For only the second time in franchise history, the Pittsburgh Steelers may soon be tasked with the assignment of trying to replace a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The Steelers did it once before in 1984 following the retirement of two Super Bowl MVP and former league MVP Terry Bradshaw. They may have to do it again this offseason with Ben Roethlisberger reportedly telling coaches and former teammates that he anticipates this being his final year with the franchise.
Roethlisberger did not deny or confirm those reports following Sunday’s 20-19 victory. But based on the reports as well as the fact that he has no contract beyond this season, there is a very good chance Roethlisberger is currently writing the final chapter on his decorated career with the black and gold.
The Steelers have three paths to choose from in the event that Roethlisberger is not part of the team in 2022. They could reward Mason Rudolph’s patience and give him a chance to win the starting job coming out of training camp. They could sign a talented veteran who could come in and keep the Steelers in the conversation for the playoffs or even a championship. Or, they could draft a quarterback in the first round for the first time since selecting Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick back in 2004.
While Roethlisberger and the Steelers continue to focus on the present, here are seven viable options to be Roethlisberger’s successor for the 2022 season.
1. Aaron Rodgers
Why this may happen: Despite recently turning 38, Rodgers continues to play at an exceptionally high level. The reigning league MVP is in the middle of another sterling season that includes a 9-2 record as Green Bay’s starting quarterback. Rodgers expressed his appreciation for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin before and after the Packers‘ Week 4 win over the Steelers. Rodgers also spoke highly of the Pittsburgh area.
If the money is right (Rodgers would likely have to accept a similar contract to the one Tom Brady signed with Tampa Bay in 2020), the addition of Rodgers would keep the Steelers in the conversation as a playoff and possible Super Bowl contender. Pittsburgh has good offensive weapons that includes a rising star in Diontae Johnson and a rookie running back in Najee Harris. He would be completed by a defense that includes perennial Pro Bowlers in Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Rodgers would also have one of NFL‘s most reliable kickers in Chris Boswell. The offensive line needs some work, but the unit has largely done a good job protecting Roethlisberger over the past two months.
Why this may not happen: This scenario would first require Rodgers to leave Green Bay. If Rodgers leaves, there’s a good chance that he will want to continue to play with Davante Adams. While the Steelers certainly wouldn’t mind making room for Adams, both players’ salaries would likely create problems for Pittsburgh’s salary cap; to make it happen, the Steelers would likely have to part with multiple talented players.
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2. Kenny Pickett
Why this may happen: Steelers founder Art Rooney said that his biggest professional regret was not selecting former Pitt standout Dan Marino in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft. With that in mind, Rooney’s grandson, Steelers president Art Rooney II, may be inclined to have his team select the Panthers‘ current quarterback in the 2022 draft.
Pickett, who passed Marino for first on the Panthers’ career touchdown pass list during Pitt’s ACC Championship Game victory over Wake Forest, is arguably the best quarterback prospect in the draft. Along with his gaudy passing statistics, Pickett has good mobility that would surely be utilized in Matt Canada’s offense. Pickett would also be on a rookie salary, which would give the Steelers more flexibility in the salary cap.
Why this may not happen: This Steelers may decide to use free agency to acquire their next quarterback while using the draft to address other needs, specifically on the offensive line, cornerback and inside linebacker. Pittsburgh would also have to be in position to select Pickett, as our CBS Sports NFL Draft experts have Pickett going as high as No. 7 and as low as No. 13 in the first round. The Steelers currently have the 18th pick in the draft. But if they are in position to draft him, it’s hard to see Pittsburgh passing on another prolific Pitt passer.
3. Russell Wilson
Why this may happen: Wilson has a potential out in his contract after this year. Given prior reports that he had considered leaving the Seahawks last offseason, it’s certainly reasonable to expect that Wilson will be considering his options again this offseason with Seattle in the midst of a disappointing season.
At 33, Wilson remains in the prime of his career. He was a Pro Bowler each of the past four years and a serious MVP candidate the previous two seasons. While he has missed three games this season after sustaining a hand injury, Wilson did not miss a game during the first nine years of his career. If he signs with the Steelers, it’s easy to see Wilson being Pittsburgh’s quarterback for the next 5-7 years, at least. And while he doesn’t run as much as he used to, Wilson still has plenty of mobility which would help expand Matt Canada’s offense.
Why this may not happen: Like Rodgers, this would depend on Wilson deciding to leave Seattle. Unlike Rodgers, Wilson is in his early 30s and might be looking for another big payday. The Steelers have other pressing contracts to take care of in the short term future (Minkah Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson among them), so Pittsburgh likely won’t get into a bidding war for Wilson or any veteran quarterback.
4. Matt Corral
Why this may happen: Many analysts view Corral as the best quarterback prospect in the 2022 draft. Over the past two seasons as Ole Miss, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback has thrown for 49 touchdowns against 18 interceptions and has completed over 69% of his throws. Along with his success through the air, Corral has scored 11 touchdowns on the ground this season and has proven to be a legitimate threat as a runner.
Why this may not happen: Corral has been projected to be taken as high as No. 3 and as low as No. 13 in the draft, so there’s a very good chance that he won’t be available when the Steelers are on the clock. Beyond that, Corral’s size (he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds) and questions regarding his arm strength could possibly lead to the Steelers choosing another quarterback if they in a position to choose between Corral, Pickett and the next quarterback on our list.
5. Malik Willis
Why this may happen: The most versatile quarterback in this year’s draft, the Auburn transfer has found success while quarterbacking Liberty over the past two seasons. Along with his 44 touchdown passes over that span, Willis has rushed for 1,768 yards and 25 touchdowns. His success last season helped Liberty post a 10-1 record and top-20 national finish. Willis would add a dimension to the Steelers’ offense that has been missing over the past several years.
Why this may not happen: Willis is currently projected as being a mid-to-late first-round pick, so there’s a chance that he is not available when the Steelers are on the board. And while the Steelers want a quarterback with mobility, they may choose to go with a quarterback with stronger passing numbers.
6. Mason Rudolph
Why this may happen: Under contact through the 2022 season, Rudolph will have four years and at least 10 career starts under his belt. The 26-year-old has at times flashed the potential the Steelers saw in him when they selected him in the third round in 2018. He went 5-3 as a starter when Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending injury in 2019. In arguably his most impressive outing, Rudolph threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s 2020 regular season finale against a Cleveland team that needed a win to make the playoffs. He played well enough to put the Steelers in position to beat the Lions before two fumbles in overtime forced Pittsburgh to settle for a tie. Rudolph is also an affordable option that can worst case can give the Steelers a year to figure out their longterm solution at quarterback.
Why this may not happen: Given the fact that the Steelers want to compete for Vince Lombardi trophies each season, Rudolph will not be Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback if he does not have the complete confidence of the front office and coaching staff. If the Steelers feel that there is a better quarterback for the job, Rudolph will spend another season as a backup. But if the Steelers are confident in Rudolph’s ability to possibly lead the to a division or Super Bowl championship, he will finally get his chance to prove it in 2022.
7. Carson Strong
Why this may happen: If Pickett, Corral and Willis are off the board, another option for the Steelers in the draft could be Strong. Strong was tabbed by CBS Sports NFL Draft expert Ryan Wilson as the Steelers’ first-round pick in his most recent mock draft.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Strong has put up prolific numbers this his last two seasons at Nevada, with 63 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions over that span. Strong has led Nevada to a 15-6 record over that span that includes two wins this season over Power Five schools. Given the fact that Roethlisberger came from the Mid-American Conference, the fact that Strong played in the Mountain West likely won’t be the determining factor in whether or not the Steelers draft him.
Why this may not happen: While his arm strength, downfield accuracy and ability to make quick decisions with the ball have garnered praise, Strong is not known for his mobility, which is something the Steelers surely want more of from their next starting quarterback. There are also questions about Strong’s right knee after he underwent surgery in February and had the same knee scoped in August.