AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) – As a general philosophy, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin treats each individual season as its own unique entity, with no direct through line from one to the next.
Considering his quarterback’s current state of mind, probably a good idea.
While Tomlin believes the Steelers have a “championship caliber” team a couple days removed from an ugly blowout loss to New England in the AFC title game, his franchise’s most important player isn’t guaranteeing a return in 2017. Roethlisberger said during his weekly appearance on 93.7 The Fan that he needs time to reflect before coming back for a 14th season.
“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,” Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger will turn 35 in March and is under contract through 2020. Knee injuries have forced him to miss time in each of the last two seasons and while Pittsburgh ripped off nine straight wins on its way to the AFC North title and its first appearance in the NFL’s final four in six years, Roethlisberger wasn’t terribly sharp. He threw 10 interceptions over Pittsburgh’s final seven games, though the two-time Super Bowl winner didn’t receive much help on Sunday against the Patriots, as dropped passes, a groin injury to running back Le’Veon Bell and occasionally questionable playcalling – not to mention Tom Brady at the peak of his powers – played significant factors in the worst postseason loss of his career.
While Roethlisberger cautioned he’s “not by any means saying he’s not coming back,” the father of three considered it “prudent” to take a step back before deciding if he has the energy to make another push.
That’s fine by Tomlin, who wasn’t alarmed by Roethlisberger’s admission mostly because they’ve had similar discussions in the past.
“That’s football,” Tomlin said. “Obviously I’m hopeful that he returns and the potential of his return or not returning will weigh heavily on our planning. That’s life. He’s the most significant component of what it is that we do. We’ll plan and react accordingly.”
Roethlisberger is one of three Steelers remaining from the team that beat Seattle in the Super Bowl 11 years ago. The exodus includes tight end and Roethlisberger’s longtime friend Heath Miller, who retired last February at age 33.
It seems unlikely Roethlisberger – who has three seasons left on the five-year, $100 million deal he signed in March 2015 – would walk away considering the Steelers (13-6) figure to be in the mix again next season. Wide receiver Antonio Brown is still under contract, Bell will become a free agent but is expected to stick around and Martavis Bryant will be eligible for reinstatement after missing all of 2016 for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The offensive line that allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked just 17 times in 14 games will remain intact.
There’s plenty to be optimistic about. And the oddsmakers don’t seem concerned about Roethlisberger’s intentions, making the Steelers the early second choice (along with Green Bay) to reach next year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
Some other takeaways as Tomlin put the finishing touches on a successful if not triumphant year.
BATTERED BELL: Tomlin said Bell had been dealing with the groin injury that limited him to just six carries against the Patriots for some time but that the All-Pro had found a way to manage it without missing practice. Tomlin said he didn’t feel the problem was significant enough to put Bell on the NFL-mandated injury report, pointing out the entire team could be placed on the report due to various bumps and bruises associated with playing four-plus months.
BROWN NEEDS TO DELIVER: Tomlin downplayed the notion that Brown needs to become a more mature player even though Tomlin publicly chastised Brown’s decision to livestream portions of the locker room celebration following a divisional round victory over Kansas City. “He’s a dynamic player (and) there are responsibilities that come with being a dynamic player,” said Tomlin, who added outlining the responsibilities is “normal operating business” for all players.
SEE YOU IN 2017?: Linebacker James Harrison will become a free agent in March and turns 39 in May but has already publicly talked about making another run.
SECOND GUESSING: Tomlin became the eighth coach to win 100 games in his first 10 seasons, remarkable in most places, but maybe not in Pittsburgh. It’s a standard Tomlin embraces. “My goal was to be world champs and we weren’t that,” Tomlin said. “You can describe that in whatever way you choose to. In that vein I’ve only been successful one time in 10 years and I’m OK with that.”
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.