To the best of my knowledge, nobody involved with the Pittsburgh Steelers has ever as of yet used the ‘r’ word, retirement, when discussing the inevitability of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s future. We all know by now that he is going to be retiring, any week now, but perhaps in some sort of deference, the actual word has been entirely avoided, even from reporters, within that discussion.
Earlier today, for example, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if the organization was working under the assumption that Roethlisberger would not be playing next year. “We are proceeding with that assumption”, he acknowledged, going on to discuss the other quarterbacks on the roster for candidacy, Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins.
“Both guys, Mason and Dwayne, have had their moments, but they’ll have to prove that”, he said about the possibility of their being the next starter. “And not only in the team development process, but through playing itself. There are guys that start that I wouldn’t characterize as ‘everyday starters’”.
Rudolph was the Steelers’ third-round draft choice in 2018. Following his selection, the organization made clear that they viewed him in the same class as the quarterbacks who were taken in the first round that year—Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson. Some of those have worked out better than others.
Haskins was a first-round pick by the Washington Football Team in 2019. He was waived by the end of his second season there, and went unclaimed, signing with Pittsburgh on a Reserve/Future contract. He competed with Rudolph for the backup job, but came up short, spending nearly the entire season inactive, without playing a snap in 2021.
“They’ll be given an opportunity to establish themselves, and there’s gonna be competition”, Tomlin said. “There always is, and so they’ll write that story. But I think that both guys have positioned themselves to fight that fight with what they’ve done from a work standpoint and a professionalism standpoint in 2021”.
As we’ll get to later, he also said that all options are also on the table with regards to the future of the position, including the pursuit of a veteran in free agency and the selection of another quarterback in the draft. The only thing that he suggested was unlikely was the acquisition of an established franchise quarterback such as Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson.
The quarterback position is a question that Tomlin has never really had to ask before during his tenure as head coach. 2022 will be the first season in which he is not preparing to have Roethlisberger as his starter. Rudolph is currently the only quarterback under contract, though Haskins will be easily retained as a restricted free agent, and based on the head coach’s comments, that certainly sounds like their intentions.