PITTSBURGH — The Steelers would like nothing more than to maintain the stability of their quarterback room and continue what they think is a solid backup plan by bringing back Mitch Trubisky for the 2023 season.
On the surface, that would appear to be a foregone conclusion because Trubisky is under contract for next season. But several decisions still have to be made before that becomes a certainty, both by the Steelers and Trubisky.
The Steelers have to decide if they want to pay a backup quarterback $8 million in salary (not counting incentives) and have him count $10.625 million against the salary cap in 2023. That would make Trubisky, 28, among the highest-paid backups in the league, if not the highest.
And Trubisky has to decide if he wants to forget the disappointment and discontent of what happened in 2022 and accept what would be the highest single-season payday of his seven-year career.
It might not be as simple as it sounds.
The Steelers cannot simply restructure Trubisky's contract to lessen his cap hit because he is in the final year of his two-year deal. They would have to sign him to a new contract and add voidable years if they wanted to convert his salary into a signing bonus. They could also ask him to take a pay cut. But all that would require Trubisky agreeing to such a deal, and the chances of that are probably not very good.
What's more, it would create an untenable situation at the position because Mason Rudolph, who is an unrestricted free agent, has no intention of re-signing with the Steelers after being demoted last season.
Despite unexpectedly losing his starting job just 3 1/2 weeks into the season — and not being very happy about it — Trubisky put that aside and played remarkably well on three occasions when he had to step in and replace Pickett. In those three games, he completed 48 of 64 attempts (75%) for 599 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. His passer rating in those games was 94.46.
His performance in Carolina, when he started for an injured Pickett (concussion), was arguably the best quarterback play the Steelers received all season. Trubisky completed 17 of 22 passes for 179 yards with no interceptions and helped convert a season-high 12 of 16 third-down conversions. He orchestrated a 21-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that took 11 minutes, 43 seconds that was the longest in the league for number of plays and time consumed.
His only blemish was in a Dec. 11 home game against the Baltimore Ravens when he threw three interceptions in a 16-14 loss, despite passing for 276 yards and moving the Steelers into scoring territory on six occasions.
But it wasn't just the way Trubisky performed in relief that excited the coaching staff. They liked the way he worked with Pickett and often helped him during games with opposing defenses, despite everything that happened.
The Steelers have always believed in investing in their backup quarterbacks, and this past year was no exception.
Trubisky and Rudolph were two of the top seven paid backups in the league, combining to earn $12.2 million in average salary and count $7.6 million against the 2022 salary cap — more than any other backup duo.
Trubisky's average salary of $7,142,500 was the second-highest in the league, just slightly behind Carolina's Sam Darnold ($7,561,929), though he was brought in to be the starter until he was replaced by Pickett at halftime of Week 4 against the New York Jets.
What the Steelers are scheduled to pay Trubisky this season might not be too costly because of the money they will save with Rudolph, who earned $3 million in salary and counted $4.04 million against the cap last season. That is a large amount for a third-team quarterback who was inactive for 16 of the team's 17 games.
Any quarterback they bring in or draft to be No. 3 would not earn nearly as much, at most half that.
So what happens?
If the situation with Trubisky changes, the Steelers would have to find a capable backup with starting experience for Pickett. And a possibility is former Cleveland Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett, whom the Steelers considered last year before signing Trubisky.
Brissett is familiar with the Steelers system because he played at North Carolina State (2013-2015) when Matt Canada was the offensive coordinator there. Also, Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulker and receivers coach Frisman Jackson were members of that staff. Brissett, who signed a one-year, $4.65 million deal with the Browns last season, started 11 games while Deshaun Watson served a suspension.
The easiest solution is to make sure they bring back Trubisky, even if some of the variables involved don't always make it so easy.