Mike Tomlin‘s status with the 2024 Steelers appeared in doubt as this season wound down, but the longtime Pittsburgh leader is not going anywhere. And Tomlin, as should be expected, will not enter the ’24 slate as a lame duck.
The Steelers are planning to give their veteran head coach another extension, Art Rooney II said Thursday (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac). Tomlin’s current deal runs through the 2024 season. This stands to be Tomlin’s eighth Steelers contract.
Succeeding Bill Cowher back in 2007, Tomlin is now the NFL’s longest-tenured head coach. He guided the Steelers to the playoffs for an 11th time, dropping a wild-card game to the Bills. Evasive about his contract status after that game, Tomlin is indeed coming back. Tomlin, 51, has won a Super Bowl and led Pittsburgh to Super Bowl XLV, a loss to the Packers, two years later. But he is on a cold streak in the postseason. The Steelers have not won a playoff game since beating the Alex Smith-led Chiefs in the 2016 divisional round, losing their past five postseason matchups.
Tomlin’s 17-year streak without a losing season has become a somewhat divisive issue, seeing as this playoff-win drought has transpired during the streak’s second half. Thirteen seasons have also now passed since that yellow pants Super Bowl, a 31-25 Green Bay win, transpired. But Tomlin remains one of the NFL’s most respected figures. Steelers plans for this extension emerged in December, with neither the notion of him taking the 2024 season off nor the prospect of the Steelers trading his rights elsewhere gaining much traction.
As we heard in November, Tomlin will look at outside candidates for the Steelers’ offensive coordinator post (via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor). The team used Eddie Faulkner as its nominal OC but had QBs coach Mike Sullivan calling plays. Steelers ownership’s confidence in Tomlin’s coordinator picks has wavered, to a degree, making this upcoming hire crucial. The Steelers made some progress since firing Matt Canada — the franchise’s first in-season firing in decades — but they have not been confused with a potent offense in years. Kenny Pickett‘s status adds to the importance of Pittsburgh’s play-caller move.
Tomlin confirmed Thursday (via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly) that Pickett will enter another offseason as the team’s starting quarterback, but the team is planning to hold a competition for the job. Mason Rudolph may be positioned to provide that, but Tomlin reminded the end-of-season starter played on an expiring contract this season.
A Pickett-Rudolph competition, as it stands now, probably would not excite a sizable sect of Steelers fans. The 2022 first-round pick has underwhelmed during his run as a starter, being stuck on 13 touchdown passes despite making 24 starts. Rudolph provided a spark when replacing Mitch Trubisky late this season, guiding the Steelers to three straight wins to give Tomlin his 10th 10-win season as a head coach. But the high-floor routine that has become the team’s Tomlin-era M.O. has not produced much of consequence, outside of perhaps the team’s hot start in 2020, since the Killer B’s 2017 finale.
Non-Rudolph free agent options that could push Pickett will be available. While Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield may not be viable candidates here, as both will be starter candidates to stay with their current clubs, a number of bridge or high-end backup arms will be available. This includes Ryan Tannehill, Gardner Minshew, Sam Darnold, Jacoby Brissett, Jameis Winston and others. Both Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garoppolo loom as cut candidates, with the former a near-certainty to be released.
It will be interesting to see if the Steelers would consider adding one of these options and Rudolph, who played out a veteran-minimum deal in 2023. The Steelers are expected to cut Trubisky, which will create nearly $3MM in cap space, but Rudolph also may want to explore a QB2 opportunity elsewhere. If nothing else, the former third-round pick played well enough he probably will not need to settle for vet-minimum money in 2024.
The QB and OC pieces in Tomlin’s 2024 puzzle may go a long way toward determining how much longer the Steelers will want to stick with the status quo. That said, the upcoming extension will keep Tomlin’s seat fairly cool. But the Steelers’ viability next season will undoubtedly come down to how Tomlin and GM Omar Khan handle the big-picture questions on offense.