Nothing is ever more important than finding a franchise quarterback when you don’t have one, but part of a good search process is understanding when there isn’t one available, thereby sinking resources into an option that has a low chance of panning out and achieving the desired outcome.
That’s something outgoing Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has been harping on a lot during his media appearances at the Combine, stressing the need to protect against overselling, for example, draft prospects to yourself and protecting against making a panic move to trade up to get one for fear of missing out.
There was a report during the season that head coach Mike Tomlin intended to add a veteran and did not want to start over with a rookie, but that has never been the tone struck from within the organization speaking out to the public. And Cameron Heyward agreed, speaking on the NFL Network at the Combine yesterday when he was asked, as a 32-year-old, would he not rather play with a veteran this year, with perhaps a greater chance of winning.
“Who’s to say a rookie quarterback can’t win, though?”, he countered. “It’s possible, but it relies a lot on your defense and your offensive parts that you already have—which we already have. Most teams don’t have a Najee Harris running the ball, or a [Chase] Claypool or a Diontae Johnson”.
Both Harris and Johnson were selected as Pro Bowl alternates last season, and there is more than justifiable reason to believe that they can produce at a higher level with a better system around them, particularly with regards to the offensive line. Claypool did not take the step forward in 2021 anticipated, but he is still a young player with plenty of upside who is already producing.
Asked if he believes the Steelers have the talent to win now, Heyward said, “Yes, we do”, before running down his own side of the ball. “We have a monster group. I feel like you’ve got the Defensive Player the Year [T.J. Watt]. You’ve got Minkah Fitzpatrick. You have myself, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu. Combine that all together, that is a winning success. You’ve just got to have a quarterback that can hold it together”.
The Steelers do have talented players under contract for 2022—Heyward mentioned nearly all of the most significant players, though you could also cite somebody like tight end Pat Freiermuth, and Alex Highsmith is someone he talked about elsewhere in the interview.
One could make an argument that the Steelers can be competitive in 2022 if the pieces simply were to fall into place. Add a couple of upgrades along the offensive line during the offseason, get guys back healthy, retain key free agents, and let’s say Malik Willis is their first-round pick and he happens to be the real deal. Can they really not be competitive in 2022—potentially even title contenders by 2023? I don’t think it’s that outlandish, even if it’s not the most likely outcome.