Wednesday brought news that Ben Roethlisberger will indeed return as the Steelers’ starting quarterback next season. With the 38-year-old’s dwindling skill set in sharp decline, 2021 will assuredly be Big Ben’s Pittsburgh swan song. With an eye toward the future, the Steelers could begin the search for Roethlisberger’s successor this offseason, either in the draft or free agency.
While the core four of Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance figure to be long gone by the time Pittsburgh steps to the podium at 24th overall, Mac Jones, who finished third in this year’s Heisman voting, and Florida standout Kyle Trask could be available at that juncture. Regardless, Charlie Batch, a two-time Super Bowl champion during his 11-year stint in Pittsburgh, doesn’t see the Steelers taking the plunge on a first-round quarterback. Tempting as the incoming class of signal-callers may be, Batch considers a shakeup unlikely, mostly due to the Steelers’ continuing faith in Mason Rudolph.
“They really like Mason Rudolph on this Steelers roster,” Batch told Zach Gelb of CBS Sports Radio. “They drafted him in the third round, but they actually had a first-round grade on him.”
Arguably best known for having Myles Garrett try to decapitate him with his own helmet, Rudolph has won five of his nine career NFL starts, though he’s rarely made it look easy, at one point losing his starting gig to undrafted FCS product Devlin “Duck” Hodges in 2019. The 25-year-old Oklahoma State alum, who, like Roethlisberger, is heading into the final year of his contract, delivered a career-high 315 passing yards in his lone starting assignment last season, a 24-22 loss at Cleveland in Week 17.
Though not an impressive athlete (he runs only a 4.90 forty), Rudolph boasts prototypical quarterback size (6’5”/235) and has a reasonable enough grasp of the Steelers’ playbook, among other positive traits. While others may have their doubts, Batch’s confidence in Rudolph hasn’t wavered, attributing his early-career blunders to a string of tough-luck injuries.
“He played well,” insists Batch, remembering Rudolph’s starting tenure through rose-colored lenses. “It was just the fact that he got injured.”
Quarterback issues aside, the Steelers can’t be pleased with how they finished last season, dropping five of their final six games after starting the year 11-0. Salary cap constraints could make it challenging for the Steelers to hold onto top free agents Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster, further complicating their path to 2021 relevance.
“When you look at just the top two teams in this division, you’re going to have to start with Baltimore and then you’re going to look at Cleveland because they beat the Steelers last year,” said Batch, outlining the uphill battle Pittsburgh faces to retain its division crown. “Right now, they are the third team in the AFC North.”