With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: The Steelers should now look to trade Mason Rudolph after drafting Kenny Pickett in the first round.
Explanation: There was a reasonable scenario in which the Steelers could have drafted a quarterback in the first round and Mason Rudolph would still have played a meaningful part in the 2022 season. Pittsburgh drafting Kenny Pickett may not have been one of those scenarios, Pickett regarded as the most NFL-ready quarterback in the class.
If you drafted Kenny Pickett and didn’t expect him at least to be your backup this year, then you automatically made a bad decision. Pickett has to be at least QB2 in 2022, or else there is little hope of his ever being a viable QB1, given how close he is to maxing out his abilities entering the league.
Mason Rudolph will make a base salary of $3 million this year, which is expensive for a number three quarterback—which is exactly what he should be behind Mitch Trubisky and Pickett. They would have to add another quarterback, yes, but if they could get, for example, a fifth-round pick out of it and allow themselves to add perhaps a second wide receiver or an edge rusher or a defensive back, it would be worth it.
The Steelers have had enough seasons in their recent history in which they found their third-string quarterback in the game that they should not be eager to rush Rudolph off the door—and the reality is that $3 million is not a crazy price to pay, especially when the overall price tag of the quarterback room as a whole is pretty modest.
Trubisky will only be making $7-14 million this year, the former if he is a backup and the latter if he starts and does exceptionally well and stays healthy. That’s as low as about $10 million for the backup quarterbacks. Pickett as the 20th overall pick is projected to have a cap hit below $3 million for this year, so about $13 million in cap space, or up to about $20 million as the ceiling, is more than reasonable.
If they got rid of Rudolph, they would still have to go out and find not one but two more quarterbacks, which would probably mean drafting another quarterback on Day 3. So why get rid of a fifth-year veteran well-versed in your system and replace him with some seventh-round pick who won’t make the team in 2023? Because of about $2 million in relative cap space?
The return on investment is minimal compared to the contingency of potentially needing the services of a third-string quarterback—which is, again, something the Steelers are familiar with in their recent history. And COVID-19 only makes third-string players even more important, even if the protocols change.