On his radio show, in which Ben Roethlisberger spoke frequently about playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers next season, the veteran quarterback reminded listeners that returning isn't just an automatic decision every year.
Roethlisberger, who'll turn 35 on March 2 and who has three years left on a contract that would pay him $19 million next season, said "I'm going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options, to consider health and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season, if there's going to be a next season, all those things. I think that's, in my point of my career and my age, the prudent and smart thing to do every year."
Roethlisberger said that "I'm not by any means saying I'm not coming back," and added, "I'm just saying in this point in my career, I think it's prudent -- just like I'm sure James (Harrison) is doing and other guys who have been in this league a long time -- to evaluate and just make sure. You want to be able to leave this game walking out of it in a healthy spot. You don't want to be carted out."
Mike Tomlin, at his end-of-season press conference Tuesday, said he's taking what Roethlisberger said seriously
"He said it, so you do take it seriously," said Tomlin. "I think that’s a fair assessment in terms of where he is in his career. I am not alarmed by it. I just think that’s football. Obviously I am hopeful that he returns. His return, obviously, or potential for his return or not returning, will weigh heavily on our planning. But I am not alarmed or surprised by that thought process. That’s life. He is a significant component. The most significant component of what it is that we do. We will plan and react accordingly."
Tomlin, who started exit meetings with players Tuesday morning, said he hadn't met with Roethlisberger because he's often the last one scheduled. The coach also said that Roethlisberger has expressed similar sentiments in past offseasons.
WILL HE? WON'T HE?
Aside from Roethlisberger, several other Steelers carry question marks about a possible return next season:
* James Harrison -- The 38-year-old said two months ago he would like to play until he's 40, but his contract has expired. "I am open to having him back," Tomlin said. "I think we are all not surprised by what he was able to do, because he is James. But we were pleased with what he was able to do and provide us with. We are open to that discussion for sure."
* Martavis Bryant -- Suspended all season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, Bryant posted a workout video that showed off an obviously increased musculature. Said Tomlin: "I am kind of in the wait-and-see mode ... in terms of him getting reinstated. Obviously I am hopeful for that reinstatement."
* Ladarius Green -- Signed to a four-year contract last March, the talented tight end played in only six of the 19 games because of concussion issues, but said this week he wants to return next season. Said Tomlin: "I don’t have an assessment, long term, of where he is. I think that’s one of the chief medical decisions and questions that we have to have moving forward."
* Senquez Golson -- The 2015 second-round draft pick has missed two years with different injuries and is a cornerback who might help with the lack of man-coverage personnel in the secondary. Does Tomlin expect him back and healthy? "I expect to. We’ll see if that transpires."
* Assistant coaches -- "I understand that change is a part of this thing. It always is, particularly for players and coaches. I’m not going to bury my head in the sand in that regard. We’ll see where it transpires."
Along with Harrison, the other potential unrestricted free agents are: Le'Veon Bell, Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones, DeAngelo Williams, Cody Wallace, Greg Warren, Steven Johnson, Ricardo Mathews, David Johnson, Markus Wheaton and Shamarko Thomas.
Tomlin and his defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, are receiving fan and media criticism for relying too much on zone defenses to defend Tom Brady and the Patriots. Tomlin was asked about his defensive game plan.
"It depends on what specific plays you are talking about," Tomlin said of a defense that was torched in both zone and man coverage. "At times, we didn’t execute as well as we would have liked. At times, they executed extremely well. If you paint with a broad brush, I would say it is a combination of both. But I would have to look at specific plays in terms of identifying what it was in each specific instance.
"Rest assured, it wasn’t a grade-A performance from us. There were some breakdowns. But there was some quality execution by them. I would be less than genuine if I didn’t acknowledge that as well."
Tomlin, of course, coached the Steelers to a win over the Patriots in 2011 by utilizing more press man coverage.
"I base our matchups on what our people are capable of doing and doing well," Tomlin said. "You said it at the start of your question, the personnel was different (in 2011)."
Tomlin was also asked whether the Patriots had stacked the interior to defend a QB sneak at the goal line late in the first half.
The Steelers started at the one-foot line, ran two plays, lost four yards and threw incomplete before settling for a field goal.
"They were," Tomlin said, and answered a follow-up question that, yes, Roethlisberger could've checked to a sneak if the Patriots weren't.