Everything revolves around the quarterback position this offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers, from free agency to the NFL Draft.
None of that should be a surprise considering 18-year veteran and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger just retired from his post as the signal caller in Pittsburgh. While the Steelers are searching high and low for that next quarterback through the 2022 NFL Draft, one ESPN analyst believes the Steelers must find a short-term solution under center — and fast.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell broke down the biggest needs for all 16 AFC teams in a recent article for the worldwide leader and identified one offseason move the Steelers need to make in an effort to improve ahead of the 2022 NFL season. Unsurprisingly, that move revolved around the quarterback position, where Barnwell wasn’t advocating going all in for the next big name at the position. Instead, Barnwell is targeting the short-term solution under center for the black and gold in the form of guys like Carson Wentz, Kirk Cousins, or even Jimmy Garoppolo.
“The Steelers, on the other hand, have a different set of needs. With the strength of the defense and need to address a dismal offensive line, they might be better off going for a less expensive option, at least in terms of draft capital. I wouldn’t fault Pittsburgh for going after Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but with a line that ranked 31st in pass block win rate, it needs to devote its first-round pick (No. 20) toward protecting a quarterback,” Barnwell writes. “With that in mind, going after Carson Wentz, Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo makes sense — especially because those passers are far more likely to actually be available. The Steelers could draft Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis, but given how dominant their defense can be, I would lean more toward getting a higher-ceiling immediate option and trusting that a competent offense would keep them in the postseason. Mike Tomlin somehow coaxed a playoff appearance out of a season in which his offense ranked 25th.
“Mason Rudolph, Ben Roethlisberger’s backup for the past few years, might get a crack at the job, but we don’t have much evidence that he’s an NFL-caliber quarterback,” Barnwell added. “Over 384 pass attempts, he has completed just 61.5% of his passes while averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, numbers that are well below league average. It would be one thing to keep Rudolph on the roster for a quarterback competition, but relying on him as a starter would be an unfounded level of optimism. He has an unguaranteed $3 million base salary in 2022, so the Steelers could keep him as a backup or let go of him entirely if they get a more suitable option.”
This seems to be the prevailing thought among the national media when it comes to the Steelers. However, it feels like they continue to overrate the Steelers’ defense at this point in time, stating that it can be “dominant.” It’s a good defense, obviously. But it’s not at the level the defense once was in 2019 or even early 2020.
There’s still plenty of holes on the defensive side of the football.
That said, the Steelers can still remain competitive with the likes of a Wentz, Cousins or Garoppolo, while also adding a rookie into the fold, should that be the path the Steelers decide to go down. Wentz and Garoppolo make the most sense, considering the salary cap situation, whereas Cousins would be rather difficult to fit into the fold, considering his $35 million is fully guaranteed this season, making for a tough sell.
Fixing the offensive line has to be a significant priority for the Steelers though, as Barnwell points out. No matter who is behind center, an offensive line with the 31st-ranked pass block win rate just isn’t going to get it done.
The question then becomes: What are you giving up for one of those three veterans Barnwell identifies as trade candidates? Mid-round picks are so valuable to the Steelers this year, considering all the holes the black and gold have to plug elsewhere. Add in the fact that it could essentially be a one-year flier on a quarterback due to the way the contracts are structured, that begs the question: Is that proper asset management?
I tend to lean no, and would rather look at names like Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor, Jacoby Brissett or Jameis Winston in free agency, rather than sending out a draft pick for an overpaid quarterback.