We in the media tend to latch onto specific narratives regarding the teams and players we follow, especially national media sources that often focus on details which invite the best reaction from their audience. But what if the narrative surrounding the Steelers prize free agent addition hits all the wrong points?
We talk about a perceived inevitability that Trubisky will struggle, forcing Mike Tomlin to turn to Kenny Pickett, the team’s 1st Round pick this year, at some point either to save the season or to simply earn reps in preparation for future success. We talk about Trubisky’s inability to live up to the unrealistic expectations placed on him as the 2nd overall pick of the Chicago Bears. We talk about generational talents Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson being selected after him in that same draft. There’s not a lot of optimism regarding the 6th year vet as anything more than a stop-gap option for some part of 2022.
But what if Mitch is great? Shouldn’t we be asking that question too? There’s plenty of precedent in the NFL of perceived draft busts who turned the corner in a major way when circumstances around them improved or the game finally clicked. Let’s start with Alex Smith, the former 1st overall draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers who had a similarly rocky start to his career. Smith’s first 5 seasons produced a 19-31 record, leaving little hope for a career rebound.
Then came 2011. The 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh as their head coach, who brought in a talented, stable staff and sparked life into a talented but underperforming roster. The wins came in droves. Smith started playing like a top 10 Quarterback (QB), using his mobility and superb accuracy to lead San Fran to a 13-3 record and the NFC’s 2nd seed that year. Even after being traded to Kansas City, Andy Reid and company built competitive squads around his consistently stellar play.
Now, Alex Smith was still no Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, but the point is, Smith was an above average QB when playing in a stable environment with good coaching and high-level talent around him.
In a similar story, Ryan Tannehill was a decent, not great, QB in Miami, where talent-poor rosters and whirling carousel of coaches prevented the talented passer from reaching his potential. He showed flashes of excellence, but never could quite put it all together. Then came the trade to Tennessee in 2019, where Tannehill was immediately incorporated into a stable, well-coached team that was a QB away from contention. Tannehill became a very good QB, compiling a 30-13 record and making the playoffs each year since, including that 2019 squad that went to the AFC Championship.
So, why aren’t we talking about this story arc? Why do Steelers fans and media pundits have such a pessimistic approach to the Trubisky experiment? Mitch has a lot going for him in 2022; an uber-talented stable of weapons on offense; a defense boasting superstars at every level; an organization that oozes stability; a future Hall of Fame head coach and an exciting staff of assistants. The likelihood that Trubisky has a career-resurgence as the leader of a playoff-caliber squad gunning for an AFC North crown is just as high as any other outcome.
What if Mitch is great? It’s a question we need to be asking. A positive answer to that question would involve some interesting decisions for the powers that be in Pittsburgh, but let’s cross those golden bridges when and if they become relevant. The 2022 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers promises to be intriguing from start to finish, and I have a feeling that Mitch Trubisky may surprise some of us.