Kenny Pickett the Steelers’ ‘Franchise QB’? Mike Tomlin Offers Alternate Label

Steelers QB Kenny Pickett

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images QB Kenny Pickett (#8) of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of a game against the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium on January 8, 2023.

On January 9, with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022-23 season now in the rear-view mirror, head coach Mike Tomlin held his first press conference of the offseason. Predictably, Tomlin was queried about how he views quarterback Kenny Pickett, who demonstrated significant growth over the course of his rookie season. Specifically, he was asked: “Moving forward do you feel that Kenny Pickett is the franchise quarterback?”

Mike Tomlin: Kenny Pickett is ‘Our QB1’

“You know, I don’t know what you guys mean by ‘franchise quarterback,’” began Tomlin, “Is he our QB1? Yes, but there’s a lot of silly responsibility that comes with that term. Everybody thinks they got one but not everybody has one and all that. He’s our starting quarterback and I’m not going to saddle him with that cliché that’s over used in our game and our business too much these days.”

Indeed, it’s a long leap from where Pickett is today to franchise quarterback-like performance. The 2022 first-round pick (No. 20 overall) appeared in 13 games and won seven of 12 starts but threw just seven touchdown passes all season. He finished with a 76.7 passer rating, as per Pro Football Reference, which is below the 80.9 career passer rating produced by career backup Mason Rudolph, who didn’t get into a game this season.

On the other hand, game-winning touchdown passes in the last minute of games against the Raiders and Ravens augur well for the future. And one cannot ignore late-season praise that came from recently-retired Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was a bona fide franchise quarterback from his rookie season forward, when he was 13-0 as a starter and produced a 98.1 passer rating.

Asked whether he wished he had started Pickett’s development process earlier in the season, Tomlin said no.

“As I look back at it, I don’t know that I have any second thoughts or regrets about the process or how it transpired as I sit here right now,” he said. “Maybe I’ll think differently as a analyze it in an end of season kind of way in the upcoming weeks, but knee-jerk reaction to your question: No, I don’t have any regrets about it as I stand here this morning.”

Who Will Be QB2, QB3 for the Steelers in ’23?

That said, it’s a good thing that the Steelers have their QB1 for 2023, because it’s conceivable that the rest of the quarterback room will be brand-new next season.

“Mitch is under contract, Rudolph is scheduled for free agency and we’ll see what happens,” was all that Tomlin would say.

But it’s easy to envision both Trubisky and Rudolph playing elsewhere next season, as Trubisky — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft — is scheduled to be paid an $8 million salary next season, way above what any team would want to pay a backup. Meanwhile, one expects Rudolph to look for a team that will allow him to compete for something more than a third-string job, which is where he found himself on the depth chart this year.

One name to keep in mind for a possible return to Pittsburgh is former Steelers fourth-round pick Josh Dobbs, who acquitted himself well in two late-season starts for the Tennessee Titans, the first two starts of his six-year NFL career.

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