The month of April is upon us! NFL free agency has seen about three weeks of action and teams are pushing forward towards the 2023 NFL draft at the end of the month. Despite not having any NFL football played for almost 7 weeks, it’s still an exciting time.
As the Steelers continue to dabble in free agency to fill needs and look at the upcoming draft, there are some positions where the Steelers still have roster spots based purely on the numbers. One position in particular is at quarterback.
Currently, the Pittsburgh Steelers only have two quarterbacks under contract for 2023. Kenny Pickett took over the starting job in Week 4 of his rookie season last year and is entrenched as the starter moving forward. Mitch Trubisky, despite the desire of some Steelers fans, is still under contract to back up Pickett for the season. Getting into those exact details are not our focus here as the Steelers still need at least one, and likely two, more players before heading to Latrobe in late July.
So how will the Steelers fill out the rest of their quarterback depth chart for 2023?
Last season, the Steelers used their final draft pick, their second selection of the seventh round, to draft a fourth quarterback in Chris Oladokun. By selecting this player, there was a number of different theories across the Steelers’ Nation as to their motives. Some believed it was an indication that Steelers would stash Oladokun on the practice squad and keep four quarterbacks, a rarity in Pittsburgh. Others believed it was to have that third option because the Steelers would definitely trade Mason Rudolph. Neither of these things happened and Oladokun was released prior to the Steelers third preseason game without seeing a game snap and rarely any action in practice.
So why am I bringing up Chris Oladokun in order to answer this question? Looking at how things played out last year can give a good indication as to what the Steelers may do in 2023.
Although some of the Steelers media even questioned wasting a pic on Oladokun, the Steelers mindset actually made sense. If they were insisting on taking four quarterbacks to training camp, the best way to have a serviceable player was to use their last draft pick. With the Steelers signing possibly the biggest quarterback name on the free agent market for 2022, and drafting the only quarterback taken in the first round the same offseason, they were not a desirable stop for undrafted free agents to sign. Add in the fact the Steelers also had a Mason Rudolph on the roster and the likelihood of anyone signing with the Steelers on their own actually making the team was quite low.
For this reason, the Steelers drafted Chris Oladokun so he did not have the choice to sign elsewhere. Used as an emergency quarterback in case any of the others missed time in training camp, the fact that all three quarterbacks did not miss a practice in Latrobe had Oladokun with no opportunity to see the field. It was ultimately an insurance policy from late in the draft and it never had to be cashed.
In 2023, the Steelers are in a much different situation. Assuming the Steelers will keep three quarterbacks, whether it be on the 53-man roster or the less likely practice squad player, the fact the NFL is considering a return of the “third quarterback rule” makes it inevitable that they will have three in some manner. With the Steelers only having two players on the roster, this is a desirable location for a player simply wanting an opportunity to catch on with an NFL team.
Because of this, I really hope the Steelers do not add anybody at the quarterback position until after the 2023 NFL draft. If they think they might sign a free agent, wait until April 30 or later to bring them in. For this reason, Pittsburgh is a desirable place for an undrafted rookie free agent to sign following the draft. The Steelers would not have to use a draft pick at all on a quarterback as the “best of what’s left” would see the opportunity to have a good chance at a job.
When it comes to an undrafted rookie free agent, the Steelers are more appealing this year because they would get the bulk of the workload at rookie minicamp to show what they can do. Last year, Kenny Pickett was going to be the guy among the rookies. This year, any rookie who signs with the Steelers after the draft would have the chance to showcase their talents throughout the weekend of rookie minicamp.
The Steelers first and second option a quarterback for 2023 are set. Keeping the salary of an experienced veteran has the Steelers in a situation where another young player who can fulfill the need of running the scout team and be ready in a pinch could just as easily be done with an undrafted free agent or a lower tier free agent player. Personally, I think this is the route the Steelers should take following the draft at the end of the month. Whether they go with two rookie undrafted free agents or just one and bring in somebody else who is looking to catch on makes no difference. But if you’re under the impression that the Steelers will have to pick up a quarterback late in the draft because they had to do so last year and that player is gone, it’s not the same situation for 2023.