What Is The Future Of The Quarterback Position For The Pittsburgh Steelers?

The main screen at Heinz Field thanks Ben Roethlisberger during his last Steelers home game.

(Getty Images)

The main screen at Heinz Field thanks Ben Roethlisberger during his last Steelers home game.

On Thursday, legendary Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement after eighteen NFL seasons. His announcement was seen as imminent after the Steelers were eliminated from the NFL Playoffs after a 42-21 loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City two weeks ago. In a video posted to his Twitter account and retweeted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben announced what was rumored at the beginning of the season and much more certain at the end of it. 

“The journey has been exhilarating, fueled by a spirit of competition,” Roethlisberger said. “Yet the time has come to clean out my locker, hang up my cleats and continue to be all I can be to my wife and children. I retire from football a truly grateful man.”

He wrapped up what will in all likelihood be a Hall of Fame career that can best be summed up by his standing with the fifth most throwing yards in NFL history (64,088) and two Super Bowl championships. Roethlisberger will also hold the record for most seasons played without ever playing for a losing team (a sub- .500 winning percentage) in NFL history. 

In his farewell season, Roethlisberger threw for 3,740 yards, 22 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and a completion percentage of 64.5%. He went 9-7-0 (the Steelers tie coming with Mason Rudolph in as QB, more on that later), including ending the season with back-to-back wins to help the Steelers make the 2021 NFL playoffs. He ended his career with a regular-season record of 165-81-1. 

In the sole playoff game of the season, Ben had 29 completions on 44 attempts and threw for 215 yards and 2 touchdowns with no picks. The 42-21 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs sent his playoff record to 13-10 all-time. 

It was truly an amazing era for Steelers football. But now, it has come to an end, and the wonder becomes natural: who is the future QB for the Steelers? 

If the Steelers were to do nothing and continue a “line of succession” if you will, 26-year-old Mason Rudolph would likely take over the starting job from Big Ben.

He’s been on this team since he was drafted in 2018 in the 3rd round and saw a fair amount of action in 2019 when he and Steelers folk hero Devlin “Duck” Hodges teamed up to bring the Steelers an 8-8 season after Ben was injured in Week 2.

His 2019 season is maybe most remembered for the infamous brawl between the Steelers and Browns in which Cleveland’s Myles Garrett slammed Rudolph in the head with his own helmet. Rudolph was playing “just okay” football.  In 10 games that year (starting 8), Rudolph went 5-3, throwing for 1765 yards in total to go along with 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. 

More recently, however, he played one full game in 2021 while Ben was out for COVID-19. In his only start since the 2019 season, the Rudolph-led Steelers offense could only muster 16 points and ended in a tie with the (at the time) winless Detroit Lions in Week 10. In that game, Rudolph threw for 242 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 pick. 

In the game against the Lions, he seemed to lack the ability to be a true commander of the young Steelers offense, and his struggle to extend drives and keep the offense on the field against Detroit puts his abilities to be the guy in doubt. 

There’s also Dwayne Haskins, who will likely be competing with Rudolph for the starting job in 2022. A 2019 first-round pick by the newly renamed Washington Commanders, Haskins spent 2021 on Pittsburgh’s practice squad after Washington cut him, to go in a new direction. 

We have little indication of how Haskins would perform in games as the Steelers starter. As previously mentioned he saw no game action during the regular season, only in the preseason. 

What we can use for regular season guesstimates are his numbers from when he was with Washington. He is 3-10 in his career (albeit with two not great teams in Washington), has 12 career touchdowns and 14 interceptions. 

He does, however, bring an aspect to his game that could prove to be very useful: he can run. The Steelers would benefit greatly from having a young (Haskins is 24), fast quarterback. Young and mobile is the way the AFC North plays with quarterbacks nowadays. We have seen the benefits the Ravens enjoy for years with Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. Cincinnati now has their guy who can do much the same in Joe Burrow, who is about to head out to LA for the Super Bowl. And Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield can show that ability at times as well. 

Pittsburgh’s offense this year greatly struggled with the fact that they did not have a quarterback who posed any threat to a defense that he could run. Everyone always knew Ben wasn’t going to run with the ball, that was just a given. Having a quarterback who at the very least can pose the threat of taking the ball and running with it would mightily help this team. 

Haskins’ performance in Washington was not impressive, but that’s not to say he can’t turn around in Pittsburgh.

Josh Dobbs (winner of Steeler with the coolest alternate career option) is also an option, now in his second tenure with the team. Unfortunately for him, he has not seen much action during his NFL career, and I’m not sure where he ends up—but I don’t think it’s anywhere close to the starter’s job. 

There is also the chance (and what I think will happen), that the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022 is not currently on the roster. the Steelers could either look in the upcoming draft in April or look to free agency to fill the void. 

The 2022 NFL Draft offers numerous potential options at quarterback. Names like Pitt’s very own Kenny Pickett, along with Matt Corral, Desmond Ridder, Malik Willis, Sam Howell, and Carson Strong all have the teams’ attention. The Steelers hold the 20th pick in the draft. It’s unlikely that Pickett and some of these other names are left unclaimed at 20, but if any of them are, the Steelers have to at least think about them. 

Free agency could also be the path the Steelers take. The Steelers have a rap sheet for not going the free agency route, but with General Manager Kevin Colbert stepping down after the draft, perhaps the next leader is not afraid to be bolder. There are several names approaching free agency this off-season. None of them are earth-shattering, but the Steelers could find an average QB. An interesting idea would be to draft a quarterback in the first round this year, sign someone in free agency to essentially be a stopgap for a year or two while the draftee learns more and gets more acclimated with the team.

And, it is not impossible for the Steelers to make a trade. While it is highly unlikely that the Steelers would pursue anybody via trade, that won’t stop some from speculating that Aaron Rodgers will come to the Steel City. He is under contract for Green Bay next season but has said he has not made up his mind about where he wants to play next season. If Rodgers is traded, however, you would have to imagine the price would be expensive. On top of that, the Denver Broncos seem to be very keen on bringing him in

A trade I personally would like to see is Tyler Huntley coming from the Ravens. I know a trade with a divisional rival in Baltimore is wishful-thinking, but Huntley is a Lamar Jackson kind of quarterback: He is quick and can also throw the ball well—the kind of quarterback the Steelers could thrive with, especially given the struggles with their offensive line last season. But again, it is unlikely a trade is the way the Steelers fill the void.

There are a lot of options that the Steelers should look at this offseason, as the team looks to create its next era. It will be very interesting to see what kind of moves they make (or don’t make). 

Farewell, Ben, and soon enough we will see you in Canton.