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Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers set for 2024 QB competition: 4 potential solutions to compete with Kenny Pickett and Mason Rudolph

Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Despite making the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers do not have a franchise quarterback on their roster. It’s not like the front office hasn’t tried to provide Mike Tomlin with several different potential solutions, such as selecting Kenny Pickett in the first round or signing a former top pick in Mitch Trubisky.

In the end, a strong case could be made that the best candidate all along was Mason Rudolph, a player the Steelers selected in the third round back in 2018 when Ben Roethlisberger was still on the roster.

But now Rudolph is headed for free agency, leaving just Pickett and Trubisky to compete for the QB1 role this offseason. Is that a QB room that can not only get the Steelers back to the playoffs but also improve Pittsburgh enough to compete for the AFC North division title? Probably not, based on what we’ve seen so far.

From the comments he made during the team’s season-ending press conference, it sounds like Coach Tomlin agrees.

“Obviously there will be competition. There’s always competition in this thing. We don’t anoint anyone. Man, I’m appreciative of [Pickett’s] efforts and where he is and excited about continuing to work with him. But certainly, he will be challenged from a competition perspective moving forward. Competition brings the best out in all of us.”

Mike Tomlin on Pittsburgh Steelers’ QB future

We know competition is coming to the Pittsburgh QB room, but who? Which players could help the Steelers’ offense reach their full potential? Here’s a list of four potential solutions not currently on the roster.

Pittsburgh Steelers turn to an AFC North rival for more QB competition

pittsburgh steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, the idea of suggesting the Pittsburgh Steelers should sign longtime rival Joe Flacco to a contract likely would have gotten you kicked out of Steel City. But after witnessing the 39-year-old shred apart NFL defenses like he was in his prime, the feelings have surely changed.

Flacco went from sitting on the couch to leading a Cleveland Browns team many left for dead, back to the playoffs. Now, he’s likely looking at several contract offers in free agency, but chances are, none will offer a legitimate starting opportunity as teams look to either go younger or start over at the QB position.

That’s not quite the case in Pittsburgh, where the expectations are always the playoffs for Mike Tomlin. Having drafted Kenny Pickett 20th overall just two years ago, we wouldn’t expect the Steelers to invest a heavy amount of draft capital in replacing him just yet. Which means, their best option might be to look to free agency.

Flacco has already shown he can come into an atmosphere where another QB has already established himself as the franchise solution while quickly winning over the locker room. The situation may be the same with the Steelers, in a way, where Pickett is the guy everyone ‘wants’ to see succeed, but if/when the season takes a turn for the worse, the backup QB will become the most popular guy on the team. For the Steelers, they could do a lot worse than adding Flacco on what’s likely to be a relatively affordable contract this offseason. Perhaps a one-year, $6 million salary gets it done?

Related: NFL QB rankings

Can Ryan Tannehill save the day for Mike Tomlin’s Steelers?

ryan tannehill
George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Tennessee Titans are done with Ryan Tannehill after five seasons as their quarterback. The goal is to let Will Levis prove he’s the solution. Chances are, Tennessee won’t make Tannehill a respectable contract offer, which means the athletic former first-round pick will be playing elsewhere in 2024.

Tannehill is nowhere near the pinnacle of QB play, but he has shown the ability to succeed behind a strong running game that feeds off play-action opportunities. The Steelers haven’t been able to consistently thrive in either situation since Big Ben retired, but that’s all Tannehill knows.

Boasting 151 games of starting experience, Tannehill has shown he can do just enough not to throw the game away while giving his team a chance to win every time he takes the field. Set to turn 36 this offseason, the Steelers will have to weigh how much the former Dolphins QB has left in the tank, but when considering the other in-house options, signing a player like Tannehill provides hope for a strong stretch of play as a potential stopgap solution.

Related: 5 ideal destinations for Joe Flacco in 2024

Could Jameis Winston revive his career in Pittsburgh?

jameis winston
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

A former No. 1 overall pick, Jameis Winston hasn’t been a starting quarterback since 2019. Sure, he’s made ten starts since then, but no one trusts him as the starter, at least not for a full season. No matter what, Winston will be seeking an opportunity for more playing time this offseason, and his best chance may come in Pittsburgh.

Even if it doesn’t compare to the NFL’s best, like Baltimore, the Steelers will always have a good defense under Coach Tomlin. Yet, when the game is on the line, do they have a quarterback capable of making big plays downfield? Not right now.

That’s where Winston could come into play. Sure, he has his flaws, Winston’s career interception rate (3.4%) is higher than you’d like to see. But he also gives his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball and has shown he’s capable of leading a very high-powered offense.

The Steelers must decide: do they want a game manager who won’t be able to help them score north of 30 points per game, or do they want to take a chance on the ‘no risk it, no biscuit’ mentality that Winston possesses? When it comes to pure arm talent, there isn’t a better option on the Steelers right now, but that doesn’t mean Winston wouldn’t come with growing pains too, even at the age of 30.

Related: Predicting NFL playoff bracket and Super Bowl 2024 winner

Russell Wilson joins a historic Steelers franchise

russell wilson
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos appear ready to move on from Russell Wilson this offseason. That became apparent from the moment the front office decided to bench their franchise quarterback to avoid being ‘stuck’ with the contract they agreed to sign him to.

However, one franchise’s trash could be another team’s treasure. Like the others on this list, Wilson comes with a certain level of caution. Why did the Seattle Seahawks want to move on from their franchise QB after he helped them win a Super Bowl? Then, why are the Broncos ready to do the same so quickly?

Yet, when compared to the level of play Pittsburgh has gotten out of their quarterbacks for the past two seasons, Wilson’s numbers stand out.

NameComp. rateYPGTD%INT%
Russell Wilson (30 games)63.3%219.84.52
Kenny Pickett (25 games)62.6%1791.81.8
Mason Rudolph (4 games)68.1%2374.40.1
Stats provided by Pro Football Reference

Somehow, Tomlin came a game away from clinching a spot in the postseason a year ago and coached the Steelers to the playoffs this past season, finishing with a 19-15 record in that span. But imagine Tomlin had an above-average QB the past two years? That 55.8% win rate would undoubtedly be higher.

Rudolph didn’t hurt the Steelers at all during the regular season, but once the playoffs arrived, he had his worst start of the year. If Pittsburgh believes he can offer better play, more consistently than Wilson, then re-signing Rudolph shouldn’t be an issue. However, Rudolph’s career numbers suggest putting the fate of your franchise in Wilson would be the far better move.

Would the Steelers really take Pickett, Rudolph, or another free agent QB over Wilson? It shouldn’t be a conversation.

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