4 Reasons why it makes sense for the Steelers to keep Mitch Trubisky

It’s an exciting time for football fans, despite the Super Bowl now being in the rearview mirror, offseason talk is in full swing as NFL brass from all 32 teams convene in Indianapolis for this week’s NFL Combine.

During this week, we see all sorts of interactions and get to hear from some names we may not have heard from directly since the end of the regular season. Among those who were openly interviewed during the week is new Steelers General Manager Omar Khan, who takes over his first full offseason in place of longtime GM Kevin Colbert.

Khan had some interesting tidbits on where the team is heading, including with free agency. However, one soundbite stuck out more than others: the Steelers seem committed to not only keeping QB Mitchell Trubisky for the upcoming 2023 season, but also “long term”.

While Trubisky was a team captain who lost his starting job to rookie Kenny Pickett last year, there are plausible reasons why the front office would be interested in retaining the former as a backup.

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Preference for veteran backups

While Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t always backed up by a veteran passer over the years, his formative seasons always had at least one, if not two experienced players behind him on the depth chart.

Veterans such as Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Bruce Gradkowski, and Michael Vick backed up Big Ben over the years, as did Tommy Maddox, who lost his job to Roethlisberger initially.

Those are the style of players – with some NFL starting experience – that fit the mold of how Art Rooney II and new GM Omar Khan have been groomed to operate the franchise. Incidentally, Mason Rudolph has ten starts in the league, and could also be considered a backup at this juncture of his career too.

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How many developmental QBs?

Don’t go looking for the Steelers to place an inexperienced middle round draft pick as the first option behind Pickett. Not only would that spell doom for Pittsburgh’s season, should Pickett be sidelined, but it also carves into developing the second-year pro as well. There are only so many practice reps to go around.

It serves the Steelers better to have an experienced veteran, like Trubisky, who can also share some of his knowledge with the developing Pickett, and not someone who has never taken an NFL snap before being one hit away from doing so!

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At what cost?

This is the sticking point that made a Trubisky exit this spring all but a done deal: he has a $10 million cap hit for 2023 and will become a free agent in 2024. The Steelers can save roughly $8 million by releasing the former second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, but there’s another avenue they can take to ease the burden of that money by extending Trubisky for several more seasons and spreading that cash out over time.

However, this is a major selling point, because I can’t envision any way that Omar Khan looks at that $8 million savings and keeps Trubisky outright without a trade, release, or ripping up his current deal.

The Steelers were only on the hook with Trubisky for around $4 million in 2022. That’s a drop in the bucket for a quarterback these days, and inline with backup quarterback salaries. However, a $10 million cap hit is starting money, and was more than the team had invested in both Trubisky and Rudolph last season. They won’t invest that much in someone who’s observing from the sidelines.

Yet, another $4 million or so average-per-year contract for Mitch Trubisky makes total sense when it comes to stabilizing the position. While his performance was underwhelming, and he was benched for the future (Pickett), Trubisky will still be a sought after backup around the league with starting potential. This will be seen as valuable to the Steelers should the two sides figure the money aspect out.

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Backups will play

If we’ve learned anything from the 2022 NFL season, it’s that backup quarterbacks can, and will, see the field.

Aside from teams who were trying to sort out their poor quarterback situation, such as the Jets, Panthers, and Falcons, several other franchises were forced to look to their bench when their top signal caller was sidelined.

The league’s concussion protocols make it more difficult to bring a player right back on the field, and get them up to speed during the week’s three practices. This was observed with the Miami Dolphins, who lost Tua Tagovailoa during the year, then had to turn to Skylar Thompson when backup Teddy Bridgewater also went down.

Similarly, Colt McCoy continues to make hay in Arizona, who also started David Blough and Trace McSorely, while the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams turned to John Wolford, Bryce Perkins, and even traded to get Baker Mayfield under center.

Sticking within the NFC West, the 49ers were just as unfortunate when Trey Lance was lost for the season, and then Jimmy Garoppolo joined him later on, forcing the last pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, Brock Purdy, into action.

The Cowboys stayed afloat without Dak Prescott too, all the more pointing to how valuable quarterback play is in the NFL: even if it’s not top tier talent, a serviceable QB can make all the difference, just as Trubisky demonstrated in a Week 15 win over the Carolina Panthers.

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