PITTSBURGH -- With many considering Ben Roethlisberger a year-to-year quarterback because of his retirement considerations this offseason, his favorite target might just keep him coming back.
Antonio Brown has the chance to become the NFL's first player with five straight 100-catch seasons, largely because of his chemistry with Roethlisberger. The pair have mastered plays that are often indefensible and will always be available, particularly toward the sideline, such as the out and corner routes.
With both locked into contracts worth nearly $170 million combined, they can prolong each other's careers if they choose.
That's why Brown was hoping Roethlisberger would stick around for a while when he signed his $68 million extension in February, saying he "wouldn't want to play with anyone else."
"Ben is a warrior," Brown said. "He's been through it all. ... Never questioned his commitment."
The best gauge for when Roethlisberger retires possibly correlates to how many prime years Brown has left.
Brown turns 29 in July. Brown's quickness, ability to avoid injury and insatiable work ethic likely aligns him with Larry Fitzgerald or other receivers who remained elite into their 30s.
If Brown realistically has, say, the next two years to battle Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and others for the top-wideout crown, walking away from that built-in production might be tough with Roethlisberger, who also has Le'Veon Bell in his prime and an elite offensive line.
Perhaps Roethlisberger has reason to be frustrated with the two glaring issues in last year's AFC title-game loss: pass defense and the lack of a reliable receiving option behind Brown. But assuming the Steelers improve in those areas -- which they have, on paper -- the Brown-Roethlisberger combo always gives Pittsburgh a chance in every game it plays.
Brown has had his issues with penalties and affinity for live streaming. But when Roethlisberger recalled two weeks ago why he returned for a 14th season -- "the love of this sport, the team and this city" -- Brown's presence weighs strongly in that answer.