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Rooney expects Roethlisberger to return next season

Joe Rutter
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger grimaces as the Patriots beat the Steelers in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboroough, Mass.
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Getty Images
Ben Roethlisberger reacts during the second half against the Patriots in the AFC championship game Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger plays against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017 at Gillette Staidum.

Ben Roethlisberger taking snaps under center. Le’Veon Bell running through holes. Antonio Brown catching pass after pass.

Steelers president Art Rooney II envisions each scenario taking place in 2017, meaning he doesn’t expect his franchise quarterback to retire, his team MVP running back to leave via free agency or his All-Pro wide receiver to be traded.

Rooney addressed myriad topics Tuesday in an informal gathering with reporters, and most subjects pertained to the Steelers’ trio of offensive stars.

Rooney said he met recently with Roethlisberger, who said last week he is considering retirement. Rooney said he would like to know Roethlisberger’s intentions “the sooner the better” so the Steelers can begin planning for the 2017 season and beyond.

“We had a good conversation,” Rooney said. “I think he’s at that stage in his career that those are thoughts I think you have. I personally expect that he’ll be back, but that’s going to be his decision.”

Roethlisberger is signed through 2019 and has about $64 million remaining on his deal. Backup Landry Jones is an unrestricted free agent, and journeyman Zach Mettenberger, who remains under contract, did not take a snap in a game last season.

Rooney indicated the Steelers would like to add a quarterback in the draft to provide depth.

“Obviously, if (Roethlisberger) decided to retire, that would modify our plans greatly,” Rooney said. “In terms of just going forward, look, I think the quarterback position is a position you have to make sure you have some depth there, and we haven’t drafted a quarterback for several years, and we’re probably due to look at the position.”

Bell, coming off back-to-back record-setting rushing performances in the playoffs, will be an unrestricted free agent in March. He is expected to receive the franchise tag, binding him to the Steelers for one more season, while the two sides try to negotiate a long-term deal.

“We have a lot of work to do in terms of preparing for this offseason contract-wise,” Rooney said. “It will be a busy season in that regard. He’s certainly a player that we would like to have on the team for a while.”

That includes Brown, who has a season remaining on his deal before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Brown was given advances on future salaries the past two offseasons and is another candidate for a contract extension.

That Brown has a penchant for distractions such as his infamous Facebook Live video after the playoff win in Kansas City or pouting when he doesn’t get the ball enough isn’t a concern to Rooney.

“I’d call them little annoyances, emphasis on ‘little,’ as far as I’m concerned,” Rooney said. “Antonio is a good guy, a good person. I enjoy him as a personal relationship, and I think he’s somebody that his teammates like to have him on the team.

“He’s a hard worker, so he’s another player we’re hoping to address his contract and have him here for the long term.”

Rooney reiterated Brown’s behavior — so far — isn’t cause for the Steelers to get rid of him.

“It’s one of those things that, as long as they stay little annoyances … you can always live through little annoyances,” he said. “By and large, AB is a big contributor to our success, has been for several years now.

“I think he’s capable of continuing to be that kind of player. I think he’s someone who wants to be a great player and works hard to be that. Hopefully, he’ll continue to evolve as a player and person.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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