With longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all but confirming that his 18-year career is coming to an end, the team will soon be in search of its next starting QB. Naturally, it won’t be easy to find someone to replace Big Ben, who has played at a Hall of Fame level for the overwhelming majority of his 18-year career. But as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin might say, the organization figures to “turn over every stone” in an attempt to do that, with the draft, free agency, or a trade being three possible avenues.
At the moment, most NFL insiders seem to feel that the Steelers are going to pursue a veteran quarterback this offseason. That includes Jay Glazer of FOX NFL Sunday. In mid-November 2021 he appeared on the Pat McAfee Show and said: “(The Steelers) are … going to go after a veteran. They don’t want to start from scratch with a rookie.”
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‘Restart’ With a Rookie or Turn to Accomplished Veteran?
On December 30, NFL Network National Insider Ian Rapoport appeared on the Pat McAfee Show and echoed that line of thinking, saying, “My guess is (the Steelers) go after a veteran so they don’t have to restart. Because they have so much there already—so much infrastructure. That is such a desirable place for a veteran quarterback to go.”
Cynics may scoff at the notion that the Steelers “have so much there already,” because Pittsburgh’s running game and run defense has been awful this season, at or near the bottom of the NFL in both areas. But if starting defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Aluala—both considered to be among the top 32 D-linemen in the NFL—are able to return from injury next season, that, by itself, might go a long way toward fixing the run defense.
As for the offense, an incoming veteran quarterback would have to deal with the fact that Pittsburgh is in the process of rebuilding its offensive line—a process that figures to continue apace during this offseason. Apart from that, the Steelers have some nice pieces to build around at the skill positions, namely rookie running back Najee Harris and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth, not to mention young receivers like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, whose talents are currently compromised by the shortcomings of the offensive line and quarterback.
In terms of which free agent quarterback(s) the Steelers might target via trade or free agency, it’s too soon to tell. We don’t even know yet whether Matt Canada is going to keep his job as offensive coordinator. We also don’t know which veteran quarterbacks are going to be available. Right now, there are a dizzying array of possibilities.
Trade candidates could include Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), Kirk Cousins (Minnesota Vikings) and Derek Carr (Las Vegas Raiders), while someone like former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota (Raiders) would be a low-risk/low-cost addition via free agency.
Steelers Have More Than $43 Million in Cap Space in 2022
The good news is that the Steelers have flexibility in terms of direction, in part because they have so little money devoted to the quarterback position going forward. According to overthecap.com, the Steelers currently have $43,724,803 in cap space available in 2022, which is a lot, especially when one considers that the team already has 43 players under contract next year.
The only bummer is that the Steelers won’t be out from under Ben Roethlisberger’s contract for a while, thanks to the voidable years that were added when his contract was renegotiated in March 2021. As per Over the Cap, the Steelers will have a dead money cap charge of $10.34 million for Roethlisberger in 2022.
Meanwhile, the only quarterback the Steelers have under contract for next year is Mason Rudolph, who signed an extension during this past offseason that keeps him in Pittsburgh through the end of 2022. It’s an extension that pays him a $3 million salary next year, and one that Rudolph has described as a “vote of confidence” on the part of the organization.
We’ll also know soon enough if the Steelers think former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins can be a contributor going forward. Haskins will be a restricted free agent after this season comes to an end, and the Steelers can tender him if they’d like to evaluate him for another year.
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