One star player is uncertain how much longer he can and will play in the NFL. Another is holding out and still another is making a cautious return after being suspended for the 2016 season. Such, to borrow the pet phrase of their coach, Mike Tomlin, is life for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At least, that’s life for now as Ben Roethlisberger takes stock of his future, Le’Veon Bell examines his bank account and Martavis Bryant rebuilds his career.
Roethlisberger, who has led the team to two Super Bowl titles, has played through a ton of injuries, including concussions that have led him to take stock of just how dangerous the game can be. He has spoken of how he worries about his long-term brain health and considered retiring in the offseason.
Roethlisberger took himself out of a game last season after suffering a concussion and urged players to self-report head injuries. “You can replace a lot of body parts, but you can’t replace a brain,” Roethlisberger said last spring. “You see the effects of it from past players, players who have taken their lives, the [chronic traumatic encephalopathy], all that stuff and, you know, I’m thinking about my family and long term. I love this game and I love my brothers that I play football with, and I would encourage any player who has an issue with their brain to just report it properly. … We are blessed to play this game but we also have a life to live.”
While players often speak of retirement in vague terms as they maneuver for more money, the Steelers apparently are beginning to take him seriously.
“I hope he stays here more than one year, but we have to be prepared,” General Manager Kevin Colbert told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Will I see more games, maybe, more quarterbacks? Maybe. Not because of what he said, but where he is. At 35, you may put a replacement in place sooner than later, and we did that, again adding a young player like a Josh Dobbs into the mix at this point. All of a sudden Landry’s [Jones] a free agent last year and that kind of snuck up on us as well, so you want to put another young quarterback in the mix. Fortunately, we signed Landry and we have him for a longer period than we did at this point last year.”
At least Roethlisberger is in training camp. Bell, the star running back, cannot report until he signs his one-year, $12.2 million franchise tag and the team cannot negotiate with him until 2018. He has shared Instagram videos of his workouts, but Colbert said “there’s nothing to be gained by a holdout. The situation won’t change, it can’t really change from our part on a long-term deal.”
“So it hurts him not to be here,” he said. “It hurts him because he’s not working with his teammates, he’s not getting the conditioning work that he’s going to need to have a great 2017 season. And he’s not working with his teammates to get acclimated to the offense — every year it’s different.”
At some point, Bell will arrive, but the status of Bryant is less certain. The wide receiver, who was suspended for the 2016 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, has been cleared to participate in preseason practices and games, but his reinstatement is conditional — based on his attendance at mandatory counseling sessions.
The relationship between Roethlisberger and Bryant seemed stressed in the spring when Roethlisberger said the wide receiver needed to earn his teammates’ trust again. Bryant, in an interview last month, proposed a “man-to-man” talk, and Roethisberger confirmed last week that the two had ironed things out.
“We were never really off the same page,” Roethlisberger said (via ESPN). “It appeared that way to outsiders, but between us, there was never an issue.”