Steelers QB in 2022 Could Come from NFC North

Aug 16, 2018; Green Bay, WI, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger greets Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during warmups prior to the game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers began the pandemic season like gangbusters, winning 11 consecutive games while atop the NFL for wins and losses. A funeral then started as Mike Tomlin’s bunch finished the campaign with a 1-4 record, culminating in an embarrassing loss in the playoffs to the Cleveland Browns.

The team simply ran out of gas as Pittsburgh could not run the football — very odd for the Steeler way of doing things — and other squads “figured them out.” The Steelers ranked dead last in the NFL for rushing yards with a measly 84.4 per game.

So, general manager Kevin Colbert drafted tailback Najee Harris from Alabama in the 1st Round of the 2021 NFL Draft to wholly fix the rushing malady. Harris should receive the bulk of carries this September.

Colbert also had to make a decision at quarterback, re-upping with long-timer Ben Roethlisberger for another season. The 2021 campaign will mark Roethlisberger’s 18th season, a LeBronesque number, to be sure. But his stay in Pittsburgh is not guaranteed beyond one season.

Because of that, the quarterback after Roethlisberger could reasonably be a current member of the NFC North division. Here’s why.

Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers
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Rodgers and the Packers provided soap opera-like drama for three months, starting on the first day of the NFL draft. Reports leaked that Rodgers was discontented in Wisconsin, so naturally he’d head elsewhere in 2021.

It never happened.

Green Bay and their quarterback orchestrated a kumbaya for at least one more season, allegedly agreeing to more control for the 37-year-old passer inside the Packers front office operations. For example, right after the news hit that Rodgers was returning to Green Bay, Packers management traded for Rodgers’ buddy, Randall Cobb, a player that spent eight years in Green Bay. It was considered a concession to Rodgers’ wishes, and the Houston Texans had no problem jettisoning the 30-year-old Cobb.

But Rodgers’ 2022 destiny has yet to be fulfilled. The vibe right now is that this is the last dance with the Packers, keeping all options on the table for 2022.

The Steelers would be perfect for Rodgers — a robust defense, up-and-coming running back with the aforementioned Harris, and Packers-like weapons on the receiving corps. If Rodgers wants to win another Super Bowl before retirement — newsflash: he does — Pittsburgh is a sensible spot for it.

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins
Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) looks to throw in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

With the Minnesota Vikings, Cousins faces a make-or-break campaign in 2021. The Vikings roster is rather impressive after a slew of free-agent moves in the offseason, so Cousins has all the tools necessary to make a playoff run. He has not made a deep run with the Vikings or the Washington Football Team to date. And that’s the criticism of the soon-to-be 33-year-old. Some football brains love the “QB record” stat, and Cousins is perfect even-steven as 51-51-2.

Minnesota cannot afford even-steven. Each year, head coach Mike Zimmer’s bunch is all-in for a Super Bowl, curiously alternating good seasons with mediocre ones. For Zimmer and Cousins, it’s time to pay the piper with a deep playoff run.

If no such playoff push is enacted, Cousins will probably be traded by the Vikings in early 2022. In Pittsburgh, Cousins, like Rodgers, would enjoy a consistently staunch defense and winning culture.

Cousins could win in Pittsburgh.

Jared Goff

Jared Goff
Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff passes during training camp Tuesday, August 3, 2021. Lions

One of 2021’s great mysteries is how Jared Goff will acclimate to Detroit. He had a phenomenal season in 2018 — and that’s about it. Since his Super Bowl runner-up sprint, his performance is largely lackluster.

Since the start of 2019, 32 quarterbacks have started 16 or more games. Per passer rating, Goff’s 88.1 ranks 22nd, nestled right between Ryan Fitzpatrick (89.0) and Mitchell Trubisky (86.8), That’s not quite good enough for a player with an average annual salary of $33.5 million.

Nevertheless, the Lions are going to audition Goff for the QB1 job after receiving a king’s ransom in the Matthew Stafford trade. Should Detroit finish the 2021 season with a lowly win-loss record like 5-12 or so, the Lions might hop aboard the rookie quarterback trend. Goff would be the odd man out for a full rebuild.

Insert the Steelers sans Roethlisberger. If Goff tosses between 25 and 30 touchdowns in Detroit, Pittsburgh could put that to use with its winning structure.

Andy Dalton

Jul 29, 2021; Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Andy Dalton (14) looks to pass the ball as head coach Matt Nagy raises his arms to block during a Chicago Bears training camp session at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

This would be merely a patch-over to the aforementioned rookie quarterback scenario. Instead, the rookie would play for Pittsburgh. Colbert would draft a rookie quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft with Roethlisberger likely retired. Usually, a good team like the Steelers prefers a veteran passer to transition the new guy — kind of like the Chicago Bears are doing now with Dalton and Justin Fields.

Fields will take over the QB1 job in Chicago soon; it’s just a matter of time. Although it’s a longshot for Dalton to end up in Pittsburgh — Dalton and the Steelers were archrivals for years — Colbert could be shopping for a veteran journeyman while grooming a rookie. Dalton is that.