Who will be the Steelers starting quarterback in 2021? Conventional wisdom says Ben Roethlisberger is the obvious answer here. It may not be as simple as that however. Declining skills, and increasing salary might make Big Ben a cap casualty after the season. Let’s take an early look at the odds of who will be behind center in 2021 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ben Roehtlisberger – 55%
Ben is under contract next season with a whopping $41 million cap hit. With the salary cap issues this team has going into next season, it is impossible to think Kevin Colbert can go forward with this contract as it is right now. Steelers 2021 salary cap is a disaster
With that in mind, Colbert two options going forward. He can either once again extend his franchise quarterback, or choose to move on from it altogether. Cutting or trading Ben Roethlisberger would save the team over $22 million under the cap. That has to be at least a consideration given Big Ben’s age, and deterioration skills. Extending the contract would save money in the short term, but would leave the Steelers in the exact same situation a few years from now. There is also the very real possibility that Roethlisberger could elect to retire after the season. Given all this, we can give the chance of Big Ben being the Steelers starting quarterback in 2021 no better than slightly above 50/50.
Mac Jones – 15%
Mac Jones is currently the starting quarterback for the University of Alabama. Steelers fans can get a good look at him in the upcoming National Title game next Monday. Here’s a full look at his stats and measurables. https://www.espn.com/college-football/player/_/id/4241464/mac-jones
Even with his impressive season, Jones is generally thought of in a tier below the top quarterbacks in this draft. That should however put him in the Steelers range of the first round. If Kevin Colbert were to decide to get his next quarterback via the draft, Mac Jones would be the candidate that makes the most sense.
Jamies Winston – 10%
The free agent crop for quarterbacks heading into next year is not very impressive. Add to that the fact Pittsburgh won’t have much to spend, and the options become very limited. One name that might intrigue Kevin Colbert is Saints backup Jameis Winston. The last time Winston was a starter he was breaking records for the good and the bad. In 2019, Winston did the nearly impossible by throwing 30 touchdowns AND thirty interceptions.
There is some hope that a year under the tutelage of Saints head coach Sean Payton did some good for the erratic quarterback. In any event, Winston is the best of a bad crop of free agent QBs. If the Steelers go the free agency route, Jamies Winston is the best choice like it or not.
Sam Darnold – 5%
The New York Jets own the second pick in the 2021 NFL draft. Odds are they will be once again drafting a quarterback with that selection. If that is the case, current quarterback Sam Darnold should be available this off-season.
The price for acquiring Darnold should be reasonable given his struggles as a starter for the Jets. Pittsburgh could probably make this happen for no more than a second round pick, and preferably a third rounder. There is enough upside here to make this worth the compensation. The Steelers may even find themselves with quite a steal if they pull the trigger on this deal.
Projecting trades is a shaky proposition at best. Given the fact there should be other teams interested in Darnold, we can’t give this a better than 5% chance of Sam Darnold being the Steelers quarterback next season.
Trey Lance – 5%
This is a tricky one. Trey Lance became a phenom in 2019 leading North Dakota St. to an undefeated season, and a National Championship. He set a NCAA record by not throwing an interception with 287 pass attempts that year. Unfortunately Lance only played in one game in 2020 due to Covid causing his conference to suspend play.
Most preseason mock drafts had Lance as a top five pick. That was on the assumption he’d follow up his tremendous 2019 campaign with another big season. No one is really sure where he will fall now, although most believe Lance will be no less than the fourth quarterback taken. If the Steelers want this player, they will have to trade up to get him. We know Kevin Colbert is capable of doing this kind of move, however how far up is still the question. This is another 5% or less scenario.
Kyle Trask – 3%
Kyle Trask is the starting quarterback for the Florida Gators football program. He is generally considered at the bottom of the second tier of quarterbacks in 2021. This is a scenario where the Steelers would only draft this player knowing they had Ben Roethlisberger for at least one more season.
Mason Rudolph – 1%
If Mason Rudolph is the Steelers starting quarterback in 2021 something has gone horribly wrong. While he did show some encouraging flashes against the Browns last Sunday, most of his drawbacks were also on display. Rudolph does not process the game anywhere near fast enough to be a starter in this league. When he has a clean pocket and his first read is open, he looks fantastic. Otherwise he looks completely lost out there. Mason Rudolph is a decent backup at best, and should never be considered a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers.