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Ben Roethlisberger's commitment gives the Steelers draft flexibility

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have drafted a defensive player in the first or second round eight times in the past five years. That defense-heavy trend might continue in 2018, in part because of the tone set at the NFL combine.

As general manager Kevin Colbert addressed the media, he spoke about a receiver who exceeded expectations (JuJu Smith-Schuster), one of his stars who has become a model for late-round success stories (Antonio Brown), another receiver whom he'd be crazy to trade (Martavis Bryant) and a quarterback he almost gleefully says will be back for at least a few more years.

The offense is loaded yet again, and Colbert knows it.

"We know Ben is a franchise quarterback. Ben is a Hall of Fame quarterback," Colbert said Wednesday. "We want Ben to have whatever years we have left with him. We want him to be the best, and we hope there is more than year to year. That he can go beyond the contract that he has."

Ben Roethlisberger has two years left on a contract that could be reworked to a massive per-year payout, though the Steelers must figure out running back Le'Veon Bell's situation first.

Even if the Steelers wait a year on an extension, Roethlisberger will be 36 entering the season in an era featuring many top quarterbacks playing well into their 30s. Colbert said drafting another one to pair with former fourth-round picks Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs in the quarterback room is always a possibility.

But there's zero pressure to do so now.

Though Colbert points out two draft truisms -- passing on potential Pro Bowlers to fill needs can result in mistakes, and you can never have enough good players at any position -- he's speaking from a position of security because of Roethlisberger's commitment.

Roethlisberger's erasing any doubt about his return early in the offseason fuels that comfort.

"Him coming out and saying what he said after that loss was a huge lift for us," Colbert said.

The Steelers seem to have more needs on defense every year, but that's not such a bad thing when the team's offensive stars keep working well together. The Steelers can add help at offensive line or receiver, a position they've drafted brilliantly for most of the past decade. But the first round will no doubt have a defensive tilt in the evaluation process.