General manager Kevin Colbert doesn’t take issue with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger publicly criticizing his teammates, even one as talented — and fragile — as All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown.
“He can call me out,” Colbert said Wednesday. “That’s fine.”
Roethlisberger’s criticism of Brown reportedly is one of the reasons the most prolific NFL receiver the past six seasons wants to be traded. But during a 30-minute meeting with reporters, Colbert unequivocally threw his support behind Roethlisberger, who will enter his 16th season with the team.
“Ben is the unquestioned leader of this group,” said Colbert, reminding that Roethlisberger is the only player on the active roster to win a Super Bowl with the Steelers.
“If our guys were smart, they would listen to him because he’s been there, he’s done it,” Colbert said. “He can tell them, ‘No, guys, what you are doing is or is not good enough.’”
And, in Colbert’s opinion, that affords Roethlisberger some leeway in his dealings with teammates.
“I honestly believe it can be a burden on him more often that he would like to admit,” Colbert said. “He has 52 kids under him. I want them to step up and say, ‘Ben, what do I have to do? Can I do this better? What do we have to do to win a Super Bowl?’
“Once you win it, you have 53 guys who can say what it took. He’s the only one (we have). I have no problem with him.”
"Big burden:" Roethlisberger criticized Brown’s route-running on his weekly radio segment two days after the Steelers’ 24-17 loss to Denver in November. Roethlisberger attributed the route that Brown ran to an interception that ended the Steelers’ comeback hopes in the final minute.
“It’s a big burden for him. It really is,” Colbert said. “We talk about this with other guys. It’s a tremendous weight for him to have to carry week-in and week-out. This team looks to him as they should as a franchise Hall of Fame quarterback. It’s a huge responsibility, but we believe it is part of the responsibility of our other players to fill in the blanks and help Ben through this journey.”
Big Ben's leadership: Citing an example of Roethlisberger’s leadership, Colbert mentioned a halftime speech the quarterback gave Nov. 18 in Jacksonville, the week before the loss in Denver. The Steelers were trailing 9-0 at the break when Roethlisberger gathered players in the locker room before “they were allowed to get water,” Colbert said.
“He got everybody’s attention and said, ‘Look, first and foremost, I have to play better in the second half, but we have to,’ ” Colbert said. “The 12 minutes in there, he grabbed the team right away. That was the whole crux of that halftime. Then, he goes out in the second half and helps us with a comeback win.”
The deficit grew to 16 points before the Steelers rallied for a 20-16 win on Roethlisberger’s last-second touchdown scramble. Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes before his scoring run.
“He backed it up,” Colbert said. “He played better in the second half.”
New deal offseason priority: Roethlisberger, who will turn 37 in two weeks, is entering the final year of his contract, and team president Art Rooney has made extending his contract an offseason priority. Colbert said the Steelers are engaged in meetings regarding free agency for the rest of the week.
If the Steelers redo Roethlisberger’s contract before a $5 million roster bonus kicks in March 17, they can reduce his salary-cap number for 2019.
“We’re trying to put it all together and see where it all might fit,” Colbert said. “We’ve stated we want to extend Ben.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .