Steelers Throwback Thursday: Pittsburgh makes splash with Mitchell Trubisky signing

Steel City Underground takes fans back in time to feature events, special moments, and historical times and players in the world of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Steelers Nation. Join us as we revisit these moments in our “Steelers Throwback Thursday” series.

Following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger after the 2021 NFL season, all news stories relating to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ upcoming offseason centered around who would replace the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

In his final offseason as the Steelers General Manager, Kevin Colbert was adamant when speaking publicly that he would not leave the team without a quarterback, before finishing his long-term career. Traditionally, the front office led by Colbert avoided large free agent signings, opting for a ripple in the pond of free agency, rather than a big splash.

With Roetlisberger’s large contract starting to fade from the books, Colbert took the team in a different direction for the 2022 offseason, as they announced the signing of the top free agent quarterback at the time: former Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky.

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Once the top quarterback taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, as the second-overall pick to the Chicago Bears, Trubisky spent one season as a backup to Buffalo Bills star Josh Allen between his Chicago and Pittsburgh tenures. With the pandemic having wrecked the salary cap, there were no deals to be made elsewhere, as the once-starting passer took a reserve role with Bills coach Sean McDermott and waited until 2022 for another opportunity.

Big Ben left huge shoes to fill, but the Steelers were intent on adding to a room that only featured Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins. The consensus was that the team couldn’t trust going into the 2022 season with only Rudolph, who had ten total starts in the NFL, or Haskins, who was a former first round pick that got cut from his previous team, the Washington Redskins.

The quarterback market was slim pickings for Pittsburgh, as Trubisky’s free agent class had few names joining him. Marcus Mariota was one of them, while rumors were swirling of potential moves for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers or 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo (each of whom needed to be traded and/or released from their current teams).

Pittsburgh opted for Trubisky, hoping that his first round pedigree meant he may have been mishandled during his time in Chicago.

The financials were also in the Steelers favor, as Trubisky reportedly signed a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $27 million, with a ballpark average base salary of $7 million per season plus incentives. While Trubisky’s 2023 cap hit would see his contract extended, since the backup money was larger than what an NFL backup typically earns, the team didn’t blow draft picks trading for a cap-heavy quarterback such as Rodgers, Garoppolo, or Deshaun Watson. (Who would sign a record $230 million fully guaranteed contract.)

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Sacrificing draft selections or salary would’ve handicapped the Steelers for years to come. With Trubisky they sacrificed neither, while landing a player with hopeful upside. Trubisky was white-hot in his sophomore season in Chicago, winning 11 of his 14 starts, and throwing for 3,223 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

His 2018 season was good enough for a Pro Bowl nod as he led the Bears to the postseason, winning the NFC North with a 12-4 record.

At the time of the signing and according to Pro Football Reference, had Trubisky played a 17-game season with the way he had played throughout 2020 (his last as a starter) he would’ve finished in the same neighborhood with 3,494 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Clearly the Steelers were hoping for more of that production at the time, and did not trust Rudolph or Haskins as their lone options. As a former top draft pick with over 50 NFL starts, which was more than Rudolph and Haskins combined, it’s easy to see why Mitch was brought aboard to compete for the starting role.

Regardless of how that turned out, the Trubisky signing, announced during the first day of “legal tampering” for NFL free agency, marked a turnaround in how the Steelers traditionally did business. The Steelers landed their man by making an uncharacteristic splash during the first day of free agency: we shall see if they get it right this time now with Russell Wilson having done the same during this 2024 offseason.

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