PITTSBURGH -- On Friday, we hit up Pittsburgh Steelers fans for some mailbag questions. And this question came through in various forms from about eight or nine followers:
@JFowlerESPN What round you think the Steelers take a QB in?— Drake Greenstein (@drakeg53) January 27, 2017
This topic is unavoidable in light of Ben Roethlisberger's public flirtation with retirement. Regardless of what Big Ben does, his comments are strong enough to raise the blood pressure of Steelers executives and coaches and enliven the discussion about how to find his successor. Roethlisberger's future will now be a discussion every offseason. Fans are uneasy about the future of their offense.
To be sure, the Steelers don't have to be reactionary if they're not thrilled about the quarterback class and where their draft picks fall in it. The chances of Roethlisberger retiring are low. He could play another four or five years if he stays healthy. If the QB group is as thin as some evaluators have painted it (the next few months will bring a final determination), the Steelers will gladly take pass-rushers or playmakers on offense. The wide receiver position needs a lift regardless of whether Martavis Bryant can be trusted, and Ladarius Green's concussion past casts uncertainty around the tight end position.
That's why I don't see them making a move unless it's absolutely the right player. But they must do something, eventually. Each year, the offensive coaching staff creates a thick file on each quarterback. This draft season will be no different. It's all about the right guy falling to them at the right price in the right year.
The Steelers have largely stayed away from quarterbacks because of the luxury of having Roethlisberger. While the New England Patriots have been aggressive in drafting quarterbacks in the second and third rounds, Pittsburgh has gone the way of the New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers and others in treading water with mid-to-late-round fliers. Landry Jones has developed into a reliable backup and could return as a free agent, but that's hardly a guarantee. That leaves Zach Mettenberger as the only other quarterback under contract.
If the Steelers find a QB there at No. 30 overall who fits everything they want, I believe they will look closely. After all, this isn't a roster with a lot of holes. But those players are difficult to find, even for teams drafting near the top.
The most likely path based on very early projections: Look hard in the second-to-fourth-round range but don't force the issue.