For only the second time in franchise history, the Pittsburgh Steelers are tasked with the assignment of trying to replace a future Hall of Fame quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement in January. The Steelers did it once before in 1984 following the retirement of two-time Super Bowl MVP and former league MVP Terry Bradshaw.
The Steelers have three paths to choose now that they know Roethlisberger will not be part of the team in 2022. They could reward Mason Rudolph’s patience and give him a chance to win the starting job coming out of training camp. They could sign or trade for a talented veteran who could come in and keep the Steelers in the conversation for the playoffs or even a championship. Or, they could draft a quarterback in the first round for the first time since selecting Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick back in 2004.
Here are seven viable options to be Roethlisberger’s successor for the 2022 season.
Free agent options
Trubisky is hoping to earn a starting job in 2022 after spending the 2021 season as Josh Allen’s backup in Buffalo. The second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Trubisky went 29-21 as the Bears‘ starting quarterback during the regular season. His best season took place in 2018, when he earned Pro Bowl honors while helping lead Chicago to a division title.
Trubisky wasn’t able to duplicate his success in 2018 or during his final two years in Chicago. But he still went 14-10 as a starter while while throwing 33 touchdowns and 18 interceptions over that span. Trubisky is also mobile enough to make plays with his legs, as evidenced by his 5.6 yards per carry average during his time in Chicago.
A Pro Bowler during his rookie season, Winston led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards in 2019. He also threw a league-high 30 picks, which led to his departure from Tampa. He enjoyed a successful seven-game run as the Saints’ starter in 2021 before an injury prematurely ended his season.
The 28-year-old Winston has decent mobility, with 11 rushing touchdowns and a 4.2 yards per carry average. He also has significant experience as a starting quarterback with 77 starts under his belt.
A 2015 Pro Bowler for Minnesota, Bridgewater resurrected his career with the Saints in 2019, when he went 5-0 in relief of injured starter Drew Brees. Bridgewater put up solid numbers the past two years as the Panthers and Broncos‘ starting quarterback. During that span, Bridgewater completed 68% with 33 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
The soon to be 30-year-old quarterback is also a threat on the ground. He has 11 rushing touchdowns for his career; in 2019, Bridgewater set career-highs with five rushing touchdowns and a 5.3 yards per carry average.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Mariota enjoyed early success in the NFL that included helping the Titans to the divisional round of the playoffs in 2017. His play began to dip that season, however, and in 2019, he was replaced by Ryan Tannehill after six starts. Over the last two seasons, Mariota threw less than 30 passes as Derek Carr’s backup.
Like Trubisky, the 28-year-old Mariota is capable of making plays with his feet; he has rushed for 1,574 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging six yards per carry. Unlike Trubisky, Mariota will likely command a less lucrative financial commitment.
With his legal issues behind him, several teams are expected to make a push to acquire Watson. The Steelers, however, are not expected to be one of those teams. Watson did not play a snap for the Texans last year. The season before that, he led the NFL with 4,823 yards with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Watson earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2018-20 while helping lead Houston to the playoffs in 2018-19.
Rudolph’s supporters point to his winning record (5-4-1) as well as his encouraging performance against the Browns in Pittsburgh’s 2020 regular season finale. His detractors point to him being replaced by Devlin Hodges 10 games into the 2019 season as well as his erratic performance during this past season’s tie versus Detroit.
Regardless of which side you’re on, the fact remans that Rudolph is the front-runner to be the Steelers’ new starting quarterback. In order for that to happen, he will have beat out a rookie and/or veteran and the next quarterback on this list.
Acquired by Pittsburgh last offseason, Haskins was Pittsburgh’s No. 3 quarterback. He had a chance to supplant Rudolph on the depth chart but failed to do so during the final game of the 2021 season. While he has a good chance to remain on the roster, Haskins’ play (especially his consistency) will have to increase significantly if he is going to be Pittsburgh’s Week 1 starter.
Steelers founder Art Rooney said that his biggest professional regret was not selecting former Pitt standout Dan Marino in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft. With that in mind, Rooney’s grandson, Steelers president Art Rooney II, may be inclined to have his team select the Panthers‘ current quarterback in the 2022 draft.
Pickett, who passed Marino for first on the Panthers’ career touchdown pass list during Pitt’s ACC Championship Game victory over Wake Forest, is arguably the best quarterback prospect in the draft. Along with his gaudy passing statistics, Pickett has good mobility that would surely be utilized in Matt Canada’s offense.
Over the past two seasons at Ole Miss, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback has thrown for 49 touchdowns against 18 interceptions and has completed over 69% of his throws. Along with his success through the air, Corral has scored 11 touchdowns on the ground this season and has proven to be a legitimate threat as a runner.
The most versatile quarterback in this year’s draft, the Auburn transfer has found success while quarterbacking Liberty over the past two seasons. Along with his 44 touchdown passes over that span, Willis has rushed for 1,768 yards and 25 touchdowns. His success during the 2020 season helped Liberty post a 10-1 record and top-20 national finish. Willis would add a dimension to the Steelers’ offense that has been missing over the past several years.
If the Steelers pass on selecting a quarterback in the first round, Ridder would be a solid Day 2 option. In four seasons at Cincinnati, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Ridder threw 82 touchdowns against 28 interceptions. Last fall, he threw 30 touchdowns against eight interceptions while leading the Bearcats to an berth in the College Football Playoffs.
Ridder is also an dangerous runner, as he scored 28 touchdowns on the ground in college that included 12 during the 2020 season.
During his final two seasons at Nevada, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Strong threw 63 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. Strong has led Nevada to a 15-6 record over that span that includes two wins this season over Power Five schools.
While his arm strength, downfield accuracy and ability to make quick decisions with the ball have garnered praise, Strong is not known for his mobility, which is something the Steelers surely want more of from their next starting quarterback. There are also questions about Strong’s right knee after he underwent surgery in February and had the same knee scoped in August.