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Armando Salguero: Mason Rudolph Is Steelers’ Starting QB Today, But That’ll Change

Kevin Colbert, retiring as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ general manager after the April draft, has one major assignment before he goes and that’s replacing retired quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

And because that assignment was not yet complete on Monday when Colbert met with local reporters for his annual pre-combine presser, he told them if the 2022 season began today, Mason Rudolph would be the team’s starting quarterback and thus Roethlisberger’s successor.

“If we started a season today, Mason would be our starter, and we’re excited to see where that can go,” Colbert said. “Mason’s 5-4-1 as an NFL starter, albeit in a backup kind of role, but we’re excited to see what is next for Mason.”

Yeah, forget everything you just read.

Because it’s not real.

The season doesn’t begin today. And if the Steelers go into the season with Rudolph as their unquestioned starter, Colbert either passed or whiffed on some significant opportunities in his final offseason as Pittsburgh’s GM.

That is likely not going to happen if one knows Colbert. He’s put together a couple of Super Bowl teams and countless division champion and playoff teams since 2000 when he took over as general manager, so this cannot possibly be his last act on the way out the door.

That would be a legacy killer.

So let’s just believe that what Colbert did Monday was offer a snapshot in time that won’t mean much in seven months when the season actually does begin.

Let’s hope what Colbert said about Rudolph was, well, the setup for some significant moves at quarterback for the Steelers.

“I’m comfortable that Mason has won more games than he’s lost as a starter,” Colbert said. “Where that can go, we’ll see. To be an NFL starter that you can win with, you got to prove it over 16 games. I’m anxious to see that, if that’s the case.”

Look, Mason Rudolph was a good college player at Oklahoma State and a nice try as a No. 3 draft pick in 2018.

But to point to his 5-4-1 record as a starter is a weak effort at trying to find something positive to say because it says quite little about his actual ability.

Colbert on Monday talked about how important accuracy is to him when finding a quarterback. Well, Rudolph’s accuracy is sometimes acceptable. And often not.

In three of those five games he “won,” he completed less than 60 percent of his passes. Fact is Rudolph’s completion percentage has been in the 50s in six of his 10 starts.

This says nothing of his plodding, slow drop back. And his unremarkable processing or release.

What the Steelers can be certain they have in Rudolph is a young, inexpensive backup who can be functional when needed. If Rudolph consistently becomes anything beyond that, it would be the first time he displays those skills in the NFL.

So the Steelers will be filling three other quarterback spots this offseason, according to Colbert.

One of those spots will go to former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, who spent most of 2021 as Pittsburgh’s scout-team quarterback and will be tendered as a restricted free agent.

“We’re excited to see what Dwayne can provide either from competition, or maybe he evolves as a starter,” Colbert said. “None of us knows at this point.

“We know we’re going to add to the position,” Colbert added. “I can’t tell you how, but at this point we will go to camp with four.”

And this is where things should get interesting.

The Steelers can obviously use a draft pick on a quarterback. And because this year’s class of quarterbacks is not necessarily going to be plucked off the draft board with the top 3 selections as they were last year, the Steelers might get a shot at one of them with their No. 20 overall selection.

“The draft class of quarterbacks, there’s good quality available — probably not as many as there have been in recent years, but it is what it is,” Colbert said.

This is what it is: If the Steelers want to compete immediately with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, they need a veteran quarterback who can give them a chance against Joe Burrow or Lamar Jackson.

Luckily for the Steelers, there are going to be veteran quarterbacks available.

Jameis Winston is probably at the head of the free agent quarterback class, if that’s the direction the Steelers want to go.

Yes, he’s rehabilitating from ACL surgery three months ago, but he’s seemingly coming alone just fine.

And, yes, it is tempting to dismiss Winston as unable to give the Steelers a chance against Cincy and Baltimore based on his history in Tampa Bay.

But the New Orleans Saints were 5-2 and Winston had 14 TDs and 3 interceptions as their starter when he was injured last season. So he was on course to deliver 34 TD passes and 7 interceptions for the season under coach Sean Payton.

There will be other experienced quarterbacks in free agency as well. In no particular order:

Teddy Bridgewater.

Mitch Trubisky.

Marcus Mariotta.

Andy Dalton.

Those are the best of the free agents.

The Steelers could also participate, if they’re of that mind, in the Deshaun Watson trade derby — although that doesn’t seem like a typical Steelers move.

“We are going to look at every possible avenue,” Colbert said, “as we do for every other position.”

That’s good. Because Mason Rudolph is a good starting quarterback to have.

But only in late February.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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