The recent accomplishments of Mason Rudolph have sparked debates among fans and media about Kenny Pickett's future as the starting QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Some advocate for his removal or replacement by the end of the year. While I agree that bringing in a veteran for competition next year is a valid consideration, the current scenario is more intricate than some may perceive. Allow me to draw a comparison using an analogy that many can relate to in this hypothetical scenario.
You join a company with inadequate leadership, poor management, and a lack of a clear plan for a proper training process.
Lacking the necessary training, you're unexpectedly assigned a challenging task early on. Despite initial difficulties, you eventually find your rhythm and achieve success.
After completing your first year at the company, which had its share of challenges, you're now moving into your second year. As expected, you are asked to handle more responsibilities, all while keeping in mind that your ineffective manager is still in place. Despite these circumstances, you consistently meet quotas, overcome obstacles, and successfully achieve your goals even on short notice.
You and your team go through a tough week with exceptionally poor numbers, and as a consequence, someone has to take responsibility. This results in your manager being fired. Subsequently, new temporary leadership steps in, and you find that you work more effectively under this new management. However, in this hypothetical scenario, you experience an injury, requiring some time off from work.
In your absence, your original team struggles for a couple of weeks. They initially try to replace your production by promoting someone within the same department, but due to poor performance, they demote that person back to their original position. Following this, they bring in another longer-tenured employee from the same department, promote them to take your place during your absence, and the overall team performance improves.
With your improved health and successful return to work, alongside the overall positive performance of the team, should they instruct the individual brought in during your absence to revert to their previous role, thereby demoting them and removing them from your initial team, despite the solid performance of the entire department?
As your second year wraps up, the person brought in to cover for you during your absence is exploring other job opportunities. There are rumors circulating about the company potentially hiring someone else for your position. However, before taking medical leave, your performance remained consistently dependable.
REMINDER: You faced challenges with inadequate training and a problematic manager initially. After the manager was replaced, your performance improved. Unfortunately, due to medical reasons, you had to take a leave, and during that time, the team managed to excel. While you consistently met your quotas and goals without going above and beyond, executives are now deciding whether to keep you for your third year.
Since Day 1, you've faced challenges with the training process and leadership, but you've still found success in this company. Is it fair for them to let you go over circumstances that aren't directly your fault? Or wouldn't it be more reasonable to see how you could perform with a new leadership team and a revamped training program, giving you a chance to grow in the right direction?
Certainly, the NFL can't be directly equated to a typical 9-5 job, but it serves as a more relatable analogy for many to grasp. In the broader perspective, the NFL operates as a business. Like most companies, certain teams adhere to specific processes. In the case of the Steelers, it seems unjust to invest in a first-round QB like Pickett and then abandon him when certain factors beyond his control came into play.
How this compares to Kenny Pickett's situation
Looking at Kenny Pickett's situation, he joined a team right after their Hall of Fame QB, Ben Roethlisberger, retired following nearly two decades with the organization. With Roethlisberger's lengthy tenure, there wasn't a well-established process for developing young QBs in place. In the NFL, where fans often expect immediate success, especially from rookie QBs, it's important to recognize that those in situations with a clear developmental process tend to fare better than those in organizations that struggle to build around a rookie and set them up for success.
Several names, including Tua Tagovailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Jalen Hurts, Baker Mayfield, Daniel Jones, and even more recently, Bryce Young, faced challenges without a proper staff or developmental plan. It was only after changes in the head coach or offensive coordinator positions that you witnessed these players take significant strides forward.
The situation is similar for Kenny Pickett, who entered training camp as a rookie without a plan to start. He had no reps as a starter with the first team and lacked the opportunity to have a system tailored to play to his strengths. With all that against him already, he was unexpectedly thrust into the halftime of a game with almost no prior first-team experience and was expected to lead the team to victory. Adding to that challenge, he faced the daunting task of making his first career starts against some of the NFL's best teams.
Despite the tough times, he showed growth by making small improvements throughout the rest of the year. When it counted the most, he consistently won games, giving his team a real chance to almost secure a playoff berth.
Then, in his second year with more responsibilities to bear, Kenny Pickett had to face the season with the same incompetent offensive coordinator, expecting him to transform water into wine in his sophomore campaign. Despite early struggles and less-than-impressive stats, Pickett demonstrated resilience by securing victories. The turning point came in Week 11 against the Browns when both he and the offense delivered a subpar performance, leading to the ultimate decision to part ways with Matt Canada as the offensive coordinator.
In his first two starts without Matt Canada, we observed clear improvement from Pickett, but the rest of the offensive unit didn't show immediate growth alongside him. However, just as we finally saw a glimpse of progress, Kenny Pickett got injured, requiring ankle surgery and sidelining him for a month.
The team faced increased struggles in Pickett's absence, prompting another quarterback change. Remarkably, the entire offense hit its stride and displayed its best football. This period of improved performance coincided conveniently with Pickett's return to health. Mike Tomlin's decision to stick with the hot hand at quarterback, especially as the postseason draws near and winning games becomes even more important which was undoubtedly the right move.
However, those who advocate for getting rid of Kenny Pickett altogether without giving him another chance in Year 3, hopefully with a new offensive staff, seem shortsighted to me. Yes, Pickett needs to improve and reach a level that justifies being a first-round pick and a franchise QB for the next decade. However, he deserves at least one more year with the right pieces around him to prove that he can be that player. The NFL is renowned as the toughest league in sports, and players develop at varying rates. Why not allow Pickett to develop in the same way as the others mentioned before?