It was just before halftime on September 15th in Heinz Field. The FOX broadcast showed Ben Roethlisberger, our hall of famer, our QB1, clutching his throwing elbow. That moment I believe all of Steeler Nation knew, was the beginning of a roller coaster ride at QB for 2019. The combination of Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges proved to be enough to pull out some victories, but has not solidified the most important room and position in sports, the quarterback. In order to compete in today’s NFL you need a solidified starting QB who can win you a game when necessary. We have that in 7. However, in my opinion, the backup role is far from proven.
Playing quarterback is the hardest job in sports. It’s also the most scrutinized. You have to breakdown protections, read a moving defense, all while 11 grown men are trying to punish you. There are many, many QB’s who play football who throw the ball far, who are accurate, and who have a good football sense, but there are so few that have all of that combined. So few, in fact, that one can argue there are only about ten QB’s, maybe, in the NFL currently that you can say are top tier.
Going into the 2020 offseason Coach Mike Tomlin said that Mason Rudolph is our number 2 moving forward. I understand “coach speak” and I hope that is what his mention was about. Mason has a phenomenal zip on his fastball and has no problem throwing the ball when he needs to. In my opinion, Mason’s problem is thinking quickly. He simply holds the ball too long and seems to wait until the WR is open to pull the trigger, something that is not possible in the NFL. The league requires you to throw with anticipation and timing. That seems to be a shortcoming of Mr. Rudolph at the moment.
I believe, like all of us, that the Steelers enter every season with the Lombardi trophy in mind. That being said, the backup QB role is more important than ever moving forward. To that end, there is one clear choice for the Steelers pursue in free agency.
Case Keenum – Free Agent – Case Keenum has been a starter in this league and played at an extraordinarily high level at times. While leading the Vikings to an NFC Championship game appearance, Keenum completed 67.6% of his passes and threw for 3,547 yards with 22 TD’s and only 7 INT’s. Case has all of the tools and seems to have thoroughly embraced his role as a backup in the NFL. Even if Ben stays 3 more seasons, I believe Case would accept this role and be a very good stopgap player until we can find Ben’s true successor. To me, finding the successor is a long process and one that cannot be settled on. Case would give us some cushion. He’s 31 and could easily go beyond the time Ben may walk away…
Any time the position of quarterback comes up, the discussion will point to salaries. Quarterback is the top salary in the league, and for good reason. The Steelers enter the off-season, in all too familiar fashion, with little cap space. There have been many names out there that will most likely be cap cuts, freeing up much needed space. Right now, Mason Rudolph is scheduled to make just over $1 million. Case Keenum pulled in a, not too shabby, $3.5 this season in Washington. Him coming to Pittsburgh and accepting the backup role would certainly mean a cut in salary. With his $25 million in guaranteed money from the Broncos is still warming his pocket, I’d hope he could grace the Steelers sidelines possibly around $2. That’d be about the max I believe the Steelers would go for a given backup at this point in time.
If our Steelers want to lift the Lombardi in ‘20, we have to address the backup role. Case Keenum is the perfect man for the job. There are other names out there that could be explored in Free Agency, but will want far too much money to even consider, but the fun is in the wonder… Blake Bortles, I know, I know, but he was once compared to Big Ben. Perhaps studying under him could help? Marcus Mariota is an intriguing name, but he’ll likely want a starting spot or at least a competition to be QB1. If he’d accept this role as a backup, Mariota would move to the top of my list. Other dream names would be that of Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill, even names like Tom Brady and Drew Brees are set to be FA’s. We all know those names will not don the back of a Steelers’ jersey this upcoming season.
So what is the Steelers’ plan? It will become evident very soon. If we do not address the QB position in free agency and draft one late, our coaching staff knows something that none of us do. That will tell us that Mason is the #2 moving forward and that’ll be the bottom line. No shot that a late round pick would come into camp and unseat him.
No matter what happens down the road this off-season, the question that needs answering more than most is… “Is 2 REALLY the #2?”