Mentioned on a few occasions as having a clear path back to Pittsburgh, Mason Rudolph is taking steps toward that conclusion. While he may not be the favorite to be the Steelers’ 2024 starter, the team has the six-year veteran in its plans once again.
The Steelers have begun talks with their veteran backup-turned-playoff starter, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic reports (subscription required). Rudolph began last season as the team’s third-stringer, playing on a one-year deal worth $1.1MM. It will almost definitely take more than that for the Steelers to bring Rudolph back. If completed, this would be a fourth Rudolph Steelers contract.
While Kaboly categorizes these as preliminary talks, Mike Tomlin indicated early this offseason the team would attempt to re-sign the former Ben Roethlisberger backup. A recent report also pegged some in the building as being OK vaulting Rudolph past Kenny Pickett on the depth chart. Tomlin has said Pickett will enter the offseason program as the starter, but his grip on the job is now tenuous. The Steelers, who have also been connected to Justin Fields, want someone to at least compete with the 2022 first-round pick.
“I can’t tell when the deal would get done, hopefully with us,” Steelers GM Omar Khan said. “It’s just a process, and I understand it, but we’d like to have [Rudolph] back. … I believe he wants to come back and compete, and he likes it here.”
Inserted into the lineup after Mitch Trubisky‘s struggles replacing Pickett, Rudolph made four starts for the Steelers to close last season. The team went 3-1 in those games, returning to the playoffs and ensuring Tomlin’s .500-or-better streak would reach a 17th season. Rudolph moved the offense effectively when summoned, with the Steelers toppling the Bengals and Seahawks en route to their second postseason berth in three years. Despite Pickett being ready to return, he backed up Rudolph to close out the season. Rudolph, 28, had never previously held QB1 reins without an injury or COVID-19 contraction intervening.
A Rudolph return would be interesting for the Steelers, and the team’s plans with Fields or another veteran would stand to affect his interest in coming back. A Rudolph-Pickett competition would not exactly be the most inspiring of paths for the Steelers, who have not enjoyed steady quarterback play in several years.
Rudolph could conceivably balk at a return if the team acquires a higher-profile veteran, creating an unusual three-way competition for the job. It is unclear if a Rudolph re-signing would stop the Steelers from chasing another starter-caliber veteran, but it would certainly complicate matters. Regarding the Fields tie, the Steelers are not believed to be a true threat here. It appears they are aiming lower.
Rudolph might have other options, but a number of backup- or bridge-level arms are set to be available soon. Ryan Tannehill, the subject of a previous Steelers rumor due to Arthur Smith‘s arrival, joins a deep group that includes Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew, Sam Darnold, Marcus Mariota, Tyrod Taylor, Drew Lock and Joe Flacco. Injuries across the NFL last year may prompt some teams to spend more to fill their QB2 post, but at some point, this group could cannibalize each other on the market.