As the Pittsburgh Steelers head into the final preseason matchup of the 2022 season, Steelers’ fans are dealing with a variety of the emotions as the season approaches. While there is excitement about the success of the quarterbacks through two games as they battle out for a starting spot, there’s also much concern about other positions such as offensive line, inside linebacker, and depth at edge rusher to name a few.
With the regular season on the horizon, the opinions throughout the fan base of what it will take to get this team to ultimately be successful are coming fast and furious. Whether it’s signing new players, trading to get players, trading away players, or releasing former starters even though their salaries are fully guaranteed, there have been countless armchair GM’s making their opinions heard throughout Steelers’ Nation.
But sometimes, fans need to take a deep breath and try to bring back some semblance of reality.
With this in mind, I’m going to offer three gentle reminders for Steelers’ fans in order to attempt to keep them from getting too worked up where they will experience sleepless nights from now until the Steelers kickoff on September 11.
Tradin’ Ain’t Easy
In a spin-off of the title of a song from Big Daddy Kane in 1989 (or Ice-T in 1987 if that is your preference), this phrase was simply used to help remember that pulling off franchise-changing trades is not a simple task. After the Minnesota Vikings acquired Nick Mullens on Monday for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2024, there might have been a bit of a reminder as to what teams can actually get for a reserve quarterback.
Even knowing this, Steelers’ Nation has it set in their mind it would be foolish to not trade one of their three quarterbacks before the 2022 regular season. While it’s not out of the question, you also have to remember the Steelers did trade away their third quarterback in 2019, and less than a week later they highly regretted the move as Ben Roethlisberger went out for the season. So there is value in having three quality quarterbacks.
While the narrative of #TradeMasonNow has been very loud for months, I heard a new one following the Steeler second preseason game— perhaps the Steelers should really be looking to trade Mitch Trubisky. Some may read the statement and think it is a good idea while others will dismiss it immediately. Although a large ‘Anti-Mason Rudolph’ part of the Steelers fan base will obviously flock towards the second category, another reason to dismiss this idea is the precedence it sets. If the Steelers sign who was arguably the best quarterback in free agency in 2022 yet they trade him away before even playing a regular season game, will there be no repercussions? It’s not even about the financials with the signing bonus already being paid, it’s also looking at the Steelers conducting business in the future when attempting to sign free agents. Would a player be less likely to sign with the Steelers knowing that they traded a free agent before playing a game?
But trading also isn’t a guaranteed thing when looking to acquire players. Yes, last year it just so happened the Steelers were able to acquire an inside linebacker for a late draft pick while having the original team take on part of the salary and to reduce the cap hit. But how often does that situation present itself, particularly at the exact same position?
Even though Omar Khan has admitted he receives calls daily about trades, it doesn’t mean he has received anything of value, whether it be in acquiring a player or in shipping someone else to another franchise. Just because the Steelers are struggling with a certain position group doesn’t mean that there are magically countless players out there which could be had for seventh-round draft picks if only the team would pull the trigger. Even with the players that could possibly be on the trading block, there still a question of scheme fit, salary, and things such as these.
Much like the constant belief that the Steelers can trade back anytime they want in the NFL draft, sometimes these things simply aren’t in the cards.
Some things take time
I don’t think this is something that is strictly an issue with Steelers’ Nation, but fans sure are an impatient bunch. Yes, sometimes things happen right away and work out great. But instead of fans being pleasantly surprised, they come to just expect these things to be the norm. Unfortunately, it’s not how it always works out.
Admittedly, there are some players who have been around long enough where they have been given ample time to prove their worth. I’m not going to go into details about a certain inside linebacker who has landed in the doghouse among a lot of the fans, including myself, or a certain running back who still hasn’t shown much going in his fourth NFL season. That’s understandable that sometimes these things have taken too long to develop.
The specific example I’m going to use about things taking time is going to be with offensive lineman James Daniels. I loved this free-agent signing and I thought Daniels would come in and make a huge difference right away. But in two preseason games, Daniels has underwhelmed to a point where some fans have even suggested removing him from the starting lineup. A more reasonable option would be to continue to give Daniels some more time to adjust to his new team. And for those who want to switch him over to left guard, then even more time should be given which I doubt those wanting to make the move are willing to give.
Yes, it’s great when a player can come in and hit the ground running and be great right from the start when they are signed as a free agent. But that’s not always how it works out. And just because it takes more time does it mean that it won’t pay off.
For a prime example, Steelers fans don’t have to look too far into the past. Wasn’t it just around the halfway mark of the 2021 season that many Steelers fans were calling the trade for Ahkello Witherspoon the worst deal of the Kevin Colbert era? It’s not that it was crazy. After all, Witherspoon had only played a handful of plays with one of them being a huge touchdown surrendered to the Las Vegas Raiders.
But how did the 2021 season end up? Witherspoon comes in after his acclamation period and leads the Steelers in interceptions. Fans who had only weeks before complained about how terrible the trade was were now saying how the Steelers couldn’t survive if they didn’t re-sign Witherspoon for 2022.
Yes, Witherspoon was brought in after the preseason and had a lot to learn with no training camp. But for 2022, the Steelers have been practicing in full pads for less than a month. While I hope it doesn’t take 10 games for James Daniels to start to come around, it might take more than two preseason games. Give him some time.
There’s more to (the QB) competition than what we see
While this could be true regardless of what position there is a competition for a starting spot, I’m going to stick with the quarterbacks mainly because it is so high-profile and it gives some great examples.
There are a lot of different opinions as to how the Steelers should handle the quarterback situation after two preseason games. Some believe Kenny Pickett is ready to go and should start Week 1. Others believe starting Pickett behind this line (should we call it the ‘Pickett line’?) is only going to get him crushed early in his career. Yet there are others who believe Trubisky was specifically brought in to bridge the gap and that is what he should do.
While fans take in the preseason games to see what various players are doing, and Coach Tomlin has specifically said that what happens in stadium means more than what happens in practice, it’s not that everything we see is all there is to see. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things going on behind the scenes which can greatly impact the decision of who becomes the starter. There are a number of things that could ultimately determine who ends up under center. Even though many fans are ready to have Kenny Pickett begin the next era, there are some questions that we simply do not know the answer to which could weigh heavily when it comes to the decision.
One such question is how much of the playbook is available for each quarterback? If each one only playing a portion of the game so far, is there only a very specific set that a player can use? The reason this is important is because as the season gets going, if only a portion of the offensive playbook is available for one quarterback versus most of it being ready for another, simply looking at their play on the field based on what they had available helps tell the whole story.
Another question is how easily can a quarterback implement a new game plan each week? With the Steelers having to adjust what they are doing based on the defensive opponent, if one quarterback shows a much faster learning curve when it comes to game planning for specific teams it will give them a serious advantage each week. And if another young quarterback is not quite there yet, waiting until they have the opportunity to show they could do these things even in a reserve role might ultimately be better for their career path.
These are just a couple of examples, but they are important things to remember. These issues may not be an issue at this time in separating the quarterbacks, or they could be a very large factor. The thing is, we fans don’t really know. Yes, these things could put a rookie quarterback at a disadvantage but that is what one would expect with the NFL. If the Steelers ultimately decide on a starting quarterback that doesn’t wear the #8, I’m sure plenty of Steelers fans will be in an uproar based on his preseason play. But if these unseen things do not put a player, and by extension the team, in the best chance for success, they also have to weigh heavily into the equation.
So there are three things that I wanted to gently remind fans as they go into the final game of the preseason. Some fans may have no reason to need these reminders as they might have already weighed these things before forming their opinions. Others, probably needed some perspective in helping to realize the sky might not be completely falling.
Chances are, Steelers fans will not remember any of these other things and fly into overreaction mode based on how everything plays out. But at least I tried.