'Big Ben' sending subtle sign?

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Ben Roethlisberger's admission to Sports Illustrated that he played with fractured ribs in Super Bowl XLIII should tell the Pittsburgh Steelers one thing: He needs more protection this offseason.

Add broken ribs to the list of injuries Roethlisberger suffered throughout the 2008 title run, including a sprained shoulder, injured thumb, concussion and hand injury. That's five ailments for a $102-million quarterback in one season. He cannot take that kind of beating again if Pittsburgh wants Roethlisberger to last the duration of his eight-year deal.

Sure, Roethlisberger has a penchant for holding the football too long in an effort to make big plays. His backyard style is what makes him unique yet also leads to a lot of hits.

But that's even more of a reason to bolster and put money into Pittsburgh's front five. It will be up to the team -- either through the draft or free agency -- to find offensive linemen good enough and mobile enough to fit Roethlisberger's style.

This is a good time for Pittsburgh to do a major overhaul. Four offensive linemen, including tackles Max Starks and Marvel Smith, will become unrestricted free agents. A fifth lineman in tackle/guard Willie Colon will be a restricted free agent.

The Steelers are not a free-spending organization. But if they spend significant money on anything this offseason, it should be on remaking the offensive line.

Roethlisberger, and his fractured ribs, will be thankful.

UPDATE [5:10 p.m.]: The Steelers are saying they had no knowledge of the rib injury to Roethlisberger.

"There's not a whole lot to say," Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said Monday. "Ben was fine to go. He was cleared to play. He didn't miss any [practice] time. There was no doubt he was going to play."