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Steelers do not plan on drafting elite QB

| Monday, March 22, 2010

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Steelers start putting together their draft board next week, they will follow the plan they had before Ben Roethlisberger got accused of sexual assault for the second time in the past eight months.

Director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Sunday that the Steelers have ruled out taking a quarterback with an early-round pick in next month's draft.

"That position appears to be set," Colbert said at the NFL owners meeting.

The Steelers' approach at quarterback - they hope to re-sign Charlie Batch to provide depth behind Roethlisberger and promising third-year man Dennis Dixon - is consistent with the stance team president Art Rooney II took last week.

Rooney said the Steelers have "a little bit of a luxury of time" and are going to let the investigation of Roethlisberger play out before entertaining contingency plans at quarterback.

A 20-year-old college student has accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in a Milledgeville, Ga., night club on March 5. Roethlisberger, one of only 10 quarterbacks to win two Super Bowls, also has a civil suit alleging sexual assault against him pending in Nevada.

Rooney has met with Roethlisberger since a night of bar-hopping in Milledgeville, not far from where Roethlisberger owns a vacation home, took a wrong turn. Rooney and the Steelers have remained tight lipped on the subject, although coach Mike Tomlin told the NFL Network here Saturday: "I'm highly concerned for our franchise and for Ben personally."

Tomlin did not meet with Pittsburgh reporters yesterday as he took his family to one of Disney World's theme parks.

Rooney, asked yesterday about his concern for Roethlisberger and the franchise founded by his grandfather, declined comment.

Roethlisberger's predicament could emerge as the talk of owners meetings. An uncertain and contentious labor situation is a hot-button issue, but owners are prohibited by commissioner Roger Goodell from commenting.

That leaves something of a vacuum that could be filled by Roethlisberger's legal situation - and how an image-conscious league and franchise deal with the accusations that his lawyers say are not true.

Goodell has a Q&A session with reporters today, and Tomlin will take part in a media breakfast tomorrow with the rest of the AFC coaches.

If Roethlisberger is charged in Georgia, he could be subject to a fine or suspension for violation of the league's personal conduct policy, which Goodell enacted in 2007.

Goodell has suspended players before they have been convicted of anything, but he usually takes such action after those players have repeated run-ins with the law.

If Roethlisberger is indicted, Goodell may have to determine whether the criminal charges and a pending lawsuit constitute a pattern of behavior that is detrimental to the league.

Sexual misconduct is among the offenses that are punishable before a conviction, according to the personal-conduct policy.

The policy also allows Goodell to order players to seek treatment. He did that in 2008 with Brandon Marshall as the Broncos wide receiver had to undergo anger-management counseling and serve a one-game suspension following a string of arrests.

Although Roethlisberger's situation has not affected draft preparations, the Steelers are keeping their options open at quarterback. The team has been linked to Byron Leftwich, who served as a capable backup in 2008 before signing with Tampa Bay.

Colbert would not comment on Leftwich, but he has not ruled anything out.

"As we get into the draft preparation," Colbert said, "we'll contact every team as we always do and find out what players are available and whether teams are interested in trading up or down."

Crime and punishment

If Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is charged with a crime following accusations of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga., he could be subject to discipline under the NFL's personal conduct policy. Here is a key passage in the policy enacted in 2007 by commissioner Roger Goodell:

"It's not enough to simply avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard. Persons who fail to live up to this standard are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime."

Discipline, according to the personal conduct policy, may be imposed in any of the following circumstances:

• Criminal offenses including, but not limited to, those involving the use or threat of violence; domestic violence and other forms of partner abuse; theft and other property crimes; sex offenses; obstruction or resisting arrest; disorderly conduct; fraud; racketeering; and money laundering.

• Criminal offenses relating to steroids and prohibited substances, or substances of abuse.

• Violent or threatening behavior among employees, whether in or outside the workplace.

• Possession of a gun or other weapon in any workplace setting, including but not limited to stadiums, team facilities, training camp, locker rooms, team planes, buses, parking lots, etc., or unlawful possession of a weapon outside of the workplace.

• Conduct that imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person.

• Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs or NFL players.

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