- and could be the top cornerback in a draft that lacks a surefire top prospect at the position. Waynes needs to improve his technique and get away from using his hands so much. But he will be hard to pass on if he is still available when the Steelers make the 22nd pick in the draft.

Jalen Collins, LSU: The 6-2, 198-pounder is fast and rangy and may have the most upside of any cornerback in the draft. The problem with Collins is he only started 10 career games at LSU and intercepted just three passes. If the Steelers are looking for immediate help at the position, Collins may give them pause since he still needs some work. But if they are patient with the player that NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock is really high on, there could be a significant reward down the line. Collins has all of the physical attributes to excel at the next level and his best football is still in front of him.

Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest: ESPN draft analyst Kevin Weidl ranks Johnson as the second-best cornerback prospect in the draft and compares him to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the 16th overall pick of the 2008 draft. Johnson started 31 career games at Wake Forest and intercepted seven passes while breaking up 32 of them. He is polished, fluid and has good size and Johnson could help right away. The 6-1, 175-pounder also has the frame to add more bulk, which will be necessary at the next level.
Under contract: Steve McLendon and Daniel McCullers.

Free agents: None

The good: McLendon suffers by comparison when it comes to Casey Hampton, the player he succeeded at nose tackle, but the fourth-year veteran is a solid player in the middle of the Steelers’ defense. McClendon, who recorded 18 tackles and a sack in 2014, might never command – nor fight off – double-teams with the regularity that Hampton did. But the Steelers can win with him at nose tackle. McCullers has a ton of upside because of his sheer size and ability to move as well as he does at 6-foot-7 and 352 pounds.

The bad: McLendon bulked up to 330 pounds last year to withstand the rigors of nose tackle but missed four games because of a recurring shoulder injury. McCullers showed flashes in the limited snaps he received as a rookie, but he still has a lot of work in front of him, not to mention McLendon.

The burning question: How much of a factor will McCullers be next season? There simply aren’t many people his size walking the planet, and McCullers has surprisingly light feet. A sixth-round pick out of Tennessee, he has to improve in a number of areas, including locating the ball, and playing with leverage will always be an issue because of his height. But McCullers could develop into a real force if he is willing to work and makes consistent improvement.

The money: The Steelers are in good shape at nose tackle as McLendon’s base salary in 2014 is $2.25 million. McCullers will make a base salary of $510,000.

Draft priority: Low. The Steelers are much more likely to address defensive end, as they need depth and could also use another developmental player at the position. They might draft a player who has the flexibility to play everywhere along the defensive line, but it’s hard to imagine them using anything other than a late-round pick on someone who projects solely as a nose tackle.
A closer look at the areas the Pittsburgh Steelers could address in the draft. We’ll get started with a look at the tight end position, with prospects scheduled to work out Friday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Tight end is the lone position on offense where the Steelers have both short-term and long-term needs. Starter Heath Miller is the only tight end on the roster who has NFL experience and is signed for 2015. And the 10th-year veteran isn’t getting any younger -- Miller will turn 33 during the 2015 season. Backups Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer are primarily blockers. Even if one or both return in 2015, the Steelers need to add youth and athleticism at tight end.

Three tight ends the Steelers could target in the draft:

Maxx Williams, Minnesota: Williams is intriguing as both a future successor to Miller and a player who could probably help the Steelers right away. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Williams arguably is the most complete tight end in the draft. He's a good blocker and also led the Golden Gophers in catches (36), receiving yards (569) and touchdowns (eight) last season. Williams played just two seasons – he redshirted his first year – and the Steelers love drafting underclassmen who still have plenty of room for growth. They would probably have to take Williams at No. 22 overall -- or trade down from there and select him -- because he should be long gone by the time the Steelers pick in the second round.

Clive Walford, Miami: The 6-4, 254-pound Walford could be the second tight end drafted and might even challenge Williams for the top spot. Walford caught 44 passes last season, seven of which scored touchdowns, and he led the Hurricanes with 676 receiving yards. Walford needs some polish as a route runner, but he has a chance to be an outstanding receiver at the next level. Walford, who played just one season of high school football before going to Miami, has made strides as a blocker and has the tools to be an asset in the running game at the next level.

Jesse James, Penn State: James is a local kid, having played at South Allegheny High School, outside of Pittsburgh, before spending three seasons at Penn State. The 6-foot-7, 254-pound James has tantalizing size with a frame that can easily hold more muscle. James set Penn State’s record for most career touchdown receptions (11) by a tight end but needs to improve as a blocker. James is a bit of a project, but he has a lot of upside. He should be available later in the draft if the Steelers opt to address defense with their first couple of picks.
Emptying the notebook that still has a few nuggets from Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert’s sit-down with reporters last week …
  • Jones
    It was hard to tell whether Colbert gave Landry Jones a vote of confidence after insisting that the third-string quarterback has made progress since the Steelers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. “I think he got better definitely from Year 1 to Year 2,” Colbert said. “He had more extended play this preseason. I thought there were signs where he did some things better than he did the year before.” Jones has yet to dress for a game in two NFL seasons and Colbert said Jones will go into the offseason practices behind starter Ben Roethlisberger and backup Bruce Gradkowski. “Has he progressed to the point where he beat out Bruce as the No. 2? No,” Colbert said. “Maybe he will; maybe he won't.”
  • Colbert said this year’s draft has “a nice group of cornerbacks,” and he will get a look at them at the NFL scouting combine, which starts Wednesday. The Steelers haven't selected a cornerback in the first round of the draft since Colbert joined the organization in 2000. But Colbert said that is not by design. “Never have we gone in [to a draft] and said we can’t take a position here in the first round.” Ricardo Colclough, a second-round pick in 2004 at No. 38 overall, is the highest Steelers draft pick for a cornerback since 2000.
  • The Steelers aren’t expecting much from the NFL’s owners meetings as far as the compensatory draft picks that will be awarded there. Compensatory picks are determined based on a complicated formula that calculates a team’s net loss or gain in free agents from the previous year. The Steelers lost a handful of free agents in 2014, including wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who became a Pro Bowl receiver in Denver. But they were also more active than usual signing free agents such as safety Mike Mitchell, cornerback Brice McCain, outside linebacker and, yes, running back LeGarrette Blount. The Steelers are hoping to get a late-round compensatory pick, at best, this year.
Under contract: Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Cody Wallace and Chris Hubbard are all signed for at least 2015.

Free agents: None

The good: Pouncey re-established himself as at one of the best centers in the NFL after missing most of 2013 because of a major knee injury. The four-time Pro Bowl lineman and DeCastro, the starting right guard, anchor the interior of the line. Both excel at getting to the second level and All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell frequently gashed defenses while following DeCastro on the Steelers’ power counter play. Foster, the starting left guard, is solid and is the only starting offensive lineman who is nearing 30. The former undrafted free agent turned 29 in January.

The bad: Not a lot to quibble with when it comes to the interior of the Steelers’ offensive line. It helped the Steelers improve from 86.4 rushing yards per game in 2013 to 109.5 yards per game last season.

The money: Pouncey has a base salary of $5.5 million in 2015 followed by Foster ($1.85 million), DeCastro ($1.456), Wallace ($1.1 million) and Hubbard ($510,000).

Draft priority: Low. The Steelers appear to be set at guard, even though Foster is only signed through the 2015 season and they have a developmental player in Hubbard. Maybe the Steelers would pick a guard late in the draft, but it would not be a surprise if they don’t address the position this year. There is no chance the Steelers will draft a center.

He said it: “A lot of guys grew up this year and I’m happy to see that. We’ve got coaches in place. We don’t have to go searching for certain guys and worry about that. So as far as the offense as a whole, we should be better.” – Foster on the Steelers’ offense moving forward.
Under contract: Heath Miller is signed through 2016.

Free agents: Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer will each become unrestricted free agents if neither re-signs with the Steelers before March 10.

The good: Miller, 32, remains a key cog in both the running and passing games. The 10th-year veteran caught 66 passes for 761 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. Miller has started 30 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in the NFL among tight ends. He is third among active tight ends in both career receptions (532) and receiving yards (6.034 yards). Miller does not offer much after the catch, but he is a trusted target of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and is good at working the middle of the field.

The bad: The Steelers don’t have a tight end who stretches defenses, something that more teams are acquiring with the proliferation of spread offenses in college altering the complexion of the position. Spaeth is a very good blocker, but doesn’t offer much in the passing game. Even if the Steelers bring him back, they still need to get younger at the position.

The burning question: Would the Steelers target a tight end such as such Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron in free agency? Cameron is only 26 and would be an excellent acquisition for the Steelers. He appears to want no part of the Browns, but the Steelers aren’t in a position to get in a bidding war for him, either.

The money: Miller has a base salary of $4 million for 2015 and a salary cap hit of $5.67 million.

Draft priority: Medium to high. If the Steelers don’t sign a tight end in free agency, they could take one early in the draft. It is the one position on offense where they have questions, both in the short-term and long-term.

He said it: “I’m a little concerned about the depth there. You want to have young depth, so that may include a young free agent; it may include a draft pick.” – general manager Kevin Colbert on the Steelers’ situation at tight end.
PITTSBURGH -- The biggest news to come out of general manager Kevin Colbert's sit-down with reporters Tuesday isn't that the Pittsburgh Steelers have started negotiations with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's camp on a long-term contract.

It is how confident the Steelers are that the window isn't even beginning to close on Roethlisberger, who turns 33 on March 2.

Colbert, who is hardly prone to hyperbole, compared Roethlisberger to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, a pair of all-time greats who have played at a high level well into their 30s.

That the Steelers are prepared to reward Roethlisberger as such was never really a question -- even after the organization tabled contract talks last July so it could address more immediate business.

The eight-year, $102 million contract that Roethlisberger signed in 2008 was the most lucrative in franchise history. His new deal could be right around those numbers and even exceed them.

Colbert's effusive praise of Roethlisberger is a strong indication the Steelers do not plan to lowball their three-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

It also makes it likely that Roethlisberger and the Steelers agree to a new deal sooner rather than later. Getting the contract done has been a fait accompli for some time, which should allow Colbert and the Steelers to tend to more pressing needs.

Colbert said at this time last year the Steelers wanted to surround Roethlisberger with as much talent as possible to maximize his remaining seasons. The Steelers have done that with their recent drafts.

Now it is time to re-build a defense that needs pass rushers and defensive backs.

An offense flush with talent at the skills positions will lead the Steelers in the foreseeable future. But for the Steelers to take the next step after winning the AFC North in 2014, they need the defense to close the gap on the offense.

Fortunately for the Steelers, they can focus on that priority without protracted contract negotiations with their franchise quarterback looming over them.

As Colbert said, when it comes to Roethlisberger's third and likely final contract with the Steelers, it remains a matter of when and not if.