Bringing back a series we did over the summer to kick off the offseason. I promise we’re not going all Embrace Debate on you but Jonathan Heitritter and I have teamed up to debate issues we have genuine, good-faith disagreement over Steelers-related topics. Let us know who made the better argument and what side of the debate you come in on in the comments below.
Today’s topic is…
Should The Steelers Keep QB Mitch Trubisky?
Jonathan – No, They Shouldn’t
Come on guys…this one should be common sense.
QB Mitch Trubisky was signed the be the bridge QB for Kenny Pickett during his rookie season, as much as he wanted to believe he may have had a shot at reviving his career in Pittsburgh when he signed a two-year deal worth $16 million. Per OverTheCap, Trubisky only had a cap hit of $3.660 million in 2022 based on the contract structure, but the cap number balloons up to $10.625 million in 2023. Thankfully, only $2.625 million of that would result in a dead money charge, meaning Pittsburgh would save $8 million in cap space should they decide to cut Trubisky outright.
It’s important to have an experienced backup that can be thrust into the game at a moment’s notice and keep the team afloat should the starter go down. That happened to Pittsburgh on a few occasions in 2022, losing Pickett to concussions in the Buccaneers game as well as the Ravens game. In those instances, Trubisky had mixed results, helping the Steelers hold off the Bucs for the win, but was the primary reason the team lost to Baltimore in Week 14, throwing three INTs as he was careless with the football.
Trubisky went 2-3 as a starter in 2022, and while he has experience playing in the system and has mobility for the position, it’s hard to get behind that cap number he is taking up in 2023 when the team can cut him and replace him with another capable backup while re-signing some of their own free agents with that extra cap space. There is a slew of veteran upcoming free agents at the QB position including Teddy Bridgewater, Jacoby Brissett, Taylor Heinicke, Gardner Minshew, Mike White, Josh Dobbs, and Cooper Rush that could be signed for $5 million or less annually, saving $3 million or more to allocate to other needs on the roster for a comparable or better backup option.
Mitch Trubisky isn’t the worst backup QB option to have behind Pickett. In fact, you could argue that he is in the top half of backups in the league. However, the NFL is a business, and with the money that Pittsburgh could save by releasing Trubisky who doesn’t want to be there anyway to sign a similar or better backup QB at a lower salary, parting with Trubisky is the most sensible thing to do.
Alex – Yes, They Should
This is a tough one. Maybe the toughest question the new GM Omar Khan has to face this offseason. Jonathan’s argument certainly has merit. But I get Art Rooney II’s point. The Steelers have a starting quarterback in Kenny Pickett. And now they have their backup in Mitch Trubisky.
68 different quarterbacks started in the NFL in 2022. That’s a record. Pittsburgh had two of their own in Trubisky and Pickett. Even after Trubisky was benched mid-way through Week Four, he was called upon three times the rest of the season: Week 6 against Tampa Bay, Week 14 against Baltimore, and Week 15 against Carolina. That’s nearly 25% of the games following his benching.
Pickett has already suffered two NFL concussions and in the hypersensitive world those live in (and that’s a good thing, for the record, I’m not knocking it) there’s always the chance Pickett could have a third next season. Or some other injury that happens, the cost of doing business at a position that handles the ball on every snap. Again, 68 different starters last season, more than two per team.
Can the Steelers save cap space by cutting Trubisky? Absolutely. But…can they really? It gets a little more complicated. Mason Rudolph has probably already blocked all the Steelers’ coaches numbers and is giving the double bird on his way out of town. Dumping Trubisky means Pickett becomes literally the only quarterback in the room. Meaning the Steelers would need to bring in someone else to replace Trubisky’s role as the veteran backup. But backup quarterbacks aren’t exactly cheap either, at least not ones who have proven a little something in the NFL and aren’t totally over-the-hill.
So let’s say Trubisky’s replacement signs a two-year deal at $4 million per season. Subtract that from Trubisky’s saving and the “backup QB cap bucket” isn’t $8 million. It’s $4 million. So the question truly becomes. Is it worth saving $4 million to cut Trubisky, not eight. Because you’re going to use a chunk of those savings just to find his replacement. The Steelers aren’t going to draft anyone to immediately fill that #2 slot. Of course, the better the veteran backup you want, the more he’ll cost, and the more he’ll eat into the Trubisky savings.
Can you still argue cutting Trubisky is worth it? Sure, you could. But it’s a tougher case to make. There’s benefit and value in having a guy like him, fully integrated in the Matt Canada system who has started for your team, as the backup, even moreso than the typical vet #2. Bring in someone else and you’re a little less sure of how he operates in his system, how he learns, what plays he likes to run.
There’s no question Trubisky would prefer to play somewhere else. He’s not happy about getting yanked in Week 4 when he probably didn’t truly deserve it. He wants to go compete somewhere else. But the reality he must face is it’s doubtful any other team will truly give him the chance to start. Pittsburgh was his redemption tour. He couldn’t make it work. With Derek Carr available, Aaron Rodgers possibly on the move, and four first-round quarterbacks, teams aren’t going to be banging on Trubisky’s door to fight for a #1 job. Even the New York Giants, the other team interested in him last year, are sticking with Daniel Jones and are likely to pay him an obscene amount of money.
Trubisky might not love it but making $8 million next year (that’s over $440,000 per game check) to be the backup and still probably play a couple of games is better than whatever he thinks the alternative is. If you can’t be a successful NFL quarterback, you might as well make as much money as you can while you’re trying.
There’s incentives for both sides to keep the status quo. Pickett as the #1. Trubisky as the #2. And truly keep this offense intact.