Assessing the Quarterback Dilemma the Pittsburgh Steelers Will Face in 2020

Assessing the Quarterback Dilemma the Pittsburgh Steelers Will Face in 2020

by December 26, 2019 1 comment

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger to a season-ending injury in Week 2 and the team’s playoff hopes seemed to disappear instantly. Now on their third quarterback after Mason Rudolph was benched and placed on Injured Reserve, Devlin Hodges is the man in charge as the Steelers need to win next week and hope for the Texans to beat the Chiefs.

Getting into a playoff spot (or even getting close to such situation) with an undrafted, third-string quarterback known better for his duck-calling skills than his talents with the pigskin will likely earn Mike Tomlin the Coach of the Year award. Don’t forget this is also without Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell, plus a weakened receiving corps with JuJu Smith-Schuster underperforming when healthy and James Conner being banged up all year long.

While Tomlin deserves a lot of credit for his success with what he has, it is also obvious that the Steelers would have played even better football if they had a more talented quarterback.

With Ben Roethlisberger reportedly pondering retirement, it seems as though the Steelers will need to conduct an external search for a new signal-caller. Here’s an assessment of what this search could turn up and what the best option is for the Steelers ahead of a 2020 season full of playoff aspirations.

Trade Market

The trade market will be full of enticing quarterbacks this offseason as a handful of signal-callers will likely be flipped to a new team.

Cam Newton is the first name that comes to mind. It is unclear who the Panthers will employ under center next season, as Kyle Allen showed brilliance before fizzling out and Will Grier has shown promise at the collegiate level. One thing is clear, though: Newton isn’t the answer. Newton will be entering the final year of his contract but should be fully healthy after he was held out of regular season play this year. Carolina will surely trade him, and Pittsburgh would be an ideal landing spot.

Mitchell Trubisky’s name is also sure to come up in trade talks this offseason. While his name does not carry as much trade likeliness as Newton’s, he can be under control for an extra year thanks to the fifth-year option that his rookie deal carries. Further, Trubisky would cost far less money as his 2020 salary, again thanks to his rookie contract, is a mere $9.24 million. It seems unlikely that Trubisky has a future in Chicago, but Pittsburgh is likely a different story. Ideally, the former No. 2 pick would play out the two years left on his deal before signing a long-term extension to stay in Pittsburgh.

Nick Foles is also an intriguing name. The 30-year-old has $75.75 million remaining on the final three years of his deal but likely won’t have a starting role in Jacksonville next year after his struggles in 2019 and Gardner Minshew’s success. Foles’s somewhat steep price tag coupled with Jacksonville’s desperation to trade him could be a perfect fit for the Steelers, as they might not need to unload a large package for Foles. A couple cons, however, include Foles’s age and the fact that he appeared in four games this season, the second-worst tally of his career and the worst since 2016.

A few other names are also intriguing to monitor but are not worthy of too much consideration. Andy Dalton could be on the move, but the Steelers likely don’t want to take on a player of his age. They would also be hesitant to trade inside of the division. Jacoby Brissett should also be monitored, but the Colts have no reason to trade him. The Dolphins could swing a trade to move Josh Rosen considering it seems likely they draft their franchise quarterback this year. Lastly, it seems likely the Raiders explore a trade for Derek Carr, but it is hard to see a scenario where Pittsburgh would pull the trigger on a trade for him.

Free Agency

The are almost no good candidates in the upcoming free agent pool who are under the age of 30, so this will be quite short.

Marcus Mariota, 26, will hit free agency for the first time in his career following a season where he was benched by the Tennessee Titans. While he will finish the season with the status of backup quarterback, he has shown he can be a mediocre starter and should command a deal that will allow him to prove himself again in a starting role. However, with the Steelers in a position where they are in win-now mode, Mariota is not a good fit.

That’s not the case with Teddy Bridgewater, 28, though. Once a promising piece of the Minnesota Vikings’ future, an injury forced Bridgewater to miss time and bounce around as a backup. This season, Bridgewater took over when future Hall of Famer Drew Brees suffered an injury and the Saints went undefeated with Bridgewater under center. This is the man for the job in Pittsburgh, in my opinion.

NFL Draft

The NFL draft has seven or eight quarterbacks who could start in the next season, and they will likely all be drafted in the first three rounds. Those prospects are Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Jacob Eason, Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm, Jalen Hurts, Jamie Newman, and Jordan Love. Of those eight, I will highlight the three best fits.

Jacob Eason, a junior from Washington, is expected to go in the mid-to-late section of the first round, which is right where the Steelers pick. It remains to be seen whether or not they’d want to use their top pick on a quarterback, but Eason is an enticing candidate. He fits the mold of a Mike Tomlin starter, and he impressed in his trio of collegiate seasons.

Justin Herbert, an Oregon senior, is projected to be drafted in the early portion of the second round, but I could see him going as early as No. 25 or as late as the third round. I would not be shocked to see him fall to the Steelers’ pick in the second round, and he is probably the best and most realistic fit for Pittsburgh out of the entire quarterback class.

Jalen Hurts, an Oklahoma senior, put his name on the board this year with his success in the passing game coupled with his dominant and prolific running ability. His mobility doesn’t quite fit the Mike Tomlin mold, but it would be interesting to see if the Steelers would even have interest in him.

Stand Pat

I’ll make this short and simple. Ben Roethlisberger, if healthy, can be a starter for one or two more years. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges can’t be legitimate starters for another four or five years, and even then, there’s no guarantee that they’re worthy of a starting job. The Steelers need to make a move.

Verdict

Listen here, Steelers. Your ideal offseason would be to trade Mason Rudolph to a team like the Bears or Jets who have an expiring quarterback contract to worry about in a few years. Then, you cut Ben Roethlisberger on June 1, 2020, as doing so only costs $12.5 million but will save $21 million. (Cutting him prior to June 1 would carry $25 million in dead money and $8.5 million in savings.) This allows you to keep Devlin Hodges as your backup and sign Teddy Bridgewater to a five-year, $135 million contract with a team option for a sixth year at $30 million.

Buckle up for an exciting offseason.

Andersen is a teenage sportswriter and reporter whose articles have appeared across the Prime Time Sports Talk, Sports Illustrated Kids, FantasyPros, and SB Nation platforms. He has also received credit from RotoWorld, CBS Sports, ESPN, Bleacher Report, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, The Athletic, SB Nation, NBC Sports, NY Post, and dozens of other sports sites for his reporting work.

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