I know what you’re going to say, “Do we have to keep talking about the Steelers backup quarterback situation?”
Actually, scratch that. You’re not going to say that. You can’t talk about the Steelers backup quarterback situation enough. It’s the article idea that keeps on giving. It’s the well that writers can continue to go to when thirsty. It’s the one Steelers topic that doesn’t divide the readers.
You love it.
But you never seem to love the answer to your favorite backup quarterback question: “Should the Steelers acquire a veteran for the 2020 season?” The answer is always no! Not no from every writer— some have screamed “Yes! Yes! Yes!” from the mountain-tops. Not no from those in the media— I think I’ve seen some driving around with “I heart Jameis Winston” bumper stickers.
Just “no” from the one entity whose answer matters the most: Your Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mike Tomlin has told you no. Kevin Colbert has told you no. Even the big guy, himself, Art Rooney II, has told you no.
The question was raised again last week on the Steelers Q&A podcast co-hosted every Monday at 5 p.m. by Bryan Anthony Davis and yours truly.
As a solution to the perceived backup quarterback problem, someone asked if the Steelers should trade for the Colts’ Jacoby Brissett. I can’t remember if I said it was a good idea or not— for the sake of consistency, I hope I put on my “Team Mason” baseball cap. Regardless of my actual answer, BTSC editor Dave Schofield came on the live chat to inform us that Brissett counts $20 million against the Colts cap in 2020 (if traded, he would cost his new team almost $15 million).
And this discovery, my friend, was a thing that made me go “Hmmmmmmm?”
That’s when I decided to do some post-show research. In doing so, I discovered that Brissett, who took over as the Colts starting quarterback late last summer following the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck, signed a contract extension through the 2020 season worth up to $30 million with $20 million fully guaranteed.
I did some more research and saw that Brissett’s 2019 stat-line—2,942 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions—wasn’t all that bad for someone who was the sudden replacement for the just-retired franchise quarterback. I did even more research after that. I checked Brissett’s 2017 season in which he played 15 games for an injured Luck. Brissett’s stat-line for that season read: 3,098 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Again, not bad, especially since he was sacked 52 times playing behind the same offensive line that would eventually lead to Luck saying “Screw you guys, I’m going home!”
After doing all of this research, I had to do more research to find out why the Colts, who had already committed at least $20 million to the quarterback position, decided to ink 38-year old Philip Rivers to a one-year, $25 million fully-guaranteed contract in March. And that’s when I discovered a quote from their general manager, Chris Ballard:
“The jury is still out,” said Ballard in an ESPN.com article published on January 2. “That’s why we did the short-term deal with Jacoby. One, to give us some security that we had a player we knew we liked and could go forward with. But also, two, to give us time to figure out if he is the guy or not.”
Guess what, Chris? You should have let the jury deliberate a little longer.
Instead, it seemed like the Colts got scared of the possible verdict and decided to accept a plea deal.
If you’re a team like the Colts, whose franchise quarterback just up and retired, you should thank your lucky stars you have a replacement of Brissett’s pedigree (third-round pick in 2016), potential, and progress through the first four years of his career.
What kind of message did the Rivers signing send to Brissett? In my opinion, they’re saying: “We think we have a contender, but we don’t think you’re the guy to lead us.” The Colts are a pretty good team. They entered 2019 as a contender before Luck’s surprise retirement, and they started off fairly well under Brissett before fizzling down the stretch and missing the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
Not an ideal ending— it’s fair to point out that Brissett suffered an MCL sprain in a loss to the Steelers on November 4— but the 2020 offseason could have been the first one where Brissett, 27, knew he was the man and the Colts were his football team to lead. Talk about a confidence boost.
Instead of throwing a bunch of cash at Rivers, why wouldn’t the Colts want to find out about the younger quarterback they just invested a lot of money in?
Now, if I’m Brissett, and I know there is no way Rivers was paid $25 million to do anything but start in 2020, I’m mad. I’m seething. I’m asking for a trade.
But not to the Steelers, because I’d want to go somewhere where I could start right away.
Besides, what kind of message would that send to Mason Rudolph? And, finally, some 800 words into my article, I come to the main point of it: If the Steelers were to sign or acquire a veteran backup quarterback at this point, just one year after Rudolph was thrust into action following the season-ending injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, it would all-but signal the end of their confidence in the 2018 third-round pick out of Oklahoma State.
I know what you’re thinking: “So?”
You might think that, but it’s quite clear the Steelers don’t.
In my opinion, they can’t. They have to find out about Rudolph— it’s too important not to.
If Big Ben finally does make his Big Decision a couple of years from now (retirement, duh!), the Steelers will have a tough decision of their own to make.
Do they use their very next first-round pick on a quarterback, do they try to acquire a big-name veteran, or do they hand the keys to Mason?
If they do decide to turn things over to Rudolph, I’m guessing they’d want to be as sure about him as possible.
That’s where the next two seasons of Rudolph’s rookie contract come into play. What did he learn last year, when he appeared in 10 games and started eight? Yes, his pocket awareness was lacking a bit. Yes, he often appeared to have nervous feet. As for his anticipation skills? They needed some work.
Has he made progress in any of those areas?
What would you say if Rudolph, who will be 25 in July, has progressed to Brissett’s current level by the time he’s given a chance to be the full-time starter in two or three years?
Would you be okay with that? As far as I’m concerned, that would be a good way to relaunch the quarterback position for the first time in nearly two decades.
By acquiring a veteran at this point, the Steelers would be telling Rudolph that not only don’t they think he’s capable of being their current backup, they don’t have any real plans for him as their future starter.
The Steelers can’t afford to send that kind of message to Mason Rudolph right now. Their future at the quarterback position is at stake.