The 39-year-old quarterback finished his 18th NFL season with the Steelers, won two of the three Super Bowls he started, is an eight-time division champion, ranks fifth all-time in career wins, is a six-time Pro Bowler and a two-time passing leader.
Roethlisberger has made every indication the 2021 season was his last, in which he agreed to a discounted deal with the Steelers at $14 million instead of the $19 million the Steelers were going to pay him.
Until this offseason, having Roethlisberger has afforded the Steelers a luxury they haven’t had to think about for nearly two decades: Who is going to start at quarterback next season?
— Paul Fielden (@FieldenPaul) January 17, 2022
Mason Rudolph, 26, has not done enough so far in his four-year career to show he can be an effective NFL starting quarterback.
When Rudolph competes for the Steelers’ starting position next season, he said he would abide by the motion-style concepts in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme.
“Not being an 18-year, established quarterback, I am not going to have the luxury of saying that these are some of the concepts I like… You don’t have that much pull as a young quarterback, and I get that,” Rudolph said. “I am going to fully surrender to what Matt wants to do.”
Rudolph’s comments to media members on Jan. 19 shed some light on why the Steelers’ offense struggled in 2021.
It also appears the Steelers will retain Canada in 2022 for his second season as the team’s offensive coordinator.
The decision comes despite Pittsburgh’s poor offensive performance during the past two seasons, which prompted the Steelers not to renew former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s contract after the 2020 season.
The Steelers internally promoted Canada, who served as the team’s quarterbacks coach in 2020.
Steelers offensive stats in 2020
- 26 points per game (12th in the NFL)
- 334.6 yards per game (25th in the NFL)
- 250.2 passing yards per game (15th in the NFL)
- 84.4 rushing yards per game (32nd in the NFL)
Steelers offensive stats in 2021
- 20.2 points per game (21st in the NFL)
- 315.4 yards per game (23rd in the NFL)
- 222.2 passing yards per game (15th in the NFL)
- 93.1 rushing yards per game (29th in the NFL)
Rudolph led the Steelers to a 16-16 tie on Nov. 14, 2021, against the winless Detroit Lions.
Filling in for Roethlisberger, who had tested positive for COVID-19, Rudolph completed 30 of 50 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Why the Steelers had Rudolph throw the ball 50 times is questionable, but the tie nearly cost the Steelers a playoff appearance.
The Steelers snuck into the postseason after an overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 18, but they needed help too:
- The Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Indianapolis Colts as 15-point underdogs.
- Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson made a 47-yard buzzer-beating field goal in overtime to beat the Los Angeles Chargers and avoid a tie.
In the 2019 season when Roethlisberger played only two games due to a season-ending elbow injury, Rudolph was inconsistent.
Rudolph suffered a concussion in Week 5 of the 2019 season due to a hit from Ravens safety Earl Thomas.
After missing Week 6, Rudolph made five consecutive starts, but got benched in Week 12 in favor of Devlin “Duck” Hodges.
Hodges is something of a folklore, a fan favorite in Pittsburgh.
“The Duck” helped the Steelers achieve an 8-8 record despite not being drafted, and starting out as the team’s fourth-string quarterback at the start of the season.
Remember, the Steelers traded Josh Dobbs to the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Hodges was a nice story, but he did not even start for his CFL team in the 2021 season.
In the 2019 season, Rudolph completed 176 of 283 passes for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
While the Steelers went 5-3 in the games Rudolph started in the 2019 season, he is most remembered for his role in the Nov. 14, 2019, brawl with Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.
Garrett hit Rudolph in the head with Rudolph’s own helmet.
Three players were ejected and later suspended for the fight, and Garrett got suspended for the remainder of the 2019 season.
Garrett claimed Rudolph used a racial slur before the brawl ensued.
However, no players mentioned the alleged slur to media members immediately after the Browns-Steelers Thursday Night Football game.
Plus, Garrett waited nearly a week to publicly make the accusation against Rudolph.
Shortly after Garrett’s allegation, an NFL investigation found no evidence to support Garrett’s claim and the league upheld his suspension.
Myles Garrett ripped Mason Rudolph's helmet off and swung his own helmet at him. That's awful.pic.twitter.com/ZhrzxQTACB
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) November 15, 2019
Rudolph is the only quarterback on the Steelers’ roster under contract for the 2022 season at $3 million.
However, the Steelers can retain the rights to Dwayne Haskins for the $2.54 million original draft round restricted free agent tender instead of the $5.56 million first-round restricted free agent tender even though he was a first-round pick.
The Pittsburgh Steelers can retain the rights to Dwayne Haskins for the $2.54M original draft round RFA tender instead of the $5.562M 1st round RFA tender although he was a 1st round pick. That's how it worked with Dion Jordan when he was a RFA in 2018.
— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) January 20, 2022
While head coach Mike Tomlin has indicated Rudolph and Haskins are expected to fight for the starting quarterback position in 2022, the Steelers would look to free agency, make a trade or draft a rookie quarterback.
The Steelers currently hold the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
After the blowout playoff loss to the Chiefs, veteran Steelers players have acknowledged the front office would likely bring in an outside quarterback to succeed Roethlisberger.
Steelers WR Diontae Johnson, talking just now about who might succeed Ben next season, twice said "whoever they bring in."
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 17, 2022
Sometimes, perception is reality.
Surely, Steelers fans won’t forget Rudolph as the quarterback to tie the winless Lions in 2021 or the fact that he got benched in favor of an undrafted rookie two seasons ago.
To this point in his NFL career, Rudolph’s most significant on-field feat is the brawl with Garrett.
Perhaps Rudolph can show drastic improvement in 2022, but the Steelers would be wise to acquire a quarterback outside the organization either this offseason or next, especially if they want to continue Tomlin’s 15-year streak of non-losing seasons and compete for Lombardi trophies.
Which QB will start Week 1 for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Mason Rudolph +275
Derek Carr +700
Jimmy Garoppolo +750
Jameis Winston +900
Kenny Pickett +900
Dwayne Haskins +1000
Kirk Cousins +1100
Ryan Fitzpatrick +1100
Russell Wilson +1200
Matt Corral +1200
Marcus Mariota +1300 pic.twitter.com/k1fSRafYID
— BetOnline.ag (@betonline_ag) January 19, 2022