Thu Feb 13 5:32pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Pittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger watches from the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, right, poses with the West Virginia Mountaineer Mascot before West Virginia's NCAA college basketball game against Kansas on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)
PITTSBURGH (AP) The Pittsburgh Steelers are confident quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's surgically repaired right elbow will be ready to go in time for the 2020 regular season, so confident there are no plans to look around for a proven veteran backup just in case.
General manager Kevin Colbert said Thursday that ''all signs are good'' regarding Roethlisberger's rehab from an elbow injury that sidelined the two-time Super Bowl winner in the middle of Week 2 and forced him to miss the remainder of 2019. The Steelers finished 8-8 without him while jockeying between second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph and rookie undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges.
While Colbert described Pittsburgh's eventful season as ''below the standards we set,'' he credited the defense for taking a significant step forward and believes Roethlisberger's return should help push the Steelers back into contention in the AFC.
Roethlisberger, who turns 38 in March, will travel to Los Angeles to be evaluated on Feb. 21. There is no specific timetable for when he will be cleared to start throwing again but Colbert stressed ''optimistically he's on schedule to return and maybe return better a Ben Roethlisberger than he was before the injury.''
Pittsburgh hung tough in Roethlisberger's absence thanks in large part to a defense buoyed by the arrival of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in a mid-September trade. The Steelers finished fifth in yards and points allowed but didn't get enough help down the stretch. Pittsburgh scored 20 points or fewer in seven of its final eight games and managed just 30 points combined during a three-game skid to end the season, a losing streak that dropped them out of the playoff race.
While Colbert praised Rudolph and Hodges for doing a ''representable'' job while filling in, Colbert thinks a little bit of Roethlisberger could go a long way in 2020.
''I think our defense was really good last year and they kept us in a lot of games,'' Colbert said. ''We always talk about when Ben was healthy and we held a team to 21 points, his record over the course of his career is 121-20.''
The Steelers went 7-3 when keeping opponents under that mark in 2019, but two of the losses came in Weeks 15 and 16 against Buffalo and the New York Jets as the charismatic Hodges became increasingly ineffective.
Colbert, however, was quick to spread blame all around. The offensive line struggled to create running room and third-year back James Conner couldn't seem to stay on the field. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster also dealt with injuries as his numbers took a steep drop with Roethlisberger out.
Both Conner and Smith-Schuster are about to enter the final years of their rookie contracts. Smith-Schuster is likely to be approached about a new deal, while Colbert indicated the team needs to see more from Conner.
''We know there's talent there,'' Colbert said. ''We hope James can regain it and if he's healthy, there's no reason (he can't.)''
Colbert also faces a decision on what to do with outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who is coming off a breakout season in which he had a career-high 11 1/2 sacks while teaming up with T.J. Watt to become one of the best edge rush duos in the NFL.
Dupree is scheduled to become a free agent next month unless the Steelers place the franchise tag on him by March 10. While coach Mike Tomlin called finding a way to keep Dupree ''a priority'' Colbert took a more vague approach.
''We have a good idea about where things stand at this point, but don't have concrete info as to whether or not we will tag,'' Colbert said.
Pittsburgh heads into the draft without a first-round pick for the first time since 1968 after sending it to Miami for Fitzpatrick. Colbert has zero second thoughts on the decision, not after Fitzpatrick was selected as an All-Pro following a season in which he intercepted five passes and returned an interception and a fumble for touchdowns.
''He is our first-round pick as we enter 2020 because he's still a young, ascending player,'' Colbert said. ''He came in his first game as a starter after one week of work and had an outstanding game I don't think we've seen the best of Minkah yet.''
In a way, the same holds true for inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. Shazier continues to recover from spine stabilization surgery in December, 2017. His contract expires next month, but Colbert said he's seen ''significant improvement'' from Shazier over the past 12 months. While Shazier's career remains on hold indefinitely, Colbert made it clear Shazier continues to have the club's full support.
''When you're dealing with Ryan Shazier, you're not dealing with a timetable,'' Colbert said. ''You're dealing with a young man that's trying to regain his career. We're always going to support that, whether it's by a certain date or certain terms. There's rules we have to live by, but again there's no ceiling and there's no time frame with Ryan Shazier's possibility of returning.''
Tennessee Titans PK Ryan Succop is likely to be released in the offseason, in the opinion of ESPN's Turron Davenport. The move would save the team $2 million against the salary cap.
Tennessee Titans RB Dion Lewis is expected to be released in the offseason, in the opinion of ESPN's Turron Davenport. The move would save the team $4 million against the salary cap.
Fantasy Spin: Lewis can still be worthwhile in PPR, but he's not going to receive the touches in Tennessee to do it. He's someone to watch this offseason to see if he can land a bigger split to be an RB4 or RB5.
Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton needs more depth behind him at the receiver position, according to general manager Chris Ballard. 'Do we need to add more explosive elements to our offense? Yeah, we do,' Ballard said. 'Just want somebody who can catch the ball and go score.'
Dallas Cowboys impending free-agent WR Tavon Austin is unlikely to be re-signed, according to Todd Archer of ESPNDallas.com.
Chicago Bears TE Adam Shaheen will be on the roster for the start of training camp, according to general manager Ryan Pace, but expectations for Shaheen are 'low' for 2020, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
Atlanta Falcons impending free-agent TE Austin Hooper could be a target for the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to John Reid of The Florida Times-Union.
Fantasy Spin: The Jaguars tight ends combined for just three touchdowns in 2019. Meanwhile, Hooper has emerged as one of the steadier options at the position, topping 70 catches in each of the past two seasons and recording a career-high 787 receiving yards last year. Moving from Atlanta's offense to Jacksonville's offense would be a downgrade, but Hooper will likely be a low-end TE1 regardless of where he plays in 2020.
San Francisco 49ers DT Solomon Thomas may join the starting lineup next season if the team is not able to bring back impending free-agent DE Arik Armstead, in the opinion of NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.
Cleveland Browns impending free-agent LB Joe Schobert said he has talked with general manager Andrew Berry and has been told that the Browns will talk to his agent about his contract situation in the near future. Schobert is more optimistic about his chances to re-sign since he has a better relationship with Berry than he did with former general manager John Dorsey.
Carolina Panthers impending free-agent CB James Bradberry and Kansas City Chiefs impending free-agent CB Bashaud Breeland are expected to be targets for the Washington Redskins during free agency.
New York Giants impending free-agent DT Leonard Williams recently met with former NFL DT Richard Seymour in order to improve his play. They watched game film and also worked out together. Seymour said he believes Williams has all the tools to be a great player.
There remains no timetable for a potential return for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier (back) as he rehabs from spinal stabilization surgery. Shazier has not played for the last two seasons, and it remains to be seen if he'll ever play again. His contract from the 2019 season will not toll over to 2020, but the Steelers continue to support his comeback efforts. If Shazier's contract expires, he will become a free agent when the new league year begins on March 18. The 27-year-old was a force in the middle of the field for the Steelers in the four seasons before his injury. We wouldn't bet against Shazier making a comeback, but it might not be for the Steelers.
New England Patriots impending free-agent QB Tom Brady has not made any progress in contract talks with the Patriots at this point.
Fantasy Spin: The two sides have about a month to negotiate until Brady becomes a free agent. Several of teams will pursue Brady if he hits the free-agent market, so the Patriots may need to sign Brady in the next few weeks. He likely will be considered a low-end No. 1 fantasy quarterback in 2020.
Pittsburgh Steelers LB Ryan Shazier (spine) does not have a timetable for his return, according to general manager Kevin Colbert. He is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason, but the two sides are expected to discuss his contract situation.
The Arizona Cardinals could trade RB David Johnson during the offseason if they decide to give impending free-agent RB Kenyan Drake the franchise tag or sign him to a contract extension, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Fantasy Spin: Johnson's current contract includes a substantial amount of guaranteed money, which would make it nearly impossible for the Cardinals to cut him, so they are likely to wind up eating a great deal of cash in any potential trade, even if a draft pick is included. Drake should be viewed as a high-end RB2 option in next season's fantasy drafts if he returns to Arizona, with Johnson likely falling into the low-end RB2 range if he winds up elsewhere.
Kansas City Chiefs impending free-agent CB Bashaud Breeland said in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he is interested in returning to the team for the 2020 season.
The Buffalo Bills may consider using the franchise tag to keep impending free-agent DT Jordan Phillips for another season, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may consider using the franchise tag to keep impending free-agent LB Shaquil Barrett for another season, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette may not have his fifth-year optioned exercised, according to John Reid of The Florida Times-Union.
Fantasy Spin: Fournette is coming off a strong 2019 campaign, but while he stayed relatively healthy and made progress as receiver, injuries remain a concern. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Jacksonville wait and see how he holds next year up before picking up his option or talking an extension. In the meantime, Fournette should at least be a high-floor, volume-based RB2 in 2020.
Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson won't be a guarantee to make the team's roster going into training camp, in the opinion of The Athletic's Chris Burke. Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2019, ended his rookie season with 63 carries for 273 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and no touchdowns on the ground. The Lions notably didn't give him a very big workload when Kerryon Johnson was hurt last year either, and he'll have to compete with Bo Scarbrough, J.D. McKissic, Tra Carson and Wes Hills for depth behind Kerryon Johnson this summer. Even if he makes the roster out of camp, Johnson won't be guaranteed many touches as the second or third running back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said that the team remains undecided on whether to keep quarterback Jameis Winston or move on from the former first overall draft pick. Arians said they probably won't know what direction they are headed until the start of the three-day legal free-agent tampering period from March 16-18. If Tampa uses a franchise tag on Winston, he'll be guaranteed around $27 million on a one-year deal. The fact that the Buccaneers are waiting to see which quarterbacks become available doesn't really inspire much confidence that they want to retain him. Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and set a franchise record with 33 touchdown passes, but he also tossed a league-high 30 interceptions and lost five fumbles. With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin at receiver, Winston will have his highest fantasy value as a strong QB1 if he remains in Tampa, but that won't be up to him.