Barring something going wrong with his contract adjustment talks in these next several days, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will return for an 18th season in 2021. Roethlisberger’s expected return should also result in quarterback Mason Rudolph once again serving as his backup. With 2021 set to be the final year of Rudolph’s rookie contract, it’s easy to wonder if this coming season will be his final one in Pittsburgh.
During a Monday interview on 93.7 The Fan, NFL insider Jeremy Fowler of ESPN was asked about Rudolph and what he thinks might be in store for the Steelers former third-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State now that it looks like Roethlisberger will indeed return for the 2021 season.
“Well, I think when they’ve evaluated all the options over the last few weeks, coming to the conclusion that Ben was going to be back, I think that they considered what it would be like if they started Mason Rudolph in 2021,” Fowler said. “I really do believe that based on just kind of asking around and what I had heard. You know, obviously they settled on Ben, because that was the most likely option. But I think they still do believe in him based on the last two times he’s played significant snaps, the Jets game in ’19, Brown’s game in ’20, played pretty well. This is a Kevin Colbert pick. Kevin Colbert had the grade on him. They would still like to see him in extended action at some point. Maybe that’s a guy you try to sign next year, do like a short extension to give him a shot. I think that’s on the table.”
Rudolph’s future past the 2021 season certainly is hard to guess right now and especially with the 2021 NFL Draft still yet to take place. If the Steelers draft a quarterback early this year, it’s a good bet that that player will be the one the organization hopes can take over for Roethlisberger and maybe even as early as 2022 if 2021 winds up to indeed be the veteran’s final season in Pittsburgh. If, however, the Steelers don’t draft a quarterback this year, perhaps maybe the team really does believe that Rudolph can be re-signed and at least make a run at being the team’s starter in 2022 should Roethlisberger be done at that point.
We’ll have to wait and see if Rudolph winds up playing much, if any, in 2021 as well. If he does, one would think it would be because of an injury suffered by Roethlisberger. Should he ultimately see a large amount of playing time and perform well in those instances, he would significantly help his market value and thus make it harder for the Steelers to re-sign him ahead of free agency starting a year from now. If, however, Rudolph plays some in 2021 and plays poorly, it’s hard to imagine the team re-signing him after the season unless it’s for around the minimum.
What if, however, Rudolph barely plays at all in 2021 but plays well in whatever limited time he sees field? That could set the Steelers up next march for a very difficult decision. Several years ago, the Steelers were able to re-sign quarterback Landry Jones right at the start of the 2017 free agent signing period. That deal for Jones was cheap, however. In fact, it was a two-year, $4.4 million contract that included a signing bonus of just $600,000.
Personally, I find it hard to believe that Rudolph will be re-signed next offseason unless the Steelers are willing to commit a lot more money to him than they did Jones a few years ago. We shall see, but for now, Fowler seems to believe there’s a decent chance that 2021 won’t be Rudolph’s final season with the Steelers.