Like last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2023 NFL Draft with only two quarterbacks under contract. In contrast, they didn’t come away drafting any. In fact, they drafted two quarterbacks in 2022, including their starter, Kenny Pickett.
While they avoided the temptation of taking a flier on any late-round prospect as they seek a third quarterback, they did sign a college free agent in Tanner Morgan. Pro Football Focus’s Steve Palazzolo likes the move, as he told Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller on 93.7 The Fan yesterday and believes it’s worth taking a shot.
“There’s so many Brock Purdys in this draft. Because of the COVID year, there are so many guys that are, like, four- and five-year starters”, he said, referring to last year’s seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, comparing his success last year to a trend this year with many teams feeling compelled to take a stab in the hopes of finding similar success from players with a comparable profile.
“Tanner Morgan’s just another one of those guys. Multi-year starter, he had a 90-plus PFF rating last year, had a really good breakout season back in 2019. He’s just a good, solid college quarterback, so yeah, you could bring those guys in and you never know”, he added.
Morgan went 661-for-1063 passing over five seasons with Minnesota, throwing for 9,454 yards with 65 touchdowns to 32 interceptions. During the 2019 season, he completed 210 of 318 pass attempts for 3,253 yards, 30 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He didn’t throw more than 10 touchdowns in any other year.
As Palazzalo subsequently pointed out, Purdy’s breakout late in the season with the 49ers happened to coincide with the offensive design and play-calling of Kyle Shanahan, who runs arguably the most quarterback-friendly system in the game. “It’s really tough to predict who that next guy is. It’s probably the guy Shanahan gets his hands on”, he said, sarcastically. “I wouldn’t expect more Brock Purdys to break out, production-wise, but yeah, you just take shots”.
As we’ve assessed after the draft, it’s perfectly understandable why Morgan ultimately went undrafted. He is not particularly talented from a physical standpoint, nor does he display next-level command of the offense, but he was productive and he won games, and he had some chips stacked against him that didn’t work out in his favor. One can always hope in a more conducive environment he can reach his full potential.
Pittsburgh gave him a $25,000 signing bonus, which is quite high for its standards, to give it a go. That means if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster, he will account for that amount against the salary cap over the length of his three-year contract.
The Steelers historically are a three-quarterback team. While I don’t expect that to change—and I think their willingness to give a relatively large signing bonus to a college free agent indicates that continues to be the plan—this is a different front office. Maybe they’ll be a little more flexible if they don’t feel by the end of the process that they have a third quarterback worth taking up a roster spot.