Roethlisberger cleared to return to Steelers

NEW YORK (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger was cleared by the NFL on Thursday to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers beginning next week, although no decision has been made on the length of his suspension.

The quarterback was suspended without pay for six games last month by commissioner Roger Goodell after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga. No charges were filed.

Roethlisberger underwent a behavioral evaluation as part of the suspension, which could be reduced to four games by Goodell, who will review the case again before the regular season.

The Steelers' next offseason workout is Tuesday, the first of three next week. They have three the following week, then are off until training camp starts on July 30. Roethlisberger already was cleared to join them in camp and can play in preseason games.

"Commissioner Goodell informed us today that based on the information he received from the clinical evaluations, he has cleared Ben Roethlisberger to return to the Steelers' facility to take part in both meetings and practices," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement released by the team. "We look forward to having Ben rejoin his teammates on the practice field."

Roethlisberger will be suspended through the Oct. 24 game against Miami and can return the next day. His first game would be at Super Bowl champion New Orleans in prime time on Oct. 31.

If the suspension is reduced to four games, he would return for a home matchup with the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 17.

Roethlisberger is the first player suspended by Goodell under the conduct policy who hasn't been arrested or charged with a crime. When he handed down the penalty, Goodell cited a "pattern of behavior" that gave him the right to impose discipline even though no law was broken.

Roethlisberger also is being sued by a woman who accused him of raping her at a Lake Tahoe hotel-casino in 2008. He denied the allegation and wasn't charged.

Sitting out all six games would cost the two-time Super Bowl winner an estimated $2.8 million of his $102 million total contract.

In Roethlisberger's absence, the Steelers have used Byron Leftwich as the first-string quarterback in practices. Leftwich likely will be the starter for Pittsburgh in its season opener against Atlanta.