The Pittsburgh Steelers head into the 2021 season with plenty of questions about the current roster and limited cap space.
Easily the biggest question facing the team is what the Steelers will do with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Earlier this afternoon, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert made it clear the team is still considering its options at quarterback heading into the 2021 season.
“With Ben’s current cap number, some adjustments will have to be made,” Colbert said. “Hopefully there’s a way we can figure out what’s best for the organization. Hopefully he can see that and feel the same way. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
If Ben retires, he saves the Steelers nearly $20 million. If he returns with a league minimum contract, he’d save the team around $14 million.
Obviously the team would be better off with Big Ben back for another season, but what if he doesn’t? Let’s look at who could take over for Roethlisberger in 2021 – if he retires.
First things first, let’s look at the quarterbacks currently on the roster.
Mason Rudolph would immediately step in if the 2021 season started tomorrow and Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t part of the Steelers plans. He’s served as the primary backup quarterback for the past two seasons – seeing significant playing time in 2019 when Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury.
Rudolph didn’t show much promise in 2019, but obviously caught Kevin Colbert’s eye with a solid showing against the Cleveland Browns in 2020. In the final game of the regular season, Rudolph threw for 315 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against the Browns. Colbert said that was his best game with the Steelers and suggested the former Oklahoma State star has what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
The Steelers signed Dwayne Haskins to a low-risk, high-reward contract after the 2020 season came to a close. After being released by Washington, Haskins signed a one-year minimum contract to play for the Steelers in 2021.
If Big Ben is gone, Rudolph and Haskins could enter camp with the starting job on the line. Although he struggled during his time in Washington, Haskins entered the league with plenty of promise. He dominated at Ohio State and might just need a fresh start to show what he can do.
Haskins and Rudolph are the only other quarterbacks currently on the roster. Josh Dobbs will be a free agent once the 2020 league year officially comes to an end in March.
There are several free agent options. However, with the Steelers limited in cap space, they won’t be able to make a run at a quarterback like Dak Prescott.
All signs point to Jameis Winston re-signing with the New Orleans Saints. However, he could choose to sign with the Steelers, where he wouldn’t have competition for the starting role – like with Taysom Hill in New Orleans.
Winston would need to be willing to sign a minimum contract, though, given the Steelers cap situation. He and Ben Roethlisberger play a similar brand of football, so there wouldn’t be much change to the way the offense functions.
Going from one 38-year-old quarterback to another might not seem like a great idea. However, the Steelers received plenty of criticism for a dink-and-dump style offense during the 2020 season.
Well, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger who wouldn’t be afraid to let the ball loose. He also made it very clear he wants to keep playing.
“For me, personally, I have to take every offseason and reassess,” Fitzpatrick said. “These last two years have really re-lit that fire under me and I still want to play and I enjoy being out there playing.”
Once again, the Steelers don’t have much cap space. That makes a trade for a quarterback like Deshaun Watson or Carson Wentz nearly impossible.
However, there is one name that could make sense.
The New York Jets made it relatively clear that they’d be willing to move on from Sam Darnold for the right price. Well Pittsburgh might be willing to acquire Darnold for the No. 24 overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Darnold has struggled over the past three seasons with the Jets. However, like Dwayne Haskins, he could just be in need of a fresh start. Talent has never been the question with Darnold, but his lack of consistency leaves a lot to be desired.
The Steelers would need to make a decision about his fifth-year option (around $25 million) if they decide to trade for him. A one-year rental, though, could be in the cards as well.
There are five options for the Steelers if they decide to move on from Big Ben. Who do you think will be the starting quarterback in Pittsburgh next season?