A Time To Spend

With a manageable cap, the Steelers approach fiscal new year by opening contract talks with Ben Roethlisberger.

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in the last several years, the Steelers have a manageable cap situation as the March 10 fiscal new year approaches. So the questions put to General Manager Kevin Colbert on Tuesday had more to do with spending money than saving it:

FRANCHISE QB

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger turns 33 on March 2 and is entering the final year of his contract, and Colbert said talks about an extension are underway.

"There's no timetable on it," said Colbert. "It could happen quick; it could take a little while. As I've always said, when you've got two parties that are real interested in getting the same goal achieved, it usually goes quicker than not."

With his current contract, Roethlisberger would make $11.6 million in salary and the Steelers would take an $18.4 million cap hit this season. A five-year contract worth $108 million (with a $25 million bonus) would give Roethlisberger an average payout of $21.6 million -- nearly equal to Aaron Rodgers' contract -- and would keep the cap hit the same.

This estimation has Roethlisberger making more than $25 million in salary at the age of 37, but that didn't seem to faze Colbert.

"I think Ben is a franchise quarterback that's getting better with age," he said. "You've seen it with a couple great players that are still playing in Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Their games have certainly not deteriorated. I really think Ben is going to be a better quarterback down the road than he has been to this point. And I think that's his goal, too."

PASS-RUSHERS

The Steelers begin meetings with position coaches and pro scouts today to evaluate both their free agents and their potential needs once league-wide free agency opens on March 10.

Right now, the biggest roster holes are outside linebacker and tight end. Taking their potential free agents into account, the Steelers have only one veteran at each position -- Heath Miller and Jarvis Jones.

"We're worried about it today, but I feel comfortable that we'll be fine once we get to August," Colbert said.

Tight end Matt Spaeth would likely re-sign, but Colbert would probably have to look to the draft for outside linebackers.

"That's probably one of the positions that's potentially strong," he said. "I say potentially because outside linebackers for the most part are projections. ... But right now there's a nice group of candidates for that position."

As for Jason Worilds, who played under the transition tag last season, Colbert sounded as if the team will try to sign him without the tag. The period for tagging a player begins Monday.

"He's still a young player," Colbert said. "He's probably still an ascending player. I don't think you've seen the best of Jason Worilds, either as a Steeler or as a potential player for someone else's team. He's definitely someone we'll consider keeping. Just see where the market goes."

Colbert said the Steelers will come up with a list of 30 players from other teams to consider during the free-agency period.

CORNERBACKS

The combine begins next Wednesday and as Colbert noted the Steelers will be looking to improve the pass rush, which is always helped by strong pass coverage.

Of course, pass-rushers and cornerbacks are expensive in free agency, so that means the Steelers will look for them in the draft. But Colbert has never drafted a cornerback in the first round.

"That certainly is not by design," he said. "It's the way the draft breaks. If I were to guess, we've probably averaged picking about 23rd since I've been here, and usually the top, top corners go before that. But we don't go into a draft saying we're not taking a corner. We've never said that."

The crop of cornerbacks in this year's draft isn't strong on top, but the depth is solid.

"I think there is certainly a nice group of corners that can help our team," he said. "There are a lot of unknowns right now, like the underclassmen. We don't even know how tall they are. The majority of them we don't know how fast they are. We've watched them play and we think they can do certain things, but we need to verify it through the combine and through the pro days. So I think it's going to be a good group."

(For the complete transcript of Kevin Colbert's 40-minute group interview on Tuesday, click here.)


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