The Pittsburgh Steelers could acquire a veteran quarterback in the offseason — it’s just not the one you’re expecting.
According to Pro Football Focus‘ article on potential trades involving quarterbacks, the Steelers could e in a “realistic” scenario that would see them acquire the Minnesota Vikings‘ Kirk Cousins. Cousins has one year left on his deal worth a robust $35 million. For perspective, Cousins is due to earn more than any other quarterback in the league with the exception of the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen.
In that scenario, Cousins would eat up roughly 20% of the Steelers’ salary cap. Pittsburgh’s total cap space was $177 million in 2021.
This trade would see the Steelers part with a 2022 first-round draft pick and a 2023 second-round draft pick.
“From the Steelers’ perspective, they just made edge defender T.J. Watt the highest-paid defensive player in football. They may soon make Minkah Fitzpatrick one of the highest-paid safeties in football and are still getting elite play out of veteran interior defender Cameron Heyward. They have no interest in a full-scale rebuild, and they probably shouldn’t.
On offense, two of the game’s best young wide receivers in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool will be under rookie contracts through the 2022 season. Rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth has seven touchdown receptions through Week 15 — only Rob Gronkowski in 2010 (10) and Hunter Henry in 2016 (8) hit paydirt more often as rookie tight ends since 2006. Lastly, rookie running back Najee Harris can serve as the reliable presence in the backfield that Cousins has loved to lean on in the form of Dalvin Cook in Minnesota.
Ben Roethlisberger’s 58.7 PFF passing grade this season ranks 33rd. Cousins would get the ball to Pittsburgh’s playmakers far more effectively and let them create big-time yards after the catch.”
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Roethlisberger Expecting Final Season in Pittsburgh
At this point, most are accepting that this will be Roethlisberger’s final season. It was reported earlier in the month of December that the 39-year-old is expecting this to be his final season with the Steelers.
While Roethlisberger has the team in position for a potential playoff berth, Pittsburgh is literally clawing its way to victories.
The offensive line isn’t particularly strong, ranking 13th in pass blocking (68.2 grade), according to PFF. Despite top-tier weapons in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, the passing game is stagnant. According to PFF, Roethlisberger ranks 26th in deep-ball passing grade, 32nd in passing under pressure and 26th in time in pocket among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts.
Is It Worth Acquiring Cousins?
However, Cousins isn’t exactly the “bridge” option Steelers fans are envisioning. While Cousins is having one of the top seasons of any quarterback in the league (fourth in passing grade, according to PFF), his massive salary combined with his lack of success in the postseason (one win in nine full seasons) scares off potential suitors.
The Steelers will be in contender mode heading into 2022 — even without Roethlisberger. The best way of ensuring that happens is by acquiring another veteran quarterback to take over.
If Pittsburgh strikes out on acquiring the bigger-name quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, Cousins — who is on an expiring deal with a franchise potentially looking to rebuild in the Vikings — could then emerge at the top of the Steelers’ wish list.
However, acquiring Cousins for a first-round draft pick — and another draft pick — to merely contend for a playoff spot may not be worth it.
The Steelers might just be better off drafting a quarterback and signing a potential bridge option off of the free agency market.
Less salary cap space eaten up by the quarterback and less draft capital lost could result in the Steelers building a better all-around team for 2022.