Is Jameis Winston a fit with Steelers? Three scenarios where pairing could actually happen

Google “Jameis Winston, Pittsburgh Steelers” and you’ll see a slew of articles arguing for and against the soon-to-be former Buccaneers quarterback joining the Steelers, who already have quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin “Duck” Hodges, Paxton Lynch, and J.T. Barrett on their roster. 

The Winston/Steelers rumblings have grown loud enough that the team’s in-house writer Bob Labriola addressed a fan question this week asking about the odds of Winston actually signing with Pittsburgh. His response: “No chance. N-O-N-E.” 

Yes, the safe bet is Pittsburgh avoiding Winston, who threw a league high 30 interceptions last season (a year after Big Ben led the league with 16 picks) while completing a pedestrian 60.7% of his passes. And while he did throw 33 touchdowns while leading the league in passing (something Roethlisberger also did the previous season), the fact that Bruce Arians, a self-proclaimed quarterback whisperer, gave up on him, is telling. 

Winston, still just 26 years old, could realize his full potential someplace else. The odds of that being in Pittsburgh are very slim … but cannot be entirely ruled out. 

As we sit here today, there are only three legitimate scenarios that could lead to Winston (No. 2 on our list of top free agents still available) going to Pittsburgh. Let’s break them down.

Scenario No. 1: Ben Ben road bump

The first scenario is that Ben Roethlisberger hits an unexpected road bump during his ongoing recovery from last September’s elbow surgery. This scenario is unlikely, as Big Ben offered an encouraging update on his recovery last week during an interview with Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Roethlisberger, who began throwing a football late last month, is hoping to be back to full strength by the time the Steelers kick off the regular season. 

Scenario No. 2: Injury to a QB

Another scenario is that Big Ben or Rudolph suffers an injury — either during training camp or during the start of the regular season — that would require them to miss a considerable amount of time. This scenario can only play out if Winston is still available at this point, which seems highly unlikely considering the high demand for experienced quarterbacks. The only scenario where Winston is still looking for a new team four months from now is if he decides to wait and sign with a team that needs him to start, presumably after their starter suffers an injury. Again, unlikely, but possible. 

Scenario No. 3: Backup upgrade

The final scenario — and the most likely one, in my opinion — is Pittsburgh deciding that it needs a significant upgrade at the position behind Roethlisberger. While he had his moments during his time as a starter last season, Rudolph wasn’t the same after getting concussed by Ravens safety Earl Thomas during the Ravens’ Week 5 win in Pittsburgh. Rudolph’s play regressed to the point where he was ultimately benched in favor of Hodges, who kept the Steelers in playoff contention before suffering his own struggles during the final three games of the season. 

This type of scenario actually played out in Pittsburgh as recently as 2015. With Landry Jones (Roethlisberger’s backup at the time) failing to do enough to win the trust of the coaching staff, the Steelers signed 35-year-old Michael Vick just before the start of the regular season to be the team’s backup. While he wasn’t near the player he once was, the Steelers obviously felt Vick was worth the risk and the temporary backlash they received from fans. Vick’s number was quickly called after Roethlisberger suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for a month. Vick led the Steelers to a 2-1 record before he was replaced by Jones (Vick, a left-handed quarterback, had issues connecting with Antonio Brown, an issue Jones didn’t have) during the team’s come-from-behind win over the Cardinals in Week 6. 

Again, it’s unlikely Winston, a former Pro Bowler and Heisman Trophy winner, will wind up in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are confident that Big Ben will fully recover from his injury and are not ruling out Roethlisberger playing beyond his current contract, which will expire after the 2021 season. And while the team is aware that they, at some point soon, need to find his heir apparent, they obviously don’t think that is something that needs to be done this offseason. The Steelers feel good about their current quarterback situation, a fact general manager Kevin Colbert and team president Art Rooney II made clear earlier this offseason. 

When it comes to Big Ben’s backups, the Steelers are confident that Rudolph (who did go 5-3 as a starter last season) will continue to improve as he enters his third season. Pittsburgh, like most teams, likes to develop its quarterbacks in-house. That way, they can see the growth and development, rather than sign someone that they have to start from the ground with. 

That being said, the Steelers have brought in other teams’ former starting quarterbacks before, most notably Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, who won several key games during the Steelers’ Super Bowl runs from 2005-10. But signing Winston, who clearly believes he can still be top-level NFL quarterback, would be a different situation. Batch and Leftwich willingly accepted backup roles, something that Winston likely won’t do unless he’s forced to. It would truly take special circumstances.

Crazy things happen all the time in the NFL, with players signing in places no one thought possible just moments earlier. Tom Brady to the Buccaneers? Who would have thought that? I’m sure Steelers fans never envisioned Vick donning the black and gold five years ago, or James Harrison — the franchise’s career sacks leader and owner of one of the most iconic plays in NFL history — ending his career with the Patriots. The fact is, the NFL is an unpredictable league, and that’s why, as unlikely as it is, Winston winding up in Pittsburgh could come to fruition.

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