It’s semi-embarrassing how many times I’ve had a conversation about the Pittsburgh Steelers signing more quarterbacks this offseason.
Now that Cam Newton has signed with the New England Patriots on a minimum deal, fans are chirping “he got away”.
Other fans following recent protests are all grasping at straws to bring up Colin Kaepernick’s name as well: a quarterback who hasn’t played in the league since 2016.
I’m sure if Johnny Manziel hadn’t flopped in the Canadian Football League or the short-lived Alliance of American Football, his name would likely surface again too.
Maybe Dan Marino really could right the wrongs of the 80’s and play in Pittsburgh too.
While I’m somewhat preposterous in my sarcasm to start this column, it’s not far off from fans who aren’t convinced that Ben Roethlisberger can return in 2020 and play to his full, future Hall of Fame potential. Big Ben, who holds every major passing statistic in franchise history, as well as many in league history (or is among the top at his position all-time) should at least be given a chance.
After all, is he not owed that?
Some are old enough to remember Terry Bradshaw’s arm turning into a noodle overnight and the team languishing looking for his successor for the better part of two decades (maybe three if you discount a few solid seasons from other spot starts such as Neil O’Donnell or Kordell Stewart).
The fears of those fans is well-founded, but it’s also off-base. They demand that the organization draft Roethlisberger’s heir – then cry foul.
“Draft a quarterback!” they say.
Then the Steelers do just that and the narrative becomes “not that one.”
Mason Rudolph became “not that one” despite there being first round buzz surrounding his name back in 2018. The Steelers would luck-out and snag the Oklahoma State prospect in the third round – the first passer to be taken after five others went in the first round in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Rudolph entered the 2019 season under unusual circumstances, entering after halftime of the Steelers second game of the year. He would have his ups and downs, including being knocked out cold three games later in a Week 5 matchup against the Ravens, getting into a fracas at the end of a Week 9 Thursday Night Football game with Cleveland Browns defender Myles Garrett, benched against Cincinnati two games later, and returning in the next-to-last game only to have his collarbone broken.
SIGN SOMEONE ELSE is still the song of some Steelers fans despite Rudolph often working with a different lineup each week.
Sometimes he didn’t have his top target Juju Smith-Schuster.
Sometimes he didn’t have his top back to hand off too, James Conner.
Sometimes he didn’t have the same offensive linemen blocking for him.
Even the second options at those positions, such as Benny Snell, had difficulty staying healthy and being available in games. (Does anyone else remember Diontae Johnson getting concussed during that same Browns game with the Garrett incident?)
But Rudolph threw four picks in that game!
Yes, he did. He also lost, in addition to Diontae Johnson, JuJu and James Conner in the same game.
And for the most part, those shipshape rosters and depth charts had the same effect on Devlin Hodges, an undrafted quarterback who didn’t initially make the team whatsoever. He would rejoin the Steelers a couple of weeks into the season after they traded Joshua Dobbs to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
They terrible! Get rid of them!
Yet, many NFL teams struggled with backups throughout the 2019 season. A good majority of NFL teams lack quarterbacks with any regular season game experience, yet the Steelers now have two… actually, they have three at this time, with former Denver Broncos first round pick Paxton Lynch added to the mix after Rudolph went down.
Lynch was yet another target of draft geeks who pegged him as the Steelers future – before Pittsburgh went and drafted Artie Burns instead. They need to draft a cornerback! And finally do, for the first time in 25 years… but not that one!
Though the same could be said of Lynch, who went from draft boom to draft bust and found his way bouncing from the Broncos, the Seahawks training camp, and somehow landing on Pittsburgh’s practice squad.
If you’re keeping score, that’s four total quarterbacks on the Steelers roster who have multiple starts as an NFL quarterback: a former first round pick, a third round pick who had a first round grade, and an undrafted small college standout.
Somehow, it’s the opposite order in which these signal callers last threw a regular season pass, with Hodges, then Rudolph and Lynch (back in 2017) in that order.
Perhaps that’s why we’re looking at this situation upside and trying to find “outside the box” answers. But that’s not how the Steelers approach things.
Heading into the 2020 season, Ben Roethlisberger is the starter. Mason Rudolph, unless he suffers some sort of major setback, will continue to be groomed as the number two.
Hodges and Lynch are expected to compete for the third quarterback spot: the Steelers are one of a few teams who roster three QBs. (Many do not.)
And this is the way we should expect it. Unless there are multiple injuries, the likelihood of adding a higher profile name, such as the way the Steelers added Michael Vick back in 2015, isn’t going to happen.