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The pros and cons of the Steelers re-signing Mason Rudolph

The Steelers seem intent on making a move at the quarterback position this off-season. That move may be to provide veteran backup depth behind Kenny Pickett, to bring in a legitimate challenger to Pickett for the starting job, or to re-sign Mason Rudolph and allow him to compete with Pickett. I’ve covered the first two scenarios in the articles I’ve linked to below. Today, we look at the pros and cons of the third possibility: re-signing Rudolph.

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Rudolph re-ignited his career with an unexpected stretch of solid play after taking over for the ineffective Mitchell Trubisky late in the season. He led the Steelers to wins in their final three games to get them into the playoffs. Rudolph completed 74% of his passes in that span, averaging almost 10 yards per attempt and failing to turn the football over even once. He wasn’t stellar in the playoff game at Buffalo, but he wasn’t the reason Pittsburgh lost, either. Rudolph’s play was good enough to prompt Mike Tomlin to keep Pickett on the bench for the season finale and the playoff game despite Pickett being cleared to return from the leg injury he suffered in Week 14. Many in Pittsburgh have suggested Rudolph played well enough to earn him the right to compete with Pickett for the starting job next season. If the Steelers choose to re-sign Rudolph, that competition seems likely.

There are several factors that suggest re-signing Rudolph is a wise move. He won the support of much of the locker room with not just his play this past season but with how he handled his business after being demoted to third-string quarterback when the Steelers drafted Pickett and signed Trubisky in free agency in 2022. Rudolph didn’t play a snap that season, then came back to Pittsburgh on a one-year free agent deal and was again persona non grata in the quarterback room for most of the year. Rudolph spent his time running the scout team offense in practices, studying film and mentally preparing himself in the event he got another shot to play. That quiet determination impressed his teammates and had them pulling for him when he supplanted Trubisky.

Having a quarterback the team believes in is a big deal. There were times this past season where that sentiment escaped Pickett. The wide receivers were unhappy with their lack of production, and Najee Harris made some not-so-veiled comments about the quarterback play hamstringing the offense. Rudolph flipped that narrative. Pittsburgh averaged 16 points per game with Pickett and Trubisky at quarterback and 24.5 points per game under Rudolph. Their yards per game went from 287 to 370. The offense felt vibrant, as opposed to stuck in the mud. Rudolph stayed in the pocket better than Pickett and Trubisky. He went through his progressions better. He threw a better deep ball. Everything was better, and the vibe in the locker room followed suit.

The fact Rudolph is just 29 years old makes him a good candidate to re-sign. He’s old enough to have learned some valuable lessons but not so old his best football days are behind him. If Rudolph were given the opportunity to compete with Pickett for the starting job, and he legitimately won that competition, it’s conceivable he could be Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, as opposed to a one-year stop-gap. Re-signing him shouldn’t break the bank, either. Rudolph could conceivably get an opportunity to start somewhere else. Washington, New England and Atlanta are all teams with new head coaches and unsettled quarterback situations. None seem intent on making Rudolph a sweetheart deal to be their long-term starter, though. In that case, why wouldn’t Rudolph return to Pittsburgh, where he knows the franchise and has earned the trust of the team, and take his chances on winning the job there?

In the end, the Steelers and Rudolph have a mutual interest in continuing their relationship. Pittsburgh needs veteran competition for Pickett, which Rudolph can provide; and Rudolph needs an opportunity to earn a starting job, which he should get by re-signing with the Steelers. From that perspective, a reunion makes sense.


All of the success Rudolph had this past season came over a four-game stretch. One of those was against Baltimore’s JV team in the season finale and two others came against terrible pass defenses in Cincinnati and Seattle. The best defense Rudolph faced was in the playoff game at Buffalo, which was Rudolph’s worst outing. Can the Steelers be sure Rudolph is a better quarterback than the player who scuffled through a handful of starts in 2019 and 2020? Or is he just a career backup who caught lightning in a bottle for a few weeks against below average defenses?

There are also questions about how well Rudolph fits new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s scheme. Smith’s system utilizes extensive pocket movement, play-action passes, read-options and occasional designed quarterback runs. Rudolph lacks effective mobility, and it’s possible Smith would have to compromise some of the things he likes best to account for this. Ryan Tannehill, who ran Smith’s scheme to great success in Tennessee in 2019 and 2020, will never be confused with Lamar Jackson from an athletic standpoint but is far more mobile than Rudolph. Pickett is a closer comp to Tannehill than Rudolph, so bringing back Rudolph in this system could equate to forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Then there’s this: since their season ended in Buffalo five weeks ago, Mike Tomlin has repeatedly said Pickett will enter camp next year as the team’s starter, but with meaningful competition. It’s hard to know what that means. Does Tomlin want a veteran to push Pickett in order to bring out his best but ultimately serve as a capable backup in the Charlie Batch mold? Does he want a legitimate challenger from outside the organization, as in a Justin Fields? Or would he be content allowing Rudolph and Pickett to battle it out? The problem with that latter scenario is that Rudolph won over the fan base this past season. Why is that a problem? Because if Pickett legitimately earns the job, fans will be quick to pounce at the first sign of Pickett struggling. A nightmare scenario for the Steelers is this: it’s opening day in Pittsburgh, Pickett is the starter because he legitimately outplayed Rudolph over the summer, but he’s off to a bad start. The Steelers are trailing 10-3 in the second quarter, Pickett short-hops a throw to Diontae Johnson and 60,000 fans break into a “Mason Rudolph!” chant. How would Pickett react? How would the team react? The last thing the Steelers need is to start next season with another quarterback controversy.

It’s easy to say Pickett can avoid that scenario by playing lights-out football. If he’s good enough, there won’t be controversy. Reality, though, says Pickett will struggle at some point, and that with Rudolph in the wings the fan base will not be patient. This is not the primary consideration on which the Steelers will base their quarterback decision. But if they’re in on Pickett, they have to do the best they can to support him. Having Rudolph lurking over his shoulder might not be in their best interest in that regard.


This one’s tricky. For me, it comes down to two things: scheme fit and money.

I believe Rudolph is a better pocket-passer than Pickett, and if the Steelers were running a Bill O’Brien offense I’d be all-in on re-signing him. But they’re not. Smith’s offense requires movement, and I don’t see Rudolph as a great fit.

As for the money, if Rudolph gets a considerable offer somewhere else, and the Steelers can save money by bringing in a competent backup (like Tannehill) for less, they should do it. Because of the scheme issue, I’m not sold on Rudolph as Pittsburgh’s long-term starter, which means I believe they have to commit to Pickett. In that case, the Charlie Batch-style backup makes more sense than a challenger like Rudolph.

In the end, given the three options we’ve examined in this series of articles, I think the Steelers would be wisest to pursue a veteran backup from outside the organization who fits Smith’s scheme and who can help Pickett develop. Pickett gets one more year to prove he can be the guy in Pittsburgh. In that scenario, the Steelers should supplement his chance to succeed, not challenge it.


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