PALM BEACH — When Mike Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh in 2007, he had a Super Bowl quarterback on the roster and it wasn’t long before the new coach and Ben Roethlisberger helped the Steelers win it all again in February of 2009.
And during his 14 years as the Steelers’ head coach, Tomlin has enjoyed the benefit of having one of the NFL’s better quarterbacks and usually the best one in his division.
But it’s different now.
Roethlisberger has retired. And the Steelers have question marks at quarterback.
“I’m probably energized in a real positive way,” Tomlin told reporters Monday morning when asked about his different situation. “I like the anxiety associated with professional uncertainty. And we got to acknowledge that we’re in a different space, and hopefully that brings the best out in all of us. I know that’s what I anticipate happening.”
The Steelers will need the best out of their coaching staff.
And personnel department.
And the rest of the roster.
Because they currently have the weakest quarterback situation in the AFC North.
Mitchell Trubisky was signed to be a presumptive starter for the Steelers in 2022. But Trubisky comes after failing in Chicago and a year of relative little activity with Buffalo. So he also comes with no blaring pomp or circumstance.
He mostly comes, to hear Tomlin speak, as a young, mobile player who offered the added convenience of not costing the team any draft choice compensation because he was an unrestricted free agent.
“We really were attracted to his upside,” Tomlin said. “He’s young and experienced. He’s won, to be quite honest with you, he’s probably won more than anybody else that was kind of in the field.
“He didn’t cost us any draft capital. It allowed us to maintain all our picks, and you guys know how we feel about building our team through the draft. And so there were a lot of things about him that were attractive to us.”
The Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos this offseason went out and traded for starting quarterbacks. The price was steep, including multiple first-round picks.
But the return was an elite quarterback.
The Steelers decided giving up no picks in return for a player who is more enigma than elite was the best fit for them.
And make no mistake, the Trubisky acquisition offers no certainty. Maybe he wins the starting job, but that’s not guaranteed. The Steelers are so unsure they might continue to add talent at the position during the draft.
“I’m comfortable with the talent we have at the position now, and that’s not saying that I’m not open to adding to it as we move forward,” Tomlin said.
Last week, Tomlin was part of the Pittsburgh contingent that visited the Pro Days of Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Rider, and Mississippi’s Matt Corral. He missed Monday’s Pro Day by Sam Howell at North Carolina because he was at The Breakers Hotel for the NFL annual meetings.
And through his travels and studying of the quarterbacks coming out in the draft, Tomlin has heard this group doesn’t have as much talent as groups in other years.
“I don’t have the awareness of that outside perspective,” Tomlin said. “I know last week, I enjoyed meeting those four guys. All more than capable. I’ve been impressed by the depth and the talent of that group.”
So this is about to get interesting in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have a business model. They typically draft their talent rather than trade for it. And they protected their picks in that business model when searching for a veteran quarterback.
The question remains whether that model will pay dividends when Pittsburgh faces Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow twice every season when they have, well, maybe Trubisky.
Or maybe someone else who definitely isn’t the best quarterback in the division.
“I love the challenge, to be quite honest with you,” Tomlin said. “It’s what makes our game great. There’s a lot of talented players, there’s a lot of talented coaches I’m excited about — the AFC field in particular this fall.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero