Steelers positional analysis: Kenny Pickett stands alone in QB room

2/17/2024 If the Steelers were concerned about the uncertain future at quarterback when Ben Roethlisberger retired, the outlook at the position might not be any more stable two years later. Yes, they will go into the 2024 season with the idea Kenny Pickett, who has compiled a 14-10 record as a starter, will be the No. 1 quarterback.

But they will not go in with the same hope they had this time last season when they were encouraged by the way their rookie quarterback finished the 2022 season. In fact, there appears to be some internal division that maybe Mason Rudolph should be the starter after the way he finished the 2023 season, winning the final three regular season games to gain entry to the playoffs. There is only one problem, though: Rudolph is an unrestricted free agent who may or may not return, depending on how swiftly the Steelers make him an offer.

And for how much? They have already moved on from Mitch Trubisky, who was released last week in a move that will save the Steelers $11. 5 million in real money over the next two seasons. Trubisky never stood a chance with the Steelers.

Six weeks after he was signed to a two-year, $14. 3 million contract in free agency in March 2022, the Steelers took Pickett with their No. 1 pick in the draft.

That night, Trubisky was a little surprised by a text message that, among other things, asked him to text and congratulate the newest Steelers quarterback. No wonder he played as though he was always looking over his shoulder after that. Trubisky’s departure leaves an empty cupboard for the Steelers.

As of right now, they have just one quarterback in their employ — Pickett. They do not have another possible option, not even on the practice squad. Granted, they will correct the problem in the coming months, whether in free agency or the draft.

And, like they did last year with Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, they will at least sign an undrafted free agent to have another arm for OTAs and training camp. But the first priority will be to re-sign Rudolph. That has already been declared by coach Mike Tomlin and team president Art Rooney II.

Whether they can is up to them. Rudolph is not opposed to returning to the Steelers, but that doesn’t mean he won’t entertain another offer when the free agent courtship period for veterans begins March 11. That’s why it might be up to them to move quickly if they want to bring him back for his seventh NFL season.

It would make sense for Rudolph to return, especially after the way he played and how he energized the offense in the final four games. His teammates like him, several have politicked for him, and another indicated there is enough of a question as to who should be the starter that the coaching staff needs to figure it out in a hurry. What’s more, it might be the best spot for Rudolph to have the best chance to still be a starter, even if the “competition” to which Mike Tomlin referred after the season turns out to be the same implied promise made two years ago.

It becomes more problematic for the Steelers if they don’t re-sign Rudolph. Then they have to go back into free agency and find a veteran to be the No. 2 quarterback, something like they had in mind with Trubisky, who started 50 games with the Chicago Bears.

It would also increase the likelihood of using a mid- to low-round draft choice to find a No. 3 quarterback. In any event, the Steelers are not interested in bringing in a quarterback who wants to be a starter.

That would include Justin Fields and Kirk Cousins, and probably even Russell Wilson, who has a connection with the Steelers. They are committed to giving Pickett a third season to see if he is the guy to do more than just win a playoff game — something they haven’t done in a franchise-record seven years. Make no mistake, it is not the stable and comforting position they expected two years ago.

HOW THEY WERE ACQUIRED Kenny Pickett Year acquired: 2022, 1st round School: Pitt Contract status: Signed through 2026 season Mason Rudolph Year acquired: 2018, 3rd round School: Oklahoma State Contract status: Unrestricted free agent 2024 DRAFT CLASS QBs Caleb Williams, 6-1, 215, Jr. , USC Drake Maye, 6-4, 230, Redshirt So. , No.

Carolina Jayden Daniels, 6-4, 210, Sr. , LSU Michael Penix Jr. , 6-3, 212, Sr.

, Washington Bo Nix, 6-2, 218, Sr. , Oregon — Rob Rang First Published February 17, 2024, 10:30am .

Gerry Dulac
Filed 02.18.2024

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