PITTSBURGH -- Less than an hour into the NFL’s legal tampering period on Monday, the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to terms with a quarterback.
Bringing in former Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on a two-year deal with undisclosed monetary terms isn’t a splashy signing by most standards -- but it’s significant for the Steelers.
The organization is often quiet through the first wave of free agency, preferring to prioritize its own players and waiting for the dust to settle before making a series of relatively under-the-radar moves. The Steelers also aren’t known for pursuing outside quarterbacks as potential starters. Since 2004, the year Ben Roethlisberger was drafted, there have been 271 starts by homegrown signal-callers compared to 18 by players who started their NFL careers outside Pittsburgh.
But with Roethlisberger’s retirement, a relatively weak quarterback draft class and the free-agent and trade market drying up, the Steelers had to move fast.
In acquiring Trubisky, a former No. 2 overall pick, the Steelers stayed true to most of their core tenets. They didn’t have to give up draft capital to sign him, and his contract should be relatively inexpensive, giving them the cap space to go after other needs at offensive line, inside linebacker and cornerback.
“I am beyond excited and blessed for the opportunity to be a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization,” Trubisky texted to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. ”I have tremendous respect for the Rooney family and Coach [Mike] Tomlin. They have built one of the best rosters in football, and I can’t wait to contribute and help this team continue their success.”
Is Trubisky the next great Steelers quarterback? Probably not. But the next Roethlisberger probably wasn’t walking through the door in 2022.
The asking price for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is reportedly multiple first-round draft picks along with a massive cap hit, and while Jimmy Garoppolo likely won’t cost quite that haul, he figures to command more draft capital than the Steelers would typically feel comfortable parting with given the lengthy list of roster holes to fill.
Trubisky is the Steelers’ human safety net. He alleviates the pressure to draft a first-round quarterback from a below-average class, and he gives the Steelers meaningful competition at the position. Last month, general manager Kevin Colbert said Mason Rudolph would be the team’s starter if the season started the next day.
That’s not exactly the case now. The pair will likely enter training camp in a competition for the starting job. And, because Colbert said he expects to have four quarterbacks on the roster for training camp, former first-rounder Dwayne Haskins also figures to be on the roster, along with one other player. That fourth option could be a second- or third-round pick, or a relatively minor free-agency signing, such as bringing back Josh Dobbs.
“Mason is 5-4-1 as an NFL starter, albeit in a backup kind of role, but we're excited to see what is next for Mason,” Colbert said in February. “Dwayne Haskins came in and did some nice things throughout the season as a scout team quarterback. He played some in a preseason, and we're excited to see what Dwayne can provide either from competition or maybe he evolves as a starter. None of us know at this point.
“It'll be a great training camp for those two, and for whatever player we're able to add in that mix.”
While Rudolph has worked closely with offensive coordinator Matt Canada for two seasons, Trubisky’s skill set should mesh well with Canada’s scheme.
The 28-year-old Trubisky excelled during his stint in Chicago when the offense used pre-snap motion. His QBR was 22.5 points higher with motion than without it, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. His completion percentage also jumped from 65% to 69% percent, and he threw 29 touchdowns to seven interceptions compared to 35 touchdowns and 30 interceptions without motion.
Though the Steelers used pre-snap motion 36% of the time last season, Canada heavily used it during his career as a college offensive coordinator and figures to feature it more heavily next season.
Trubisky often excelled at short, quick passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, another staple in Canada’s offense.
Trubisky also possesses the kind of mobility the Steelers wanted to prioritize this offseason. From 2017 to '20, Trubisky’s 833 rushing yards on scrambles were the fifth most among all quarterbacks.
But for as much positive potential as Trubisky brings to Pittsburgh, there are drawbacks.
Trubisky had eight red zone interceptions in Chicago, the most in the NFL from 2017 to '20, and his 50.8 QBR over that stretch was 29th in the league. He also had the second-highest off-target percentage at 19.4% over that span.
But Trubisky has experience working with Buffalo’s staff and learning behind Josh Allen for a season. Another change of scenery and work with Canada and respected quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan could help his development even more.
Signing Trubisky doesn’t make the Steelers a Super Bowl contender, but it doesn’t take them out of the race, either. If the organization perfectly executes free agency and the draft to complement players like Najee Harris, T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers can have a successful season without a superstar quarterback. It will take adding to the offensive line, inside linebackers, defensive line and secondary, but a strong run game and a championship-level defense can bolster an average passing attack.
Trubiksy isn’t a home run signing by the Steelers, but his addition is one that gets them on base in a competitive AFC North while maintaining as much flexibility as possible to address other positions of need while they continue the search for Roethlisberger's heir apparent.