PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger is still a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet despite optimistic overtones from both the team and its longtime franchise quarterback, Roethlisberger’s return for an 18th season hardly looks like a given.

While stressing Roethlisberger “did a lot of really good things” in 2020, GM Kevin Colbert on Wednesday stopped short of wholeheartedly endorsing the idea of Roethlisberger being in the fold in 2021.

“We have to do what’s best for the organization, do what’s best for Ben,” Colbert said. “But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, not only with Ben but with the whole unrestricted free-agent situation.”

The Steelers have 19 players heading to free agency, including wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and outside linebacker Bud Dupree. That doesn’t include perennial Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey or tight end Vance McDonald, close friends of Roethlisberger who have retired in recent weeks.

Roethlisberger currently holds a $41.25 million salary-cap hit in 2021, the highest of any player in the league. Both sides have taken turns in recent weeks talking about the need to lower that number considerably, particularly with the Steelers facing the difficult prospect of navigating a salary cap that might be $15 million to $20 million less than in 2020 thanks to a significant decline in gate revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Compliance will require restructuring some of the more cap-unfriendly contracts and potentially cutting a couple of high-priced veterans, which puts Colbert in a tight spot.


How does he improve a roster he admits wasn’t good enough to move beyond the first round of the playoffs in 2020 without having money to keep his top-end free agents, let alone land a few?

“We’re making guestimates on what we can do to put the best team together, for our sake,” Colbert said. “For Ben’s sake, what team can he anticipate being around him if we decide we can move forward together?”

That won’t be known for a while, which makes for some tricky math. Roethlisberger is due a $15 million roster bonus in mid-March, well before the draft and just three days into the league new year. Any agreement likely would have to be reached before that date, when the roster makeup for 2021 will still be in flux.

Colbert praised Roethlisberger’s performance, particularly during the team’s 11-0 start. He faltered a bit down the stretch, though Colbert placed the blame on the entire offense, particularly a running game that finished last in the league in both yards rushing and yards per carry. Fixing it is a priority regardless of who is behind center.

“We need to be able to finish and having a strong running game helps teams finish (late in the) year,” Colbert said.

He made it a point to praise Roethlisberger’s return following right elbow surgery that cost him most of 2019.


“In the beginning of the year, we talked about watching what he was doing, because he was doing some incredible feats as we were building that 11-0 record,” Colbert said. “A lot of that is performing at crucial times.”

JAGUARS: The Jaguars changed their primary home jersey color from black to teal, switching back to what the franchise wore in its early years. The team says it will don teal jerseys for nearly every home game beginning this fall.

The Jaguars have worn teal jerseys 114 times in 26 seasons, accumulating a 64-50 record in those games. They are 60-42 at home in teal.

LIONS: The Detroit Lions have hired wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El.

Detroit Coach Dan Campbell added the former NFL receiver to his staff after he was with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers the past two seasons as an offensive assistant.

Randle El was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2002, and the former Indiana quarterback and point guard had a nine-year career in the NFL as a dynamic receiver with the Steelers and Washington.


VINCENT JACKSON suffered from chronic alcoholism and other health issues, according to autopsy reports, prior to being found dead in a Brandon hotel room, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said.

Jackson’s family also has concerns he may have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive and fatal disease associated with concussions.

Jackson, 38, was found dead Monday after a 911 call Monday from the Homewood Suites in Brandon, where he had been living since Jan. 11.

A few days prior to his death, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department executed a missing persons report and interviewed Jackson at the hotel.

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