Steelers GM: Ben Roethlisberger 'unquestioned leader' of locker room

Stephen A.: Steelers GM 'could not have made a worse statement' (2:00)

Stephen A. Smith doesn't agree with Steelers GM Kevin Colbert's statement about Ben Roethlisberger's leadership, saying it denigrated other team members. (2:00)

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are unquestionably quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's team, according to general manager Kevin Colbert.

Colbert called Roethlisberger the "unquestioned leader" of the locker room who has the freedom to publicly criticize teammates if he sees fit.

"He's the elder statesmen and the Super Bowl winner," Colbert told a group of local reporters Wednesday. "If our players were smart, they'd listen to him because he's been there. He's done it. He can tell them, 'No guys, what you're doing is or is not good enough to do this.'"

After a Week 12 loss to Denver, Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show that Antonio Brown -- who's now on the trading block -- should have run a flatter route at the goal line. He added he wished he had thrown to JuJu Smith-Schuster instead.

Privately, Brown took exception to that. And publicly, Brown tweeted Saturday that Roethlisberger had an "owner mentality" because of his willingness to call out players and coaches.

Roethlisberger says his role as a team captain and 15-year veteran gives him credibility to criticize when warranted but that he won't abuse that privilege and criticizes himself as well.

Colbert points out Roethlisberger is the only Steeler left from the Super Bowl XLIII team.

"I honestly believe that that can be a burden on him more often than he may like to admit, because he has to ... he's got 52 kids under him quite honestly," Colbert said.

"I want them to step up and say, 'Hey Ben, what do I have to do? Can I do this better? What do we have to do to win a Super Bowl?' I think that once you win it, you've got 53 guys who can say what it took. Right now, he's the only one, so I have no problem with him. He can call me out and that's fine. What he does, I totally respect because I see him too many times win games for us and come through in situations."

The Steelers are working on a contract extension for Roethlisberger, whose deal expires after the 2019 season and who led the NFL in passing yards in 2018 with 5,129. He also logged a career-high 34 touchdowns.

Colbert cited Roethlisberger's fiery halftime speech in a come-from-behind win in Jacksonville last season as an example of Roethlisberger's leadership.