For the first time in nearly two decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers head into the offseason knowing for sure that they need a new franchise quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger has acknowledged that this is his last ride, and whether it ends tonight against the Chiefs or over the next few weeks, the burden is clear.
Outgoing general manager Kevin Colbert, who is expected to retire following April's draft, and the rest of the personnel staff have options. And according to those with knowledge of the situation, here is how it will likely break down:
The Steelers' draft order will depend on the playoff results, but a loss today puts them between No. 19 and 24. In Colbert's celebrated time as GM, he has traded away a first-round pick for a player -- Minkah Fitzpatrick -- only one time and that entire package ended up being worth slightly less than a true No. 1. He has traded up in the first round just three times since 2000.
With so much of the offseason league-wide focus on big-time trades for veteran QBs, it would be un-Steelers-like to see Colbert package several first-rounders to attempt to trade for Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, as one source explained.
The organization has thrived by drafting and developing, and selling the future for a veteran QB is not likely in the playbook. While acknowledging that anything is possible, those who know Colbert well describe it as highly unlikely.
More likely is this:
The Steelers have QB Mason Rudolph under contract for another year, thanks to an extension that gave him nearly $5 million in new money. Dwayne Haskins, the former first-rounder who signed for the minimum in Pittsburgh before the season, will be a restricted free agent.
Both QBs are expected to be able to compete for a starting job in 2022, with Rudolph spending his entire career biding his time and waiting and Haskins emerging as someone who has caught the eye of coach Mike Tomlin.
The team is also likely to add a quarterback in the draft, and though it's not a talent-rich year at the position, there will be options. The University of Pittsburgh's Kenny Pickett, who opted out of the Peach Bowl to prepare for the draft, is one to watch.
Of course, the Steelers will do a thorough evaluation of the position, but they share a facility with Pitt and have had an easy time doing homework on the 6-foot-3, 220-pound all-time leading passer in Pitt history. Given where they draft and where Pickett may end up, the interest is there.
Barring something unforeseen, that appears to be the option that makes the most sense: bringing back Haskins and Rudolph, drafting a QB high and letting them all compete. All of this will be a big topic of discussion, but only after the playoff run ends.