Whether Arthur Smith cares to admit it or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers will enter the 2024 season with a QB competition. It almost doesn't matter who the second QB is — Kenny Pickett has done little to reassure the front office, coaching staff, or fanbase that he is the short or long-term answer at football's most important position.
Pickett started 12 games last season, completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,070 yards, six touchdowns, and four interceptions. Then he got injured and watched from the sideline as Mason Rudolph of all people finally unlocked the Steelers' offense.
Pittsburgh can enter next season with Pickett as the nominal starter. The 25-year-old, a former No. 20 pick, only has two incomplete NFL seasons under his belt. He deserves patience. The extent of that patience, however, will be determined by his performance in training camp and into the regular season.
If the Steelers want a replacement — or at least a rock-solid backup, just in case — it won't come cheap. The QB market is off the charts. But, while the idea of trading a first-round pick has been floated around, it shouldn't cost the Steelers such a valuable asset to land a palatable QB.
Here are a few places to look.
4. Steelers can simply re-sign Mason Rudolph
The Steelers effectively benched Pickett for Mason Rudolph down the stretch. Rudolph made four appearances (three starts) for Pittsburgh, completing 74.3 percent of his passes for 719 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. That's a small sample size, but something appeared to click into place for the fourth-year QB. Now, he enters free agency with a speculated price tag of roughly $10 million.
If the Steelers don't offer Rudolph the money and a chance to compete for a starting gig, another team will. It's that simple.
He's the perfect throwback pocket passer on paper — 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds with a cannon attached to his right arm. His performance in the Wild Card round wasn't great, but Rudolph managed 229 yards and two scores, with only one interception to spoil the loss. Most importantly, he aired out 39 passes and made a valiant effort to move the ball downfield. Pickett doesn't really turn the ball over or make back-breaking mistakes. He's just safe to a fault. You can't play scared at QB. Not in the NFL.
Rudolph has earned another trip around the sun in Pittsburgh. It took four years for somebody to earnestly type that statement, but it's the truth — and the Steelers should have the upper hand as the only NFL team he has ever known. Call it a lateral move, but it's a move the Steelers should make. Options are important, especially given Arthur Smith's troubling recent track record with gun-shy young quarterbacks.