Steelers open toward new contract with Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger warms up before a preseason game against the Chiefs on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2013.
Ben Roethlisberger warms up before a preseason game against the Chiefs on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2013.
Photo by Getty Images
| Sunday, March 23, 2014, 3:15 p.m.

ORLANDO — The Steelers remain open to signing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract this year, but it probably wouldn't happen until summer at the earliest – and might not happen at all, according to general manager Kevin Colbert.

The signings of Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, all of whom got huge deals in the last year, won't necessarily factor into any Steelers talks with Roethlisberger, who said last season he wants to play his entire career in Pittsburgh.

Roethlisberger is signed for the next two seasons, with base salaries of $12 million and $11 million and salary cap hits of nearly $18.9 million and $18.3 million. Based on the quarterback market, the Steelers are unlikely to be able to substantially lower the salary or the 2014 or 2015 cap hit unless they give Roethlisberger — who will be 32 next season – a lengthy contract.

“We'll get through free agency, get through the draft and see where we are,” Colbert said Sunday at the NFL meetings. “Traditionally we have done quarterbacks (contracts) two years out, but as (team president) Art (Rooney) stated, we may or may not be in a position to do something this summer.”

As for the multiple quarterback contracts in the $120 million range, Colbert said, “What happens in the market, you're aware of what's going on but it doesn't set the parameters. I believe the parameters that are set are set by the team and the player, what we would be willing to do and what the player is willing to accept. Sure, they know what so and so makes, but it's finding a common ground between two parties is what we're concerned about, not so much being in compliance with the league (and what other teams are doing).”

Colbert said the Steelers are “right on schedule” in free agency after signing safety Mike Mitchell, wide receiver Lance Moore and defensive lineman Cam Thomas and losing wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, defensive linemen Ziggy Hood and Al Woods and cutting outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley They have several free agent meetings set up this week, including an early week meeting with Bills linebacker Arthur Moats and a late-week meeting with Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount. And they remain interested in free agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

The Steelers intend to add an experienced running back to back up Le'Veon Bell, but neither Colbert nor coach Mike Tomlin knows when that will occur.

Tomlin said it's too early to assess what this Steelers team will look like, given they might add as many as 10 more players through the draft and free agency.

On other team issues:

— Colbert said Moore is “a very smart, experienced guy who knows how to work in the slot.” The Steelers wanted to bring back Cotchery, but the Carolina Panthers were able to offer more money, he said.

— The Steelers are aware linebacker James Harrison wants to come back and, Colbert said, “You never close the door” on something like Harrison who “has been a huge part of your success.” Harrison said last week he'd like to return to the Steelers following a year in Cincinnati. But the Steelers will further assess the free agent market before deciding whether to bring him back as a backup, Colbert said.

— Signing a free safety was the Steelers' first priority in the market, according to Colbert, and reaching a deal with Mitchell meant they couldn't afford to bring back both LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds. Still, Colbert disliked cutting a player like Woodley who still “has football left in him.”

— Colbert called Mitchell “an exciting” player who will mesh well with Troy Polamalu, just as Ryan Clark and Chris Hope did.

— Tomlin said he's enjoying his first season on the NFL Competition Committee, and the various proposals affecting the extra point “are a way to preserve a play” no one in the league wants to see go away.”

— Thomas will play both nose tackle and defensive end, Colbert said.

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