The Pittsburgh Steelers signed quarterback Mitch Trubisky last March to a two-year, $16 million contract that included an extra $4 million per season in not likely to be earned incentives. This now seems to many Steelers fans to be the worst possible thing in the world, since it means it could make $8 million in 2023 as a backup quarterback—surely unheard of.
There was rhyme and reason to the Steelers’ decision last March, however, and coach Mike Tomlin explained why when he hopped on with his former quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and his Footbahlin podcast.
“I think that’s why we acquired Mitch, so that we wouldn’t feel a need to do something stupid, or feel that type of angst.” Tomlin said during the episode, making pretty clear reference to the draft. “Mitch was a starting-capable guy, he’d been a franchise guy, he was young with upside. All of those things that you know about him, a quality dude. It was important for us to do business with him on the front side of the draft so that we wouldn’t feel the anxiety.”
Pittsburgh had no way of knowing whether or not it would have any shot at drafting Pitt Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett, who they ended up taking with the 20th-overall pick. It was the latest that the first quarterback had come off the board in many years, and he proved to be the only one drafted in the first two rounds.
Few, I imagine, thought the draft would play out that way. The Steelers obviously didn’t. And what if the draft did not play out that way? What if the Steelers did not sign Trubisky, and then Pickett was gone by 20? What if Malik Willis was gone, too? What would they have done?
They claimed beforehand to believe Mason Rudolph was a starting-caliber quarterback. Would they have been willing to put their money where their mouth is if free agency and the draft came and went and they didn’t find a better starting option? At the time, Dwayne Haskins would have been Rudolph’s competition—and perhaps Chris Oladokun.
Trubisky’s deal at the time was a reasonable compromise—not robust for a legitimate starter, but also not outlandish for a reserve. For March 2022, nobody could have said how things would play out in terms of getting your money’s worth.
Granted, the Steelers are not bound by the past. If the feel Trubisky isn’t worth carrying as a backup for $8 million, they can release him. But they have given every appearance that they intend to retain him, and Trubisky has done nothing to suggest that he is not content with that, no matter how much he wants to start.