The Pittsburgh Steelers had a mixed bag of production in the 2023 season, going 10-7 but ultimately getting knocked out of the wild card in what was mostly a less-than-competitive showdown against the Buffalo Bills. At the center of the discussion surrounding that mixed bag of production? The quarterback position.
Steelers president and owner Art Rooney II spoke to the media on Monday for his annual end-of-season press conference and spent some time addressing his thoughts on where things stand with 2022 first-round pick Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph, who was key to the miraculous run Pittsburgh made at the end of the season.
Rooney II gave his endorsement of Pickett, as had HC Mike Tomlin after the season, stating, “In terms of the next step, we need to do everything we can to make sure we get quality out of our quarterback position going forward. We still feel good about Kenny Pickett and his future but he knows he has to work hard to take the next step,” Steelers.com contributor Bob Labriola shared.
The endorsement isn’t quite as clear as to say Pickett is the defacto guy, but rather seems to point to the likelihood that Pickett is truly playing for his job this offseason — as he should be. Still, unless someone comes in and wins the job outright, any tiebreaker in the race to start as the Steelers quarterback in 2024 would likely fall in Pickett’s favor. Another part of that discussion, too, is providing Pickett the opportunity to work with a new offensive coordinator — one who can hopefully reignite the spark that former OC Matt Canada squashed.
“Mason Rudolph came in and showed what we’re capable of when we do get quality QB play ... and we’re interested in bringing Mason back,” Rooney II went on to say, shared Labriola. Rudolph said just as much just a few days prior, so that should be no surprise. The only question is what the actual free agency market for Rudolph looks like and whether or not they’ll be willing to pay him what he feels he’s earned.
It’s undeniable that Rudolph would be the best option for the Steelers in terms of establishing competition for Pickett at the position, particularly given how well he played over his four starts in 2023, including three regular-season matchups and the wild card game against the Bills. Over four games, Rudolph completed 68.1% of pass attempts for 948 passing yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Over those four starts, Rudolph averaged an NFL passer rating of 104.9 and 8.4 yards per attempt — both metrics ranked top-three among quarterbacks in the league with 100 or more dropbacks this season.
No season in recent memory has showcased the importance of having a quality backup quarterback as well as we’d seen in 2023. There were plenty of teams who lost their starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries this year — the Bengals (Joe Burrow), Browns (Deshaun Watson), Jets (Aaron Rodgers), Vikings (Kirk Cousins), among a myriad of other injuries that plagued teams around the league. Beyond the Browns, who found a solid option in Joe Flacco and the Bengals, who enjoyed a solid run with Jake Browning, the others scrambled to find any sort of capable backup to salvage their once-promising seasons to no avail.
Perhaps the injuries at quarterback this year paired with Rudolph’s late-season emergence could be enough to make him one of the highest-paid backups around the league. Would the Steelers be willing to pay him top-end backup money? Perhaps upward of $10 million per year? If not, Rudolph may look elsewhere, regardless of his time with the Steelers. They’ve got plenty of moves they need to make before it will be financially feasible, anyhow, currently projected to be right around $14 million over the cap per Spotrac, prior to any of the inevitable cap-saving moves we’ll see later on.
What kind of contract do you think Mason Rudolph earned with his end-of-season performance? Join our community at Behind The Steel Curtain and let us know in the comments!