Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported last week that pending free agent quarterback Mason Rudolph is not entirely set against a possible return to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2023. While the report states that his “primary goal is to explore his options outside of Pittsburgh”, the report that he “wouldn’t close the door unnecessarily” on coming back sparked some debate and speculation.
For Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, though, he doesn’t make much of it. Speaking to Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller on 93.7 The Fan recently, he was asked what he thought of the report and if it was possible Rudolph could hypothetically return to Pittsburgh. “No”, he said with a chuckle. “No. No, no, no, no, no, no”.
A third-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2018, Rudolph got the opportunity to start several games in his second season, but struggled and found himself benched in favor of an undrafted rookie who is already retired. Yet the team thought of him enough in 2021 to sign him to an extension into the 2022 season to ensure that they would have one potential starting option with Ben Roethlisberger retiring.
You know how that went, and that’s precisely why everybody is convinced that Rudolph is ready to run screaming out of town. According to Kaboly, that’s not really so far from the truth when you get down to it.
“I think Mason might be playing a game—his agent might be playing a game”, he said. “Trust me, I’ve talked to Mason a number of times. He’s pretty much done with the Steelers, and rightfully so”. He added that at this point in his career he is on his last shot to have any chance of ever having a starting career, citing Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks as a very rare late-bloomer success story.
He even insisted that he doesn’t imagine Rudolph would have any interest in returning to Pittsburgh in such an event that the Steelers do actually trade or release Mitch Trubisky, the current projected backup quarterback to Kenny Pickett. There’s only one way he sees it happening—and it’s what I’d assumed was the case from the beginning.
“Unless zero people want him, unless it’s a Landry Jones situation and nobody wants him and Mitch gets dealt to New York and his only opportunity is Pittsburgh is the only way I could potentially see him back here”, Kaboly said.
Landry Jones, for those readers who might not know or remember, was a 2013 fourth-round quarterback of the Steelers who spent much of his career as the third-stringer. He was the primary backup for about two and a half seasons, however, until he lost out to Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs in 2018 and never had another opportunity to play in the NFL again.
During the 2019 season when Roethlisberger was injured, the Steelers did reportedly inquire about re-signing Jones, but he was already under contract with the XFL at that point and the league denied Pittsburgh’s request. Jones didn’t even know about it.