The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.
The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.
How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How do the Steelers really feel right now about Mason Rudolph’s long-term future?
There are two things concerning Mason Rudolph that should not be disputed. The first—and I will provide the receipts—is that they drafted him because they believed that he could be a legitimate starting quarterback in the league, or in other words, that he could be their starter after Ben Roethlisberger. The second, that his performance last season resulted in that view taking a hit.
Aside from repeatedly saying that Rudolph was “certainly a part of” the group of quarterbacks who were taken in the first round on their board and that it was “a very easy decision” to trade up to get him when he was available in the third round, the team made more direct comments about how they viewed him in the long term.
“We think at some point he could be a productive, starting, winning quarterback”, Kevin Colbert said after the draft. Later, he said, “we thought he could be an eventual starter in this league at some point”, earlier noting as the reason that they drafted him that, “at some point you need to replace” your starting quarterback, and noting that Roethlisberger was 36 at the time.
Rudolph now has two seasons under his belt, including eight starters, many of which were either lackluster or even ugly. When the team speaks of him now, the word they used is “comfortable”. Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Art Rooney II, they all specifically used that word.
“As we sit here today, we feel comfortable with Mason being our backup”, Rooney said in January. In February, Colbert said, “we think Mason is at least an NFL backup”. But what else? How ‘comfortable’ do they still feel about his prospects of being a long-term starter? Not what they might say in front of a microphone, but what they might say in an internal, closed-door meeting.