Nobody loves third-string quarterbacks more than Pittsburgh Steelers fans, and let’s make one thing very clear: Mason Rudolph is the Steelers’ third-string quarterback now that he is back in the fold. That’s not me saying it; apparently, that’s him.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke to the sixth-year quarterback recently with the opening of OTAs yesterday, his first public comments to the credentialed media since re-signing with the Steelers. While he did not directly quote the quarterback, he wrote that Rudolph expressed to him that the Steelers “were very clear with Rudolph he would be the No. 3 quarterback and there would be no open competition at training camp”.
Not that that should be any surprise given how the past several months have gone. There was no question at any point this offseason that Kenny Pickett was the starting quarterback. And it was also becoming increasingly obvious that Mitch Trubisky was no malcontent.
It’s worth noting that Rudolph officially re-signed with the Steelers before Trubisky signed a two-year contract extension, but we don’t know if it was communicated to Rudolph that they were finalizing that at the time that he agreed to return to Pittsburgh. Either way, the point is it was expressed to him that Trubisky was ahead of him on the depth chart. The extension just put the exclamation point on it.
A 2018 third-round draft pick, Rudolph spent three of his first five seasons in Pittsburgh serving as the intended number two quarterback behind Ben Roethlisberger. Injuries gave him ample opportunity to start games in 2019, though he struggled to retain that role in his second season.
Prior to the start of free agency in 2022 and following Roethlisberger’s retirement, Rudolph was clearly at the top of the depth chart. All the high-level members of the organization expressed comfort in him as a possible starter, but then they signed Trubisky in free agency and drafted Pickett.
Still, claims of an open competition for the starting job were made. Whether or not that was actually true, all three quarterbacks received roughly equal opportunities both in training camp and during the preseasons to showcase themselves.
For the first time since his rookie season, at the end of it, he found himself third on the depth chart, not dressing for games. Now he’s back in Pittsburgh as the number three—although now he’ll be able to dress as an emergency option thanks to the recent rule change. But it certainly doesn’t sound like it’s what he wanted.
“I didn’t know what to expect with the first time being a free agent”, he told Dulac. “I started two games in three years, so I wanted to temper my expectations. I really thought something was going to materialize after rookie minicamp”.
And when it didn’t, he phoned up the Steelers. “When they made an offer, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush”, he said. Which means that he didn’t have any other birds in hand. Although he may have made a couple birds with certain centrally located fingers.