For a lot of people around the league—both fans and otherwise—the Pittsburgh Steelers’ upcoming season is as much about 2022 and beyond as it is this year. A lot of that has to do with the simple fact that there isn’t a lot of optimism outside of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex that this is a Super Bowl-caliber team right now.
There are other factors, but the biggest is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom most assume is in his final season, and whether or not he has what it takes to lead another postseason run, especially in one of the most competitive divisions in football. And so that puts the spotlight on the backup position.
At least it does for Nick Shook of NFL.com, who lists the backup quarterback position battle as the one to watch. Mason Rudolph has held that job for most of the past two seasons, but they added former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins back in January.
The Steelers want to finish the Big Ben era strong by throwing together the best roster they can within cap constraints in 2021, but if Roethlisberger were to suffer an injury like the one that cost him most of 2019, their chances of success decrease significantly. Mason Rudolph was a decent backup in his one start last season but was largely underwhelming a year earlier, when the Steelers truly had to rely on someone not wearing No. 7. The savvy addition of ex-first-rounder Dwayne Haskins could figure into Pittsburgh’s future, and it might even begin to influence the Steelers this summer. Haskins is more talented than Rudolph, but he needs to learn how to prepare like a pro, something he couldn’t do in Washington. Should Haskins gain this skill in Pittsburgh, the Steelers might have added their quarterback of the future at a bargain-basement price. And if Haskins can turn it around in an especially quick fashion, they might have a decent backup option behind Roethlisberger to protect against potential disaster this season.
Of course, the Steelers’ contract with Haskins is one of the kick-the-tires variety. A 2019 first-round pick who clears waivers and then goes unsigned is obviously not somebody in whom there is widespread league-wide belief.
He had enough talent to get drafted in the first round, but NFL history is filled with failed first-round quarterbacks, seemingly half of which were drafted by the Cleveland Browns. He will get his chance to compete, but Rudolph won’t be easy to supplant.
The Steelers did sign Rudolph to a contract extension through the 2022 season, so if Roethlisberger does retire—or the team chooses not to re-sign him—he has a good chance of getting a season to show if he can be the answer. Whether or not Haskins is still on the roster at that point will be determined over the next few months, or even weeks.