Settling the Mason Rudolph vs. Ryan Tannehill debate for the Steelers

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17)
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) / Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers have quite the conundrum at quarterback this offseason. The only certain thing is that Kenny Pickett will be back, but his role isn’t definite. Pittsburgh is hoping that he can turn his career around, but they were also fine with keeping him on the bench down the stretch.

Because of this, the quarterback rumors are alive and well for the team. From signing Kirk Cousins to trading for Justin Fields, it seems like every big name has been linked to this team. That said, fans better get their expectations in check, as I find it hard to believe that the Steelers are going to go all out. The team wants to give Pickett a shot still, and that won’t happen if you invest in a more expensive quarterback.

What does make sense is some sort of competent second option, and two names make the most sense there. The first is Mason Rudolph, given his stretch as the starter this past season. The second is Ryan Tannehill given his familiarity with Arthur Smith's offense. My goal in this post is to answer who is the better fit.

What the Steelers should do at quarterback?

Let me set some ground rules here. Before digging into both of these quarterbacks, I want to assume that both receive a similar deal in free agency, somewhere between 5-10 million dollars a season. This isn’t a post projecting their contracts, but assuming they are close to the same, it shouldn’t be a huge deterrent to signing one over the other.

To me, the choice between the two comes down less to the individual player and more about how you feel about Pickett. Tannehill and Rudolph are both similar quarterbacks at this point in their careers, but the age difference is what will likely impact who goes where.

For Rudolph, while not the youngest quarterback in the league, he still is in his prime as a player. Having ridden the bench for so long, one has to imagine that he wants to capitalize on the value he added to his name this season. At the bare minimum, he wants to go somewhere to compete as the starter.

While Tannehill would probably like to start as well, he should be resigned to the fact that any team adding him is doing so with him not as their first option. While his career resurgence was a feel-good story, his play has tapered off. He was brought in as a backup all those years ago to Marcus Mariota, and the same will likely happen again this offseason.

Before the Steelers bring either quarterback in, they need to decide how committed they are to Pickett. If they want a genuine quarterback competition, Rudolph should be the choice. He outplayed Pickett last year and deserves the chance to do it again, assuming the team is willing to allow an actual competition.

If the team wants to give Pickett the benefit of the doubt, signing Rudolph for a fake competition makes less sense, and it would be unfair to a player who has earned the right to compete for a starting role. Tannehill is more resigned to the fact that he will have to take whatever a team gives him, even if it means more time as a backup.

That doesn’t mean Pickett is the season starter no matter what with Tannehill at the helm. If Pickett continues to lack as a player, Tannehill can easily be inserted into the offense and his familiarity with the scheme should allow him to perform well. This could even hold up if Pickett struggles in camp and throughout the preseason. That said, a move for Tannehill signifies the Steelers giving Pickett every chance to right the ship as opposed to Rudolph, who should be more active competition.

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While neither of these names has the same value as Fields, they are both realistic options. To me, it comes down to how this team views Pickett. If they are all in, Tannehill makes more sense given his age. If the Steelers want more of a competition, Rudolph should be brought back to compete.