This season has not gone as many expected it to go for Kenny Pickett. The Steelers starting quarterback appeared to be set for a huge leap in year two with some upgraded weapons and blocking. Despite my skepticism, I even began to buy into the hype a little following an electric preseason where Pickett looked like a commander for this offense.
Then the season began, and Pickett looked like a worse version of his rookie self. He lacked pocket awareness, ran into pressure, and made poor choices. The cool and collected quarterback from the preseason has yet to appear, and while he has flashed the occasional good play, he has more bad in his game than good right now.
For all of you quick to blame anyone but Pickett for his struggles, you might as well click off this post. Some fans are so entrenched in the idea that Pickett is some sort of elite player being held down by Matt Canada/some other issue other than himself. While there are other factors in play, Pickett has struggled to develop since entering the league.
This upcoming draft class is loaded with potential quarterback talent. While there are a few names generating buzz, Caleb Williams is undoubtedly the top name in the class and will likely go first overall. With that all said, should the Steelers opt to tank this season in the hopes of landing Williams?
What would the Steelers tanking look like?
It is hard for any NFL team to truly tank, and the idea that coaches/players are willing to lose games is unwarranted. That said, management could shop around veterans who won’t be around in the long term as well as start younger players in their place. This leads to less talented rosters that naturally lead to more losses.
If the Steelers went down this path, it would cause some tough choices to be made. With the trade deadline coming up, there would be a lot of talent up for grabs, and likely on a discount. Names like Patrick Peterson, Larry Ogunjobi, and Najee Harris stand out as potential targets for teams looking to win, while others like Levi Wallace, Kwon Alexander, and Elandon Roberts would take the bench/be cut if no one offered to trade for them.
You also likely trade Cameron Heyward at this point as well. Even if the rebuild is a quick turnaround, you likely aren’t competing for a Super Bowl with him on the team and you could use that money elsewhere.
Young players like Mark Robinson should be asked to start, as he can either sink or swim during the remainder of the season. Adding names off practice squads can always be warranted in hopes of potentially uncovering a gem. Pickett continues to start, and the team will likely be even worse off than before without some of the veteran talent.
With a 3-2 record though, the Steelers would need to lose almost every other game in order to land the top pick, which may be an issue. Even if the roster is gutted, a win here or there is likely to happen. Unless something surprising happens, whatever team has the first pick will likely draft Williams. If not, a trade-up will likely be one of the biggest ones in NFL history.
The franchise is also too proud to admit defeat like this. While plenty of teams have sold aging talent with an eye on the future, this team isn’t like that. Ben Roethlisberger was lost to injury and this team added talent in hopes of winning without him. I’m confident they wouldn’t set themselves up to tank this season.
The Steelers should still have their eye on the QBs
Even if the Steelers don’t tank, they should have their eyes on the upcoming quarterback class. This group looks deep on paper, and while Williams will likely not be an option, there are other names that are extremely talented.
Drake Maye is the prototype of what you want in an NFL quarterback, with the size and athleticism to make huge plays. Quinn Ewers has a great arm and has flashed the ability to lead at Texas. Michael Penix is a savvy “veteran” in college who can complete any pass and lead any offense.
If the Steelers continue this middling season, they will likely be picking somewhere in the middle portion of the draft. One of these names could be available to them, or a trade-up could be worked out to land an upgrade.
This is, of course, assuming Pickett doesn’t make a jump in the second half of this season. I am all for giving him the remainder of this year to prove himself. That said, if he is still struggling with the same issues that he has right now, the team would be wise to assess their options.
If you don’t have a quarterback in the NFL, you aren’t going to win consistently. Unless you are like the 49ers who build a scheme that asks very little of their quarterback (and even then, Brock Purdy is playing some good football), you need a top quarterback to compete. If Pickett isn’t that, then this team needs to go find him.
Do I think this team will tank? No, and even if they wanted to, it would be hard to do right now. That said, unless Pickett comes out of the bye week looking like a dynamic threat, a quarterback has to be on the table in 2024 with so much talent available at the position.