Arthur Smith's hiring fuels the Steelers' contentment at quarterback

The Steelers hiring Arthur Smith shows the team won't be aggressive at upgrading the quarterback position in 2024. However, it may give a glimpse of the position they will upgrade.

Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers / Rob Carr/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator hire was never going to be made with the intention of making the fanbase happy. It was made to ensure that the culture, attitude, and scheme head coach Mike Tomlin wants the offense to embody would have the best chance of being executed properly.

Love it or hate it, that's what Arthur Smith is now in Pittsburgh to do - make the Steelers offense pound the rock and use play action to get to the deep and intermediate portions of the field. While many fans want to see the Steelers' offense evolve into something more modern, this is the type of offense you can not only expect from a defensive-minded head coach but also from the Steelers organization for as long as time will allow.

That doesn't have to be a bad thing, but it does come with its consequences. For example, the hiring of Smith should make it very clear the Steelers are not set on bringing in a huge free agent name to take the job from Kenny Pickett.

If you were counting on the Steelers signing Kirk Cousins or trading for Justin Fields, the news of Smith's hire instantly jolted those prayers.

Smith carries a bit of goodwill in putting his quarterbacks in favorable positions as long as they don't make dumb decisions. Ryan Tannehill revived his career by being safe with the football in Smith's offense down in Tennessee. Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder were incapable of protecting the football to keep the Falcons (or Titans and Falcons in Mariota's case) in contention of being a successful offense.

Ridder turned the ball over 21 times in less than two full years of play. Mariota threw nine interceptions and fumbled eight times in 2022 in Atlanta.

Fortunately, something both Pickett and Mason Rudolph have shown to do well is protect the football. Unfortunately, Pickett has the Mariota and Ridder syndrome of also not making plays consistently.

While it may not be out of the question for Smith's presence to make signing Tannehill in free agency a viable option, it won't be the team's largest priority. The Steelers are more than comfortable with rolling with Pickett and Rudolph as the first two names on the depth chart and bringing in a less prestigious arm to "compete" with them.

But if Pittsburgh won't upgrade the quarterback room, what will they fix offensively?

Turning down the aggression on upgrading the quarterback position doesn't mean the Steelers are going to keep the entire offensive personnel at the status quo and hope Smith performs a miracle to make the unit a top-half performer. No, they'll be much more interested in upgrading a more integral part of Smith's offense.

The Steelers need a new center in the worst kind of way. Mason Cole is far from "it", even if "it" is simply passable. Cole was little more than a band-aid on a surgical wound, and that wound has festered enough.

That position is crucial to any successful offense, of course. But the zone schemes, and commitment to running the football, in Smith's offense make it paramount that Pittsburgh find a secure option for the long haul.

So, who's the best option at center for the Steelers?

All eyes are on Jackson Powers-Johnson, who has had a whale of a Senior Bowl week and was one of the first players Tomlin showed visual interest in during his time in Mobile. Powers-Johnson looks the part of a Steeler center, standing 6-foot-3, 334 lbs with agile feet and power to boot.

Powers-Johnson may work his way into being a late-first-round pick, meaning the Steelers won't be able to wait until the second round to address the need at center. It's a bonus that he'll likely be the best player available when the Steelers pick at 20.

Powers-Johnson isn't the be-all-end-all option in the draft, but after passing on Creed Humphrey and Tyler Linderbaum, it's high time they stop looking a gift horse in the mouth and take the obviously talented player at the position.

Why will the Steelers upgrade Center instead of Quarterback?

His solid performance isn't why the Steelers should be invested in upgrading the position further, it's the natural decision because of two key factors.

The first is that Arthur Smith hasn't had a bad center anywhere he's been. Ben Jones was the unpraised rock of his offense in Tennessee. Matt Hennesey and Drew Dallman were his centers in Atlanta. While neither are huge household names, both are quality NFL offensive linemen, and Dallman was drafted because he has such a highly-graded athletic profile, allowing him to be successful in Smith's run schemes.

The second is that it's the natural progression of Omar Khan and Andy Weidl's plan to rebuild the trenches. Getting a cornerstone at tackle and center for years to come will alleviate so much pressure from the quarterback and the skill players. Step one has likely been completed with Broderick Jones being inserted into the lineup last year. Step two is getting the center that will guide a rebuilt offensive line into something the front office will be proud to put in front of its quarterback.

Getting the offensive line to a stable position ensures a few things, obviously, but none bigger than giving Pickett little room for excuses. If Pickett, assuming he's the starter (he will be) has a solid line in front of him and the clear talent around him and flounders, then the Steelers at least have something built to make life easier on his replacement.

It may not be the solution the fanbase is clamoring for, but it works into the established plan. To be fair, that plan has proven successful for other franchises.