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Evaluating the Steelers Post Big Ben QB Options

The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason has been a bit busier than normal at this time of year. It started with official reports that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner would not be brought back as the Steelers play-caller in 2021. His contract was up after this past season but the Steelers decided to make the right move by not bringing him back. While there were reports that Matt Canada would be promoted from the QB coach to the official OC, nothing has been finalized, and the Steelers have shown interest in Hue Jackson and Pep Hamilton.  

Speaking of Quarterbacks, Dwyane Haskins’ second chance will come in Pittsburgh as he signed a one-year contract this past week. Signing Haskins is a decent, no-risk move since if he doesn’t pan out, they are not stuck with him. Finally, TE Vance McDonald has retired from the NFL at the age of 30 after 8 seasons with the Steelers and 49ers. This isn’t a major loss for the Steelers but it could make the Tight End position a bigger need in the draft.    

Of course, the real QB issue for the Steelers is the fate of Ben Roethlisberger. All signs seem to point to Big Ben returning for one last season. After all, I find it hard to believe that Ben’s final game would be that blowout playoff loss to the Browns. The short term plan will most likely center around a change at offensive coordinator and fixing the abysmal run game in the draft. If those problems are solved, the Steelers hope to become a lot more legit than they were this past season. 

But would these changes result in a real shot at the Super Bowl? I say no because a 39-year-old Big Ben is simply not consistent enough to make a championship run. At the very least Ben’s return could give the Steelers some extra time to figure out the future plan at the Quarterback position. 

While the Steelers front office has done an excellent job at acquiring talent and fixing a once bad defense, their biggest fault has been failing to bring in a future heir to Big Ben. No, I don’t consider Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins viable options in that regard. It’s high time for the Steelers to get serious about finding their next franchise QB.  

In the NFL there are three main ways to get players on your roster: through a trade, free-agent signing, or the draft. So let’s explore the franchise QB options the Steelers might have in these three mediums. 

Regarding free agency, the Steelers are way over the cap limit and have a ton of free agents to possibly resign. Plus with Big Ben returning and making 41 million dollars thanks to the cap hit, it seems unlikely that the 2021 class of free-agent QB’s will be explored. 

In the 2022 class, there are only four workable options. Marcus Mariota and Josh Rosen were both high picks in the draft and castaways from their respective former teams. Despite the talent, they both seem like way too risky picks that the Steelers wouldn’t seriously invest in. Especially due to the fact that Haskins is currently the guy the Steelers are taking a flyer on. 

One interesting option would be Nick Foles who will become an unrestricted free agent in 2022. This would be the definition of a bridge QB for the Steelers (one they bring in to play for now while they search for their QB of the future). If the Steelers need more time to find an heir, Foles would be a solid option to play in the short term. 

Sam Darnold is by far the most intriguing and possibly the most viable out of the bunch. This possibility assumes the Jets stick with Darnold for one more season instead of drafting Fields or Wilson in the upcoming draft. Certainly, a possibility since there are rumors that the Jets want to keep with Darnold for now. He has a club option that would have to be denied by the Jets in order to become a free agent in 2022. This option could work but there are more ways than one to get Sam Darnold.  

The trade market in the NFL is like a wild animal that feasts on unpredictability. You never really know who could become available and to what degree teams are auctioning the players on their roster. This is just the reason for the Steelers to be sharp and ready to tame the trade market over the next couple of years. 

As previously hinted at, this is the other way Darnold could become a Steeler. Due to the Jets lack of competence in helping Sam Darnold develop as a quarterback, the value given up by teams interested isn’t very high at just a second or third-round pick. It’s debatable how much of Darnold’s talent is still there after the Jets may have ruined most of it but to me, for the price, it’s worth exploring as a serious option for the Steelers. They have a far more stable operation than the Jets and a lot more talent and experience on the roster and coaching staff to help Darnold resurrect his career. 

One option that is technically there, but highly unlikely, is Deshaun Watson. Yes, he’s on the market, but his two requested teams are the Dolphins and Jets. If he went to the Jets then maybe Darnold would become immediately available in a trade. Other potential options include Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Teddy Bridgewater, and Jimmy Garoppolo. While none of these QB’s are necessarily currently on the market, I could see a scenario where each of them could be in the near future. 

Wentz’s situation is relatively unknown, but if he is the backup next year, the Eagles would certainly want to ship him off. The rest of the QB’s on the list above are in similar situations, in that their respective teams could draft a future franchise QB and look to trade their current QB over time. Maybe not this season, but if their future QB’s blossom early then they could put the likes of Stafford or Bridgewater on the trade block to get value. This could be around the time that Ben retires, and if the timing is right the Steelers could be in prime position to pick up a bridge QB via the trade market. 

The final way the Steelers could get their future franchise quarterback is by drafting him in the next two upcoming drafts. In the 2021 draft class, there are only two options that make sense. Trey Lance and Mac Jones are two first-round quarterbacks with solid development who could turn into good NFL players. 

In the case of Jones, trading up or him falling to pick 24 are both options. However, trading up is more likely because of how valuable the QB position is across the league. It’s a certainty that the Steelers would need to trade up for Trey Lance. Lance could easily go into the top 10, which means the Steelers would be moving up at least 14 spots for the opportunity to draft him. Lance is a noticeably better prospect, and if the Steelers want to draft a QB in this upcoming draft, he has to be the guy they trade up for. Even then it will be tough because the Lions and Panthers hold the seventh and eighth picks in the draft and both might want a QB. 

All things considered, the 2022 QB class might be the better route for the Steelers as it’s supposed to be deeper than the 2021 class. Sam Howell and Spencer Rattler are the two prizes of the 2022 QB class at the moment, and given the Steeler’s intention to compete and not tank, both aren’t plausible  options as the future QB. That leaves us with just a list of names at this point. JT Daniels, Matt Corral, Jayden Daniels and Tyler Shough are the next QB’s in the class right now. 

There are a lot of unknowns for this class, but the Steelers must keep a focused eye on these prospects. What is known is that if the Steelers want to draft a QB, then trading up seems to be the way to go. The Steelers are never in the business of performing bad enough to be able to own a high draft pick, so trading up makes the most sense. Sure other draft picks will be given up but that’s the price the Steelers could pay for waiting so long to make this happen. Even though there are lots of options the Steelers must actively plan and act quickly if the future is to be bright in Pittsburgh.         

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