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The NFL’s quarterback carousel, and how it affects the Steelers

Art Rooney II has gone as far to say the Steelers will add another QB this offseason. But when and how?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

We saw a seismic shift in the NFL quarterback position a year ago. Big name stars, and journeyman players joined a game of shells that saw virtually every free agent quarterback calling a new city home. This, coupled with some big name rookies making an immediate impact, and the quarterback position was left unrecognizable from the year before.

Enter 2021. We’ve already been hit by a massive deal that will ensure the aftershock of last year’s carousel, and will register a higher score on the Richter scale. With some big name players firmly on the trading block, more free agents, and 4-5 quarterbacks slotted to go in the first round of the NFL Draft, the league will again reset its quarterback position.

Following Steelers President Art Rooney II’s comments regarding the Steelers not being done searching for a quarterback, this exercise 100% relates to the team and we will dive into what is possible. Let’s check out three categories:

Available Quarterbacks

Teams that will be looking for a QB

How it relates to the Pittsburgh Steelers


Players on the trade block

This will be a trade market like no other. We have already seen Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff get dealt to new teams well before the start of the new league year. Here’s some of the other names on the trade block and teams that have some rumored interest

Deshaun Watson — Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, plus many others

Aaron Rodgers — Green Bay has said he’s not available but would have league wide interest

Matt Ryan — San Francisco 49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo — New England Patriots

Kirk Cousins — San Francisco 49ers

Carson Wentz — Indianapolis Colts

Sam Darnold — ?

Gardner Minchew — ?

Free Agents

Free agency doesn't offer the same big names as it did a year ago. However their are some developmental, spot starters, and back up options available that teams will use to fill out their rosters.

Dak Prescott — Franchise tag, Dallas Cowboys

Jameis Winston — New Orleans Saints

Ryan Fitzpatrick — ?

Mitch Trubisky — ?

Andy Dalton — ?

Tyrod Taylor — ?

Cam Newton — ?

Jacoby Brissett — Indianapolis Colts

There are a number of other free agent quarterbacks, but none that have any real chance of starting any games in 2021. As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, affording anyone with starting capability appears extremely unlikely.

The Draft

There are four or five clear first round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Where they will go will be a direct reflection of how the names above fall into place leading up to the draft. We know Trevor Lawrence is a virtual lock to be the first pick overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. After that it’s a virtual toss up. As of this moment here are the other five possible first round candidates and an estimation of the picks they could be drafted between — based on mock draft positioning.

Zach Wilson — 2-9

Justin Fields — 2-15

Trey Lance — 3-19

Mac Jones — 15-Early 2nd round

Kyle Trask — 29-Third round


Teams Looking For Quarterbacks

At this current moment you could foresee more than half of the league rolling out a different starting quarterback than what they had in 2020. With an uncertain salary cap and some aging veterans on their way out of the league everything can, and will be, different. Below are a list of teams (based on draft order) that will seriously be in the QB market.

Jacksonville Jaguars — Trevor Lawrence will be theirs soon enough, but they should also be searching for a veteran back up.

New York Jets — They could draft a QB, they could trade for one, or as new head coach Robert Salah has stated they could roll with Sam Darnold for another season.

Houston Texans — Deshaun Waston will be traded with whatever picks they acquire they will chase their next quarterback.

Detroit Lions — They're spending a ton of money on Jared Goff, I think it’s too early to find a replacement. The draft is entirely possible.

Carolina Panthers — Teddy Bridgewater isn't the future of this team. They offered the 8th overall pick to the Lions for Matthew Stafford.

Denver Broncos — The Broncos aren't sold on Drew Lock, but he might get one more year.

San Francisco 49ers — Sounds like a trade is likely for San Fran.

Minnesota Vikings — If they deal Kirk Cousins they will be in play at the draft.

New England Patriots — Cam Newton is already out. They may pursue a familiar face.

Washington Football Team — They don't have the long term answer on the roster yet.

Chicago Bears — It’s doubtful they turn back to Mitch Trubisky, trade or free agency makes the most sense.

Indianapolis Colts — Rivers is out and they couldn't land Matthew Stafford. Could they lure Andrew Luck out of retirement?

New Orleans Saints — Drew Brees should officially retire in the coming weeks. Who will take over?


What it means for the Steelers

The Steelers are looking to add someone to help the future of this team, and we know this as a fact. They don’t have the money to add a free agent, and unless Ben Roethlisberger retires, or gets cut, they won't be trading for anyone either.

So I see this playing out in one of four ways:

  1. They draft someone at 24, most likely Mac Jones.
  2. They trade up to draft Trey Lance.
  3. They draft someone in the second round or later and try to develop him.
  4. They sign someone in free agency in 2022.

We know the Steelers don’t like starting rookies right away. So if they forgo drafting one in 2021 I am fairly confident in saying they will chase someone in 2022 free agency. With a ton of cash coming off the books after this season, and with the likelihood of 2021 being Dak Prescott’s final season in Dallas, I think that would be an avenue the team would like to explore. This would also be a very risky play, the team would be essentially putting all their chips in one basket and just be hopeful Prescott doesn't get swayed by other suitors.

The smartest play for the future is to be aggressive and go get a quarterback in this year’s draft, but if the Steelers are all in on one more run with Ben Roethlisberger under center they could leave the future up to chance.


What would be the best scenario for the Steelers

If the Steelers truly want one of these top quarterback prospects, the best thing that could happen is for all of these big name veterans to land on teams picking in the top half of the draft. Also having teams like the Jets and Broncos deciding to give their current starters another year to prove it would be ideal. We know guys like Justin Fields and Zach Wilson will be long gone before the Steelers even have a shot to trade up for either of them, but I see Trey Lance as the best fit for this team anyway. If Lance gets past the Broncos (pick No. 9) the Steelers will have a legitimate shot at making a move. Plus, if the 49ers settle on Garoppolo or add another quarterback the Steelers would really only have to worry about getting past New England.

It will require some luck, and a Steelers team willing to make a move, but they can get the future of the franchise here and now. The biggest thing Lance needs is experience, and with Ben Roethlisberger set on coming back for another season the Steelers can offer him that, as well as a clear route to becoming a starting quarterback in 2022.


What do you think? How will the chips fall and what will the Steelers do at quarterback this offseason? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.