By Jeremy Hritz
2023 was supposed to be a transitional year for the Steelers, and at no other position was this more apparent than at quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger, who for 18 years led this team to consistent winning seasons and Super Bowls, retired, and vacated a spot that would then apparently be battled for in camp by three players: Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, and Kenny Pickett.
While it was publicly stated that there was an honest to goodness QB competition, whether or not there was truth to that statement was highly questionable. Regardless of what the plan was behind closed doors, the 2022 season concluded on a promising note, and the team seems to have a capable franchise quarterback as its starter for the next 10+ years.
Enter Mitch Trubisky
Trubisky was signed at the start of free agency last March, with the hopes he only needed the proper environment in order for him to thrive and succeed. There was the belief that he never received a fair shake in Chicago, and that he was hindered by the offensive coaching staff, and that in Pittsburgh, this would not be the case. My greatest concern with Trubisky when he was signed was his inability to push the ball down the field and to make dynamic plays with his arm.
This was the case during his first year in Pittsburgh, as he played conservatively, probably by design, and frustratingly led a vanilla offense that was tepid and ineffective. When he did try to push the ball down the field, it often resulted in turnovers and putting his team in a bad position, jeopardizing their ability to win games.
Earlier than I expected, Trubisky was benched in favor of Pickett, and the newly signed QB did not take it so well, as indicated by his public statements. He didn’t feel he was given a fair opportunity, and despite opportunities later in the season due to injuries to Pickett, he still held fast to this sentiment at the end of the season.
The Steelers have a decision to make regarding Trubisky this offseason, especially if he does not want to be with the team and believes he can still be an effective starter in this league. We all know Mike Tomlin’s stance in not wanting “hostages,” so whether or not he will be cut or traded will be an interesting mini-story line.
From my perspective, Trubisky has shown enough to earn the backup spot to Pickett, and I believe he provides great value as a #2. He is experienced with the offense and the personnel, and to have him back would provide stability at the position. However, the question will be whether or not he wants to return.
So Long, Mr. Rudolph
Farewell, Mason! You are wished nothing but the best with your new team!
No question, Rudolph will not be re-signed this offseason. In terms of disgruntled players, though he wasn’t overly public about it. Rudolph was “told” he could compete for the starting spot, and despite a decent training camp and preseason, he was never truly considered for the top spot. He will be allowed to walk, and some team will give him a chance to compete for a starting spot, specifically a team who is QB needy and who drafts one early later this spring. Possibly, he could end up in Houston and audition as their starter until their first-round QB is ready to play.
Pickett Pick It Up Early
And then there is the rookie, Kenny Pickett. While his career as a starter began with a plethora of turnovers, and understandably as he was new to the professional game, he eventually settled in and demonstrated a knack for making critical plays at critical times to lead his team to victory.
His intangible–grit, poise, and confidence-were apparent, and made him a favorite amongst his teammates. Quantitatively, his accuracy was evident from the outset, and he demonstrated excellent touch on passes, something he excelled at during his time with Pitt. And as a nice change of pace from the Roethlisberger era, Pickett flashed his mobility, picking up yardage and first downs with his legs, making him a true dual-threat quarterback that can cause headaches for defensive coordinators.
This is not to say Pickett doesn’t have room to grow, because he absolutely does, starting with taking more shots down field, throwing over the middle of the field successfully, and not allowing balls to sail high on him which in certain circumstances early on, led to interceptions. Pickett is never going to have an elite NFL arm, but he doesn’t need to in order to be an elite quarterback in the league. His arm is good enough, and he only needs to align his vision, processing, and with his arm on those vertical/MOF shots so that he connects on them at a better clip in 2023. And he has the horses to do it with George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth. Watch this area closely this offseason and in training camp, as it will be the tell-tale indicator of how Pickett has grown.
Impact for This Offseason
So what does it all mean?
Well, the Steelers will at least need one quarterback this offseason to take Rudolph’s vacated spot, something that will more than likely be taken care of via free agency with a cheap veteran. I’m hopeful that Trubisky finishes out the second year of his contract, as it would eliminate the need for finding a #2, which will be a more costly endeavor for the Steelers, and a more difficult road as it would require getting this person up to speed and ready to take on the backup job.
Ultimately, Trubisky finishes out his contract, Rudolph walks, and the team brings in a new #3 in free agency.
And no, they won’t be drafting a QB in the later rounds this season!