It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
The Steelers have several key players due to become free agents shortly, and a number of large contracts could be salary cap casualties, so a lot will be changing in the near future, but this is where things stand, at each position, as of this writing.
Total Positional Figure: 3
Kenny Pickett: Drafted in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Steelers opted to hitch their wagon to the Pitt product in the aftermath of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement. While he did not start out of the chute, it wasn’t long before he was in the lineup. His rookie season was spotty, as one would expect, but he showed encouraging growth in key areas, while in others, much improvement is still needed. But that he is their quarterback moving forward is not in question in the slightest.
Mitch Trubisky: Signed as an unrestricted free agent last season to a two-year, $16 million with incentives based on playing time to raise his pay further, Trubisky received deference throughout the offseason by taking first-team reps. It seemed that as long as he didn’t fall on his face, he would open the season as the starter.
That’s precisely what happened, but the offense greatly struggled around him, and he with it, resulting in head coach Mike Tomlin benching him in the middle of the fourth game. Notably, he did perform better as a backup, including in one start. Outside of a string of ugly interceptions against the Ravens in an otherwise fine performance, he looked like a different quarterback—but still not one you hand a starting job to.
Pending Free Agents:
Mason Rudolph: Few would blame him if Mason Rudolph found himself committed to finding any opportunity in the NFL outside of Pittsburgh in the very near future. The pending free agent spent the 2022 season as the third-string quarterback after backing up Roethlisberger for three years, playing (or rather not playing) behind Pickett and Trubisky.
While he was given just as much playing time during training camp and the preseason as the other quarterbacks, many (including himself, perhaps) feel that he wasn’t considered for the starting job on an equal footing with Trubisky and Pickett. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that he had a four-year head start in Pittsburgh, he failed to separate himself.
Task number one appears to be finding a new third-string quarterback. At the very least, Rudolph is going to exhaust all of his options in free agency before considering the possibility of returning to Pittsburgh. He is still young and still wants to start, and he knows there’s zero chance of that with the Steelers.
The elephant in the room, however, is likely more of a mouse. Many feel—perhaps because they want it to happen—that Pittsburgh doesn’t want to pay Trubisky $8 million to be a backup in 2023, so it has been concluded that there is a good chance he will be traded or cut. The latter, according to the narrative, after the team approaches him about a pay cut.
I personally do not anticipate that happening. I think Trubisky will be fine with playing as Pickett’s backup for $8 million in 2023, and the Steelers will be fine with paying that, and they’ll revisit their relationship and Trubisky’s possible prospects elsewhere a year from now.
As for the third quarterback, it will be interesting to see how they tackle that. Would they look for a very cheap veteran in free agency? Will they sign a couple of arms as college free agents? They don’t necessarily have to be in a rush to find the answer. But they typically like to try to have three on the roster by the time the draft rolls around, 2022 being a tragic exception.