Outgoing Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert gives QB Mason Rudolph vote of confidence

PITTSBURGH -- With the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback job is officially up for grabs.

On Monday, outgoing general manager Kevin Colbert gave former backup Mason Rudolph a vote of confidence.

"If we started a season today, Mason would be our starter, and we're excited to see where that can go," Colbert said in his annual availability with local media prior to the NFL combine. "Mason's 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."

Rudolph started one game for the Steelers in 2021, an 11th-hour decision after Roethlisberger tested positive for COVID-19 a day before the Week 9 game against the Detroit Lions. Rudolph completed 30 of 50 attempts for 242 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a game that finished in a tie. In 2019, Rudolph started eight games after Roethlisberger's season-ending elbow injury. It was a tumultuous season for the then-second-year quarterback that finished with him completing 62% of his attempts with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

But the Steelers invested in Rudolph's development, hiring Matt Canada as quarterbacks coach for the following season. After Canada was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2021, the team brought in respected quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan to work with the group.

"I'm comfortable that Mason has won more games than he's lost as a starter," Colbert said. "Where that can go, we'll see. To be an NFL starter that you can win with, you gotta prove it over 16 games. I'm anxious to see that, if that's the case."

Rudolph, who is entering his fifth year with the organization, is the only quarterback on the roster currently under contract for the 2022 season, but Colbert added that he expects the team will tender former first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, who spent most of 2021 as the scout-team quarterback.

"We're excited to see what Dwayne can provide either from competition, or maybe he evolves as a starter," Colbert said.

But the Steelers aren't stopping there.

"We know we're going to add to the position," Colbert said. "I can't tell you how, but at this point we will go to camp with four."

With two quarterback spots seemingly up for grabs, Colbert, Art Rooney II and Mike Tomlin have discussed every possible avenue for adding to the group. The team could select a quarterback with their No. 20 overall pick, or it could explore free agency and the trade market.

"The draft class of quarterbacks, there's good quality available -- probably not as many as there have been in recent years, but it is what it is," Colbert said.

The Steelers got a good look at some of those prospects at the Senior Bowl, including Liberty's Malik Willis and North Carolina's Sam Howell. Colbert has also kept an eye on Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, having a front-row seat to his Heisman-finalist season from the facilities the Steelers and Pitt share.

"This group, there's good players in it," Colbert said. "And there's good players that all have a different skill set. That's what was really unique about watching them compete at the Senior Bowl, because the majority of them were there, and they're all different. I know some of them will be starting quarterbacks, winning quarterbacks, and that's exciting."

Colbert's -- and the team's -- top priority this offseason is finding a post-Roethlisberger plan at quarterback, but the Steelers also have to replace Colbert. The longtime general manager is stepping aside after April's NFL draft. Colbert told Tomlin and Rooney II that 2021 was going to be his last season as general manager in May 2021, but he may stay around the organization in another role, he said.

"It's time, I think, from a personal standpoint, and I think it's time from a professional standpoint," Colbert said. "We always have to be open to new ways to do things and more current ways to do things, quite honestly. And I encourage our younger scouts to push me in that regard, but the better solution may be outside the organization. We don't know, but I just think from a personal side, for sure, it's time, but even from a professional side, we have to be open to trying to stay ahead of the game."

To find Colbert's replacement, Colbert and Rooney II are interviewing candidates. The first round of interviews will be conducted by early March, with the second round expected to be completed after the NFL draft. Tomlin is involved in the process now, but Colbert said the head coach will have an even greater role in determining the next general manager after the draft.

So far, the Steelers have interviewed seven external candidates for the position along with two internal possibilities in Omar Khan and Brandon Hunt.