Evaluating Steelers' Future Options at Quarterback

While many believed Sam Darnold could be the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers, other options exist in a post-Ben Roethlisberger era.
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On Monday afternoon, ESPN's Adam Schefter broke the news of the Carolina Panthers acquiring quarterback Sam Darnold from the New York Jets. The deal saw Carolina fork over a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, with second and fourth-round picks coming in the 2022 NFL Draft as well.

Darnold, set to turn 24 with three years of experience as a starting quarterback in the NFL, was a hot trade commodity this offseason, with the Jets eyeing a quarterback with the second overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. Although unlikely, many pegged the Pittsburgh Steelers as a potential destination for Darnold thanks to an aging Ben Roethlisberger on the brink of retirement and no golden plan of succession insight on the team.

Now, like many other potential suitors, the search for a franchise quarterback of the future (if there even was any interest in Pittsburgh) shifts to other avenues. Does the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft have any surprises in store? Are the Steelers confident in any current quarterback on the roster? Will a cloning machine be available for the Steelers to again have a young Ben Roethlisberger?

Let's take a look at the different possibilities the Steelers have at landing their quarterback of the future.


Does Pittsburgh Already Have Their Guy?

This isn't the popular route with fans or social media, but the search for the future of Pittsburgh's quarterback may begin within their own building. The organization has been very high on Mason Rudolph through his tenure with the Steelers, dating back to last offseason where general manager Kevin Colbert praised Rudolph.

"What we really liked about how he handled his benching was that he was positive, he worked harder and he stayed the course," Colbert said. "When he was called on in the Jets game he played his best quarter and a half. Unfortunately, he got hurt. A lot of times we find out about ourselves when we are put in tough situations and Mason was last year, and he responded both times, in my opinion. We're hopeful that Mason doesn't get to play a lot, quite honestly. If he's not called on to play that means that Ben's doing what we had hoped for. We're very comfortable with Mason where he was last year. As I've stated before he was five and three as a starter."

Are the Steelers truly confident in Rudolph? It's easy to step in front of a microphone and speak highly of a guy without having their play drastically effect a team's performance one way or another, especially with a Hall of Fame quarterback ahead of him.

Dwayne Haskins also exists as another option despite a rocky start to his NFL career. Haskins, who was just recently a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, still offers a lot of time to showcase potential growth, although the Steelers merely grabbed him for a low-risk/high-reward move.

Between Rudolph and Haskins (Rudolph the more likely of the two at this moment), the Steelers may very well stay in-house for the immediate future in a post-Roethlisberger era thanks to their early investments in Rudolph and a wildcard in Haskins. 

Justin Fields

Movin' On Up

The best way to secure your franchise quarterback of the future? Through the avenues of the NFL Draft. With a quarterback-rich draft class on deck for 2021 (and a not-so coveted quarterback class coming in 2022), now may be the best time for the Steelers to be aggressive if they want to draft a quarterback sooner rather than later.

The problem? The Steelers may need a miracle in the form of a quarterback sliding down the board to get into prime trading position. 

Trevor Lawrence is sure to be drafted with the number one overall pick. After dealing Sam Darnold, the Jets are all but set to take a quarterback (looking like Zach Wilson), and the 49ers are surely grabbing a gun-slinger after moving up to the third overall pick, whether it be Mac Jones, Justin Fields or Trey Lance. 

With the Atlanta Falcons reportedly listening to offers for the fourth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, it appears a quarterback may indeed be on the menu four picks in a row. And although Pittsburgh may very well be in the mix on Atlanta's pick, the teams ahead of the Steelers are likely to offer a better haul thanks to draft positioning. 

So... is it worth it to trade up for what may potentially be the fifth-best quarterback in the draft? Depending on what quarterback may fall (The Steelers were indeed at Ohio State's pro-day for you Justin Fields truthers), Pittsburgh is in a position to either overpay for a quarterback that shouldn't be taken high or underpay for an eventual starting quarterback. 

The Steelers appear to be at the mercy of the unknown/mysterious ways of the early stages of the 2021 NFL Draft, especially if they're inquiring about potential quarterbacks outside of the top five. 


2022 Free Agent Class

With a defense ready to win a championship in it's current state, the Steelers may opt for a veteran presence to maximize their chances of winning. The below quarterbacks are set to hit the market following this year:

Unrestricted free agents: Taysom Hill, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Tyrod Taylor, Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, Jacoby Brissett, Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky.

Restricted free agents: Kyle Allen, Josh Rosen. 

Club Options: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson 

With a... not precisely strong class of free agents next season, the Steelers would be digging deep into the well to find a veteran presence at quarterback. It's also important to note that both Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins could hit the market next year as well. 


Potential Trade Options

With the Panthers acquiring Sam Darnold, it's inevitable that Teddy Bridgewater will be on a different roster next season. The Steelers may very well be in the mix for Bridgewater, who may come with a cheap price tag depending on what Carolina is willing to sell him for. 

Bridgewater isn't the only hot trade commodity for teams looking for a quarterback, as quarterbacks such as Jacksonville's Gardner Minshew have also seen their names thrown around in trade rumors. 

Although the situation is so thick with unknown clouds, Deshaun Watson's future in Houston may be in doubt for one reason or another. If proven clean of his current accusations, Watson's playing career may continue outside of the state of Texas, although his price tag may be too rich. For those holding out any hope for Russell Wilson in a Steelers uniform, it appears he will be in Seattle for the foreseeable future. However, that's about where the market ends for potential guys on the move.

With potential franchise quarterbacks hard to find, it's even harder to find one available for trade, let alone for a commendable price. 


Where the Steelers Currently Stand

With a top defense and little juice left to squeeze out of Ben Roethlisberger's career, the Steelers are very right to focus on winning in its current state rather than worry about the future. 

It's commendable, as every season should be approached with a "Super Bowl or bust" mentality. However, the Steelers ignoring their future needs for a franchise quarterback, especially in a draft class that features what many believe to be multiple guys who fit that description, may come back to haunt them in a post-Roethlisberger era. 

With no solidified quarterbacks expected to emerge in next year's draft class and the 2022 free agency pool withholding capable quarterbacks of leading a team to the promise land, Pittsburgh's best chance of landing their guy appears to be the 2021 NFL Draft. Barring a great surprise, however, the chances of the Steelers climbing the draft board to draft a quarterback appear slim. 

Very rarely do teams pull off what the Green Bay Packers did, transitioning from a quarterback such as Brett Favre to another league-great in Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps the Steelers aren't worried about what rests behind the 2021 season. Perhaps the Steelers already feel comfortable with somebody on the current roster. 

However the cookie crumbles, questions discussed in articles such as these will eventually be met with answers, no matter which mode of acquisition the Steelers deem necessary. The Steelers have plenty of options to choose from, although the "right way" to do things will continue to be up for debate. 

Donnie Druin is a Deputy Editor with AllSteelers. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.