Will the Steelers go with Kenny Pickett or Mason Rudolph?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a season where they won 10 games and made the playoffs as they shuffled through three different quarterbacks. One-and-done in the postseason might not sound like an accomplishment, but for this team with that offense, a lot less was expected. Knowing the struggles at the QB position in 2023, it’s a little strange to hear the Steelers aren’t likely to pursue another veteran QB that could challenge for the starting job next season.

Kenny Pickett was drafted to be the successor to Ben Roethlisberger, but that transition hasn’t gone as smoothly as head coach Mike Tomlin and the front office had hoped. Now there seems to be a split of allegiances within the organization after Mason Rudolph went 3-0 as the starter late in the year and helped Pittsburgh earn a playoff berth. Big Ben also added fuel to this fire back in December when commenting on his time as a teammate with Rudolph.

“When Mason played for me, I was trying to help Mason as much as I could,” Roethlisberger shared on his “Footbahlin’” podcast on Dec. 31. “Then he just he never… he didn’t want my help anymore, so I backed off,” Roethlisberger said.

Those comments aside, the Steelers already have a QB battle heading into next season and the new NFL year doesn’t even officially start until next month. And let’s not forget Mitchell Trubisky was previously involved as well — he started a couple of games last season that ended in losing efforts. Pickett and Rudolph both ended the season with winning records as QB1 for Pittsburgh.

While Rudolph has been in Pittsburgh for a while and played well, he’s been around for a while. He was a third-round pick in 2018 out of Oklahoma State. This is supposed to be Pickett’s time although some would say he hasn’t actually claimed it. That’s a fair argument as Pickett, while winning some games, hasn’t taken full command of the offense in some people’s eyes.

Pittsburgh did take a step in the right direction midseason when they decided to part ways with former offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Their offense had been stale and underperforming for some time. Despite moving on from Canada some feel the Steelers aren’t exactly set for the future at QB. Sure, Rudolph played well down the stretch and Pickett is seen as the chosen one. But if there’s a veteran QB out there that might give you a better chance, sometimes you’ve got to go against the grain.

### Stepping into a new age of NFL football

This franchise is known for defense and running the ball. While the defense is still on point, the days of winning solely based on what your defense does each week are over. You’ve got to have a QB who’s capable of putting the team on his back multiple times each season. A guy who can frequently make plays even under the worst of circumstances. It doesn’t have to be a top-five guy but someone in that 10-15 range partnered with a stellar defense and capable running game can take you somewhere.

It’s going to be hard to make a run to the playoffs using the same formula Tomlin and crew installed in ’23. And in that tough, AFC North division, and a deep conference, it’s only going to get tougher when you don’t have a QB you can count on every game. If those within the franchise are split on Pickett and Rudolph, then it’s hard to be confident heading toward the ’24 campaign.

Names like Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill will be available. Tannehill will likely be much further down the list than Cousins, but the latter is coming off an Achilles tear. At his age (35) who knows what he’ll be when he returns? Tannehill is nearing the end as well it would seem, although he might be able to come in and push the young fellas in training camp. Baker Mayfield is another name out there coming off a magnificent bounce-back year in Tampa Bay — and he’s not even 30 yet.

So, there are some experienced names out there, but they aren’t guaranteed to move the needle. If Pittsburgh isn’t considering bringing in a veteran arm, they’d better be sure they’ve got the guy in the house already. Whether it’s Rudolph or Pickett, one of them needs to step up and steal the spotlight leaving no doubt for Tomlin moving forward.

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