Harlan: Steelers facing most significant offseason in over 10 years


The Pittsburgh Steelers fell behind 28-0 to the Cleveland Browns in their AFC Wild Card game Sunday night, ultimately losing 48-37. Afterward, Ben Roethlisberger, who turns 39 in March, was in tears.

Was this the end for Big Ben with the Steelers? And in the NFL in general?

“Ben turns 39 here right around the corner. He’s a family man now, too. He and his wife have a couple of kids,” NFL on CBS analyst Kevin Harlan said on The DA Show. “We know that he had some pretty significant elbow surgery. His arm has never looked right the second half of the season, and even more importantly than that, he's got a big cap hit. I think it’s over $40 million toward that cap. They are in cap trouble in Pittsburgh. The way the team is constituted right now will not be the same team we see next year.”

The Steelers started 11-0 this season but lost five of their last six games, including Sunday night’s shocker.

The Steelers have a lot of young talent, especially at wide receiver, but who will they catch passes from in 2021?

“There may be a change at quarterback,” Harlan said. “He may be too expensive. He may not really have it in his will to fight and try to rebuild with a young team around him because they’re going to lose some of these veterans because of their cap problems. That’s going to be, I think, a very significant offseason – maybe the most significant offseason the Steelers have faced in over 10 years. And it may begin at quarterback.”

Facing an enormous early deficit, the Steelers passed early and often against the Browns. Roethlisberger finished 47-of-68 for 501 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.

“Can Roethlisberger still play? Absolutely,” Harlan said. “Is his heart and focus in it? I really think it is. But physically, he’s going to be 39 and he’s got a big body. He’s not like Rodgers and Drew Brees and some of these more compact quarterbacks. Ben’s a big body – 6-5 – and I think it’s a chore for him the older he gets to get back out there.”

Roethlisberger, the 11th overall pick in 2004, has spent his entire career with the Steelers. He has played for Mike Tomlin since 2007.

“For a veteran quarterback, you’ve got to continue to make it fresh. You’ve got to keep him engaged,” Harlan said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things veteran quarterbacks face – and a head coach has got to come up with some kind of recipe. How do I keep my veteran quarterback engaged, evolving, moving forward and on pace with a team that wants to move and go with him? That’s a very difficult chore sometimes. I think there are a lot of question marks for the Steelers this offseason.”

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, meanwhile, beat Washington 31-23 on Saturday, as Tom Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns. The Buccaneers will play the Saints in New Orleans in the divisional round this Sunday – and Harlan likes what he sees from Tampa Bay.

“They’ve got veterans who have been there – namely their quarterback, who to me looks incredibly focused,” Harlan said. “He’s got a better cast around him, Gronkowski has gotten better as the season has gone on, their offensive line has really played better the last seven or eight games, and Brady and Arians have found a nice middle ground. Tom is far more comfortable. He’s throwing the ball as well as he’s ever thrown it. . . . I think the keys were handed over to Brady from Arians. I think he's got a lot more freedom. His deep ball looks good.

“I just think the best is yet to come for the Buccaneers,” Harlan continued. “I think the team that the Saints play this weekend will not be the same Buccaneer team they faced the first two times in the regular season. I think this game is going to have a different kind of outcome. Brady, to me, looks as good as he did when he played with the Patriots.