UPDATE: Kenny Pickett shut down the rumors that he refused to back up Mason Rudolph in Week 17 during his media availability on Tuesday.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and starter Kenny Pickett officially have a massive PR problem on their hands. Just a day after Mason Rudolph started his second game for the Steelers this season in the aftermath of an ankle injury to Pickett, rumors have begun to swirl that Pickett was inactive in Week 17 not because of a lack of reps, but rather because he “refused to be the backup” to Rudolph.
The rumor had originally been sparked by a Tweet from Mark Madden on Monday, a radio personality in the Pittsburgh sports scene featured on 105.9 the X.
Just got told that Pickett 100 percent refused to be the backup. That the Steelers writers know that but won't write it.— Mark Madden (@MarkMaddenX) January 1, 2024
There have been no formal reports on the rumor from trusted team insiders, but others familiar with the team, including Mark Kaboly of the Athletic, have noted some of their own skepticism about how Pickett’s inactive status played out in Week 17. Just 11 minutes before Madden’s comment, Kaboly himself tweeted, “KP didn’t dress because of his health yesterday but 12 hours later he’s fine and health is not an issue.”
It’s worth noting that Tomlin stated in his Monday press conference that Pickett was, in fact, medically cleared to play in Week 17 despite being inactive, citing a lack of reps as the reason he was inactive. However, Pickett has logged limited practices in each of the Steelers team practices over the past two weeks. Then, of course, there’s the fact that Pickett has started 24 games over the past two seasons; why would his availability hinge on mid-season practice reps? In examining the situation in its entirety, the sum of the facts and the explanations provided for the sequence of events does seem... questionable, or at best, odd, to say the least.
Still, it would be irresponsible to jump to the conclusion that the rumor is true without absolute confirmation. If it were true, it’s a damning look regarding his ability as a leader and his contributions as a “team player”, which would certainly seem reason enough to justify questioning the future of the position even beyond his results on the field.
The Steelers have historically been a team that’s known to keep their “family drama” in-house, so unless a source inside the building decides to speak out on the matter, it seems unlikely that fans will receive confirmation regarding the rumor’s validity at any point. If Pickett didn’t dress in Week 18 against the Ravens, it would seem possible that the rumors were true. Only time will tell.