Steelers Rumors

Latest On Steelers’ QB Situation, Possible Justin Fields Pursuit

Last week, we heard that the Steelers were interested in re-signing quarterback Mason Rudolph and having him compete with 2022 first-rounder Kenny Pickett to be the club’s starting signal-caller. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that, even if the Steelers are unsuccessful in their pursuit of a Rudolph re-up, the club will not consider an external addition who is eyeing a QB1 role. Naturally, that would rule out a passer like Justin Fields, who is widely expected to be traded by the Bears.

On the same day that Dulac’s piece was published, however, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (subscription required) wrote that Pittsburgh will, in fact, acquire via trade or free agency a quarterback who can push Pickett for the starting job, and that such a quarterback would be “more than a stopgap.” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is reportedly a fan of Fields, and Fowler said that the rumblings connecting Fields to Pittsburgh are intensifying.

For a team like Pittsburgh that, as Fowler observes, could be just a quarterback away from championship contention, adding a clear upgrade over Pickett would make plenty of sense. But Mark Kaboly of The Athletic is aligned with Dulac, his fellow Steelers beat writer (subscription required). Kaboly confidently avers that the team is not going to go after Fields, and that while there may be a competition between Rudolph and Pickett if Rudolph is re-signed, Pickett will get one last chance to prove his worth before Pittsburgh looks outside the organization.

While these starkly contrasting reports between a national writer and two beats add to the uncertainty of the Steelers’ quarterback situation, it continues to look like there is no uncertainty concerning Fields’ future in Chicago. Though the Ohio State product recently said he would like to remain with the Bears — as relayed by Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-TimesBrad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune does not believe there is any internal debate as to whether the club should keep Fields in lieu of using its No. 1 overall draft choice (or a slightly lower choice in the event of a small trade down) on a top collegiate prospect. Rather, the real question is simply which passer in the 2024 draft class the Bears like the best.

Per Biggs, it is at least conceivable that the Bears retain Fields if they do not find a trade offer to their liking, but a trade is their preference. Previous reports have indicated that the team would finalize its QB plan one way or another by the start of the scouting combine (which opens tomorrow), and it sounds as if that plan is indeed to seek a suitor for Fields. Biggs says there is no disconnect on that point between GM Ryan Poles and team president Kevin Warren.

Expect plenty more Chicago-related rumors this week as team brass discusses its incumbent passer — and perhaps the No. 1 selection in the upcoming draft — with rival clubs.

2024 NFL Cap Space, By Team

The NFL provided clarity to its teams on Friday by setting the salary cap ceiling ($255.4MM). Franchise tag figures have been locked in as well, and clubs can now proceed with their offseason planning knowing exactly where they stand with respect to financial flexibility. Courtesy of Over the Cap, here is the current landscape in terms of salary cap space:

  1. Washington Commanders: $79.61MM
  2. Tennessee Titans: $78.66MM
  3. Chicago Bears: $78.34MM
  4. New England Patriots: $77.96MM
  5. Indianapolis Colts: $72.34MM
  6. Houston Texans: $67.58MM
  7. Detroit Lions: $57.61MM
  8. Arizona Cardinals: $51.1MM
  9. Cincinnati Bengals: $50.67MM
  10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $43.68MM
  11. Los Angles Rams: $43.11MM
  12. Las Vegas Raiders: $42.94MM
  13. Minnesota Vikings: $35.81MM
  14. Carolina Panthers: $34.57MM
  15. Atlanta Falcons: $33MM
  16. New York Giants: $30.8MM
  17. Philadelphia Eagles: $27.35MM
  18. Jacksonville Jaguars: $24.68MM
  19. Kansas City Chiefs: $18.19MM
  20. Baltimore Ravens: $16.63MM
  21. Seattle Seahawks: $12.97MM
  22. New York Jets: $12.76MM
  23. Pittsburgh Steelers: $9MM
  24. Green Bay Packers: $2.3MM
  25. San Francisco 49ers: $5.07MM over the cap
  26. Cleveland Browns: $7.76MM over
  27. Dallas Cowboys: $9.86MM over
  28. Denver Broncos: $16.81MM over
  29. Los Angeles Chargers: $25.61MM over
  30. Miami Dolphins: $27.92MM over
  31. New Orleans Saints: $42.11MM over
  32. Buffalo Bills: $43.82MM over

All teams must be cap compliant by the start of the new league year, but it will of course be more than just those currently over the limit which will make cost-shedding moves in the near future. Cuts, restructures and extensions are available as tools to carve out space in advance of free agency. Several have already taken place around the league.

That includes the Dolphins’ release of defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and the planned cut of Xavien Howard. The latter cannot be designated a post-June 1 release until free agency begins but once it happens, Miami will move much closer to cap compliance. The Saints have moved considerable commitments into the future via restructures (as usual), but more transactions on that front will be required even with the cap seeing an historic single-season jump.

The roughly $30MM spike from 2023 will provide unforeseen spending power for teams already set to lead the pack in cap space while also making the task of those at the bottom of the list easier. Spending more on backloaded contracts this offseason at the expense of future space obviously carries risk, however. Still, the news of a higher-than-expected ceiling will add further intrigue to each team’s financial planning.

With Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson each set to carry record-breaking cap hits for 2024, the Cowboys and Browns will be among the teams most in need of working out a deal to lower those figures. In Dallas’ case in particular, an extension would provide immediate breathing room in addition to clarity on his future beyond the coming season. For Cleveland, Watson’s fully-guaranteed deal has already been restructured once and will need to be again to avoid consecutive years of a $64MM cap charge over its remaining term.

If the Commanders and Patriots add a quarterback with the second and third picks in this year’s draft, each team currently in the top six in space will enjoy the benefits of having a signal-caller on their rookie contracts. That would allow for an aggressive approach to free agency, although the Chiefs’ success after Patrick Mahomes signed (and re-worked) his monster extension has proven it is possible to win Super Bowl titles with a substantial QB investment on the books.

AFC North Coaching Updates: Sullivan, Ravens, Bengals

With the Patriots and Bill Belichick parting ways this offseason, the AFC North is now home to the NFL’s two longest-tenured head coaches, and though the Steelers haven’t had a change at head coach in 17 years, they were required to make some adjustments to the offensive coaching staff this offseason. We’ve reported on a number of staff changes on offense after the hiring of new coordinator Arthur Smith, but the team’s recent finalized staff announcement provided us with a few more updates.

We saw that Pittsburgh made the call to replace former quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan with Tom Arth two weeks ago, but we now see that Sullivan will be retained on staff in the role of senior offensive assistant. Additionally, Smith seems to have brought two coaches with him from Atlanta. Former Falcons specials teams assistant Matt Baker and Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellow Mateo Kambui, who worked with Atlanta’s offensive line, have both been brought on in the role of offensive assistant.

On defense and special teams, only two changes were noted. First, we already saw the departure of assistant defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander in the announcement that he would become the safeties coach in Las Vegas. Second, special teams quality control coach Matt Tomsho does not appear on the team’s new coaching roster and doesn’t seem to have been retained. Neither position was filled with a new staffer.

Here are a couple other staff updates coming out of the AFC North:

  • With former associate head coach and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver departing for the defensive coordinator job in Miami, the Ravens needed to find someone new to coach their talented defensive line. According to Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports, Baltimore has found their man in former Baylor defensive line coach Dennis Johnson. A former defensive tackle at LSU, Johnson has coached defensive lines at the college level for both his alma mater and the Bears in Waco. His best defensive lines were at LSU in 2018 and Baylor in 2021, coaching players like Siaki Ika and K’Lavon Chaisson.
  • The Bengals have brought in a collegiate staffer, as well, per Pete Thamel of ESPN, hiring former Oregon offensive analyst Jordan Salkin to their staff as an offensive assistant. Salkin’s experience at the college level was focused on the quarterbacks position, and he fills the role in Cincinnati left vacant with Fredi Knighten being promoted to assistant quarterbacks coach.

Raiders Announce Finalized 2024 Coaching Staff

When the season ended, the Raiders stayed true to the wishes of many players, hiring interim head coach Antonio Pierce into the permanent role for the 2024 NFL season. Today, Las Vegas officially announced the entirety of the new staff under Pierce, cluing us into some developments that we hadn’t yet reported on. We were aware of the hires of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, offensive line coach James Cregg, senior offensive assistant Joe Philbin, quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello, assistant quarterbacks coach Fred Walker, and running backs coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams on offense as well as the hiring of assistant head coach Marvin Lewis. Here’s a rundown of the remaining staff updates.

On the offensive side of the ball, with quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive line covered, Getsy made the call to retain Edgar Bennett as wide receivers coach. Bennett has an extensive history with star wideout Davante Adams as the two have spent time together in both Green Bay and Vegas. Last year’s tight ends coach Jerry Schuplinski is now a senior offensive assistant with the Rams, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, so former Bears assistant offensive line coach Luke Steckel has been hired in his place. Steckel previously coached tight ends in Tennessee in 2021 and 2022, mentoring Chigoziem Okonkwo to an impressive rookie season. Steckel will be assisted by newly promoted assistant tight ends coach Mitch Singler, who served the past two years as offensive quality control for the Raiders.

Additionally, pass game coordinator Scott Turner has officially been retained after being considered a candidate for the Patriots offensive coordinator position, and former Bears assistant tight ends coach Tim Zetts has been added to the staff with the title of assistant offense. Lastly on offense, we were aware that the new head coach’s son, De’Andre Pierce, would be joining the staff, but whereas his initial position was reportedly going to be offensive quality control coach, we now know that he will be an offensive assistant.

On the defensive side of the ball, we had some idea of the fate of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who had been permitted to take interviews for head coaching jobs but was being blocked from lateral moves, and those ideas are now confirmed as he’ll be retained as coordinator. The team’s announcement shows that defensive line coach Rob Leonard and senior defensive assistant Rob Ryan have been retained, as well. Additionally, Matt Feeney, who has spent the past two seasons as a defensive quality control coach, has been promoted to assistant defensive backs coach.

Also on defense, we knew of the hiring of Mike Caldwell as linebackers coach, but today’s announcement informed us that he’ll hold the additional title of run game coordinator, as well. We also saw initial reports that Ricky Manning Jr. was being brought on as defensive backs coach, but he is officially listed now as cornerbacks coach with former Steelers assistant defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander being hired to coach safeties. Alexander assisted with a secondary in Pittsburgh that included Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, and Keanu Neal. Together, the two will replace Chris Ash, who was not retained as defensive backs coach, and Jason Simmons, who was recently hired as defensive pass-game coordinator in Washington. Also, we had reported the addition of former Jets defensive line coach Andre Carter to the staff, and we now know his new title in Las Vegas to be pass rush specialist.

Lastly on defense, we were informed of the hiring of Marcus Lewis as assistant linebackers coach and Josh Phillips as assistant defense. Lewis has recent experience as a defensive analyst at Arizona State and NFL experience after spending five years with the Bengals as an assistant working with the defensive line and linebackers. Phillips most recently served as head coach at Sarasota HS (FL), leading the team to a 1-9 record in his only season at the helm.

On special teams, we officially received word that both special teams coordinator Tom McMahon and assistant special teams coach Derius Swinton II would both be retained under Pierce. It appears that former NFL wideout Danny Amendola, who had been brought on as a coaching assistant to work specifically with returners, has not been retained, and Kade Rannings has been added to the staff as a second assistant special teams coach.

Lastly, the team announced that former director of football research and strategy Matt Sheldon will be on the sideline in the role of game management coach. Also, Jon Gruden‘s son, Deuce Gruden, is a surprising holdover as an assistant strength and conditioning coach after being retained by McDaniel’s staff following his father’s resignation in 2021.

There you have it. Though, much will remain the same with Pierce taking over the full-time role as head coach, plenty of changes were necessary. After another short head coaching stint by Josh McDaniels, Pierce seemed to rejuvenate a deflated squad to close the season. With a new staff of his own and a full offseason to work together, it will be interesting to see what Pierce will be able to accomplish in Las Vegas in 2024.

Steelers Release C Mason Cole

The Steelers’ starting center for the past two years, Mason Cole is back in free agency. The team announced the release of the veteran interior offensive lineman Friday.

Pittsburgh has used free agency to make upgrade efforts up front over the past two offseasons, signing Cole, James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo. The guards remain with the team, but Cole will now be looking for a new NFL employer. He had started every Steelers game over the past two seasons.

One season remained on Cole’s three-year, $15.75MM deal. No void years complications or other restructure matters, which the Steelers dabble in frequently, are part of this transaction. The Steelers will save $4.75MM by releasing Cole, whom ProFootballNetwork.com’s Adam Caplan notes was due a $1.5MM roster bonus if he was on the roster as of March 17.

The former Cardinals starter is only going into his age-28 season; he will likely generate interest on the open market. Being released now gives Cole a head-start on the unrestricted free agents set to populate the market in mid-March.

After Pro Football Focus ranked Cole as the NFL’s 12th-best center in 2022, the advanced metrics site dropped him to 29th last season. With the Steelers’ offensive slump extending to the point the team made its first in-season coordinator firing in several decades, the team will be looking for at least one new starter up front. Despite the offensive struggles, the Steelers have enjoyed good continuity up front since adding Cole and Daniels in 2022. After seeing their starting five blockers play together throughout 2022, the Steelers had Cole and Seumalo in uniform for 18 games last season. Dan Moore started 17 games, while Daniels was available for 16.

Not known for lavish free agent spending, the Steelers did move to fortify their O-line with some veteran contracts during Kenny Pickett‘s rookie deal. The moves were half-measures of sorts, with each Pittsburgh interior O-line starter on a midlevel accord. Cole’s $5.25MM-per-year center pact represented good value for the team, but it will move on — during an offseason in which Pickett is on shakier ground.

Cole did give the Steelers some stability after Kendrick Green‘s rough 2021 as the starting center. The team traded both Green and guard starter Kevin Dotson last year, committing fully to the free agent trio inside. The Steelers have utilityman Nate Herbig under contract and used a seventh-round pick on Spencer Anderson last year. In all likelihood, however, Cole’s replacement is not yet on the roster.

Steelers Aiming To Re-Sign Mason Rudolph

The Steelers’ quarterbacks room is already set to look a bit different after the expected recent departure of Mitch Trubisky. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the team is hoping that it won’t change much more as they reportedly aim to keep backup quarterback Mason Rudolph around moving forward.

Unlike Trubisky, Rudolph’s possible exit is a result of free agency. A former third-round draft pick in 2018, Rudolph has played out his rookie contract plus two one-year extensions. The Steelers turned to Rudolph early in his career, when he started eight games in 2019, but he hasn’t seen that many starts in the four years since combined.

When usual starter Ben Roethlisberger went down with an injury in 2019, Rudolph led Pittsburgh to five wins in eight starts. After a physical on-field scuffle with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, during which Garrett accused him of using a racial slur, and a poor performance the following week, Rudolph was benched in favor of Devlin Hodges. He wouldn’t start another game until a rest day for the starters at the end of the 2020 season and once again as a COVID-19 replacement for Roethlisberger in 2021. He would spend the entire 2022 season on the bench after being relegated to third-string duties behind Trubisky and then-rookie Kenny Pickett.

This year, Rudolph saw his first extended action in four years. With the Steelers’ season circling the drain as one of the league’s least efficient offenses, Rudolph finally found his way back to the field. With Pickett sidelined with injury, Trubisky was in for a start against the Colts in Week 14. Rudolph stepped in due to Trubisky’s struggles and would start the next two games as to new No. 2 behind an injured Pickett.

When Pickett was cleared to play in a must-win regular season finale against the Ravens, though, Pittsburgh opted to ride with Rudolph. Led by Rudolph, the Steelers beat the mostly second-string Ravens and made the playoffs. Rudolph was once again selected as the team’s starter when they traveled to Buffalo for a Wild Card game against the Bills the following week.

Rudolph’s late-season success had many asking the obvious question: why didn’t Pittsburgh turn to him sooner with all its struggles on offense throughout the year? Apparently, according to Dulac, that same sentiment has caused some internal division within the Steelers’ organization, creating a camp that believes Rudolph should be the starter when the 2024 season opens. In order to make that happen, though, the team will have to find a way to re-sign him, which appears to be their goal.

With Rudolph and Pickett viewed as the preferred contenders for the position, Dulac reports that the Steelers “are not interested in bringing in a quarterback who wants to be a starter.” That rules Pittsburgh out of the race for quarterbacks who are seemingly available like Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins, or even maybe Russell Wilson. It likely rules out a high-end rookie passers like Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, or Jayden Daniels, as well. They may make moves to add some solid, veteran backup depth at the position, but with Pickett already under contract, the aim, for now, is to lock down Rudolph, as well.

Assessing NFL’s OC Landscape

This offseason showed the turnover that can take place at the offensive coordinator position. As a result of several decisions in January and February, the NFL no longer has an OC who has been in his current role for more than two seasons. Various firings and defections now have the 2022 batch of hires stationed as the longest-tenured OCs.

One of the longest-tenured coordinators in NFL history, Pete Carmichael is no longer with the Saints. The team moved on after 15 seasons, a stay that featured part-time play-calling duties. The Browns canned their four-year non-play-calling OC, Alex Van Pelt, while three-year play-callers Arthur Smith and Shane Waldron are relocating this winter. Brian Callahan‘s five-year gig as the Bengals’ non-play-calling OC booked him a top job.

The recent lean toward offense-oriented HCs took a bit of a hit of a hit this offseason, with five of the eight jobs going to defense-oriented leaders. Callahan, Dave Canales and Jim Harbaugh were the only offense-geared candidates hired during this cycle. But half the NFL will go into this season with a new OC. Following the Seahawks’ decision to hire ex-Washington (and, briefly, Alabama) staffer Ryan Grubb, here is how the NFL’s OC landscape looks:

2022 OC hires

  • Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions*
  • Mike Kafka, New York Giants*
  • Wes Phillips, Minnesota Vikings
  • Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins
  • Adam Stenavich, Green Bay Packers
  • Press Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars*

Although this sextet now comprises the senior wing of offensive coordinators, this still marks each’s first gig as an NFL OC. Three of the six received HC interest this offseason.

Johnson’s status back in Detroit has been one of the offseason’s top storylines and a development the Commanders have not taken especially well. The two-year Lions OC was viewed as the frontrunner for the Washington job for weeks this offseason, and when team brass did not receive word about Johnson’s intent to stay in Detroit (thus, waiting until at least 2025 to make his long-expected HC move) until a Commanders contingent was en route to Detroit for a second interview, a back-and-forth about what exactly broke down took place. Johnson should be expected to remain a high-end HC candidate next year, but Dan Campbell will still have his services for 2024.

Kafka interviewed for the Seahawks’ HC job, and the Giants then blocked him from meeting with the NFC West team about its OC position. Rumblings about Kafka and Brian Daboll no longer being on great terms surfaced this year, with the latter yanking away play-calling duties — given to Kafka ahead of the 2022 season — at points in 2023. Taylor may also be on the hot seat with his team. Doug Pederson gave Taylor the call sheet last season, and Trevor Lawrence did not make the leap many expected. After a collapse left the Jaguars out of the playoffs, the team had begun to look into its offensive situation.

2023 OC hires

  • Jim Bob Cooter, Indianapolis Colts
  • Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets*
  • Mike LaFleur, Los Angeles Rams
  • Joe Lombardi, Denver Broncos
  • Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens*
  • Matt Nagy, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Drew Petzing, Arizona Cardinals*
  • Brian Schottenheimer, Dallas Cowboys
  • Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans*

Only nine of the 15 OCs hired in 2023 are still with their teams. One (Canales) moved up the ladder, while others were shown the door following that organization canning its head coach. The Eagles were the only team who hired an offensive coordinator last year to fire that staffer (Brian Johnson) after one season. Nick Sirianni fired both his coordinators following a wildly disappointing conclusion.

Hackett may also be drifting into deep water, given what transpired last year in New York. Rumblings of Robert Saleh — who is on the hottest seat among HCs — stripping some of his offensive play-caller’s responsibilities surfaced recently. This marks Hackett’s fourth chance to call plays in the NFL; the second-generation staffer did so for the Bills, Jaguars and Broncos prior to coming to New York. After the 2022 Broncos ranked last in scoring, the ’23 Jets ranked 31st in total offense. Hackett’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers has largely kept him in place, but 2024 may represent a last chance for the embattled coach.

Of this crop, Monken and Slowik were the only ones to receive HC interest. Neither emerged as a frontrunner for a position, though Slowik met with the Commanders twice. The Texans then gave their first-time play-caller a raise to stick around for C.J. Stroud‘s second season. Stroud’s remarkable progress figures to keep Slowik on the HC radar. Monken, who is in his third try as an NFL OC (after gigs in Tampa and Cleveland), just helped Lamar Jackson to his second MVP award. The former national championship-winning OC did not stick the landing — as Jackson struggled against the Chiefs — but he fared well on the whole last season.

Schottenheimer is on his fourth go-round as an OC, while Lombardi is on team No. 3. The latter’s job figures to be more secure, being tied to Sean Payton, compared to what is transpiring in Dallas. With the Cowboys having Mike McCarthy as the rare lame-duck HC, his coordinators probably should not get too comfortable.

2024 OC hires

  • Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills*
  • Liam Coen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
  • Ken Dorsey, Cleveland Browns
  • Luke Getsy, Las Vegas Raiders*
  • Ryan Grubb, Seattle Seahawks*
  • Nick Holz, Tennessee Titans
  • Kliff Kingsbury, Washington Commanders*
  • Klint Kubiak, New Orleans Saints*
  • Brad Idzik, Carolina Panthers
  • Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles*
  • Dan Pitcher, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Zac Robinson, Atlanta Falcons*
  • Greg Roman, Los Angeles Chargers*
  • Arthur Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers*
  • Alex Van Pelt, New England Patriots*
  • Shane Waldron, Chicago Bears*

The 49ers do not employ a traditional OC; 16 of the 31 teams that do recently made a change. Most of the teams to add OCs this year, however, did so without employing play-calling coaches. This naturally raises the stakes for this year’s batch of hires.

Retreads became rather popular. Dorsey, Getsy, Moore, Van Pelt and Waldron were all OCs elsewhere (Buffalo, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle) last season. Smith will shift from calling the Falcons’ plays to running the show for the Steelers. Dorsey, Getsy and Van Pelt were fired; Moore and Waldron moved on after the Chargers and Seahawks respectively changed HCs. Moore and Smith will be calling plays for a third team; for Moore, this is three OC jobs in three years.

Coen, Kingsbury and Roman are back after a year away. Kingsbury became a popular name on the OC carousel, having coached Caleb Williams last season. This will be his second crack at an NFL play-calling gig, having been the Cardinals’ conductor throughout his HC tenure. This will be Coen’s first shot at calling plays in the pros; he was Sean McVay‘s non-play-calling assistant in 2022. Likely to become the Chargers’ play-caller, Roman will have a rare fourth chance to call plays in the NFL. He held that responsibility under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco; following Harbaugh’s explosive 2015 49ers split, Roman moved to Buffalo and Baltimore to work under non-offense-oriented leaders.

Grubb, Holz, Idzik, Pitcher and Robinson represent this year’s first-timer contingent. Grubb has, however, called plays at the college level. Robinson is the latest McVay staffer to move into a play-calling post; he was a Rams assistant for five years. A host of teams had Robinson on their OC radar, but Raheem Morris brought his former L.A. coworker to Atlanta. Pitcher appeared in a few searches as well, but the Bengals made the expected move — after extending him last year — to give him Callahan’s old job.

* = denotes play-calling coordinator

Steelers To Keep Eddie Faulkner On Staff

Both halves of what was effectively a co-offensive coordinator setup are in play to return for the Steelers under a new OC. The Steelers’ interim OC is expected to stay with the team under new play-caller Arthur Smith.

The Steelers agreed to an extension with running backs coach Eddie Faulkner, according to KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson. Assuming the Steelers’ expected agreement to retain Mike Sullivan goes through, the Faulkner pact will tie Smith to both the staffers who took on OC responsibilities in the wake of the franchise’s first in-season coordinator firing in several decades.

[RELATED: Steelers Release QB Mitch Trubisky]

While Sullivan was given play-calling duties, the Steelers made Faulkner their nominal interim OC following Matt Canada‘s November ouster. Faulkner predates Canada with the Steelers, being hired while Mike Tomlin still had Randy Fichtner in place as OC. Although the Steelers once again avoided a sub-.500 season and saw their Sullivan-Faulkner setup help Mason Rudolph to a bounce-back stretch en route to the playoffs, the team was never believed to be considering either staffer for the full-time OC role.

The Steelers added Faulkner to their staff in 2019, bringing in the former Ball State offensive coordinator as their running backs coach. Faulkner spent more than 15 years in the college ranks prior to joining the Steelers. Aside from the stretch as interim OC, the 47-year-old assistant has served in as the team’s RBs coach for the past five seasons. Signs point to that continuing.

Smith has started to reshape the Steelers’ offensive staff, which is now expected to include Sullivan in a different role. The Steelers are hiring Tom Arth as their new quarterbacks coach. Sullivan has been in place as Pittsburgh’s QBs coach for the past three seasons, calling plays to close out the 2023 campaign. The Steelers and Sullivan are still discussing what would be a new role for the veteran assistant. The team is also replacing its assistant QBs coach and wide receivers coach, respectively moving on from David Corley and Frisman Jackson.

Organizations frequently mandate certain coaches be retained under new coordinators, but the Steelers hiring Smith and pairing him with both their interim OC from last season and the interim play-caller will make for an interesting partnership.

Steelers, QB Mitch Trubisky Part Ways

Changes have been expected at the quarterback position in Pittsburgh, and an unsurprising move is taking place. Mitch Trubisky is set to part ways with the team, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reports. The team has since confirmed the move.

Trubisky began his Pittsburgh tenure as a bridge starter, but he was overtaken on the depth chart midway through Kenny Pickett‘s rookie season. Mason Rudolph then emerged as the team’s preferred option late in the 2023 campaign and through the wild-card round. As a result, signs pointed to Trubisky being let go ahead of free agency in 2024.

[RELATED: Steelers Cut Chukwuma Okorafor, Pressley Harvin III]

The former No. 2 pick was on the books for the next two seasons, having inked an extension last year. In spite of that, the Steelers will elect to cut bait well ahead of the new league year. Releasing Trubisky before June 1 would yield a dead cap charge of $4.6MM this year, and cap savings of just under $3MM. Designating him a post-June 1 release, however, would result in $5.25MM in savings compared to a $2.3MM dead cap charge. Teams are permitted to use the post-June 1 designation early in the offseason, but they do not realize the financial savings until after that date.

ESPN’s Brooke Pryor confirms this move is a mutual one, and it will allow Trubisky to seek out a new opportunity in a backup role. The 29-year-old made seven starts and 12 appearances with the Steelers, throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (eight). Those figures helped inform today’s move, but it will no doubt hinder his market in free agency. Trubisky last served as a full-time starter during his time with the Bears, which ended in 2020.

With Trubisky no longer in the picture and Rudolph a pending free agent, Pickett is the only QB currently on the Steelers’ roster. The team remains confident in the latter’s potential, and he will enter the offseason atop the depth chart. Competition will be brought in, however, and that could include another new contract with Rudolph or an outside addition. Ryan Tannehill – who had a succesful run in Tennessee under new Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith – is believed to be on Pittsburgh’s radar.

Trubisky was due $11.25MM over the next two seasons, and he will aim to find a deal allowing him to match or better that total with a new team. He is younger than many of the other options in this year’s free agent QB class, but his underwhelming showing in Pittsburgh should limit his market to a low-cost, short-term agreement. It will be interesting to see where he winds up while the Steelers contemplate their next move under center.

Steelers Cut OL Chukwuma Okorafor, P Pressley Harvin III

Mitch Trubisky wasn’t the only Steelers player to earn his walking papers today. The team announced that they’ve also cut offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor and punter Pressley Harvin III.

[RELATED: Steelers, QB Mitch Trubisky Part Ways]

Okorafor joined the Steelers as a third-round pick in 2018. He got into 77 games across his six seasons with the organization, including a three-year stretch between 2020 and 2022 where he started 48 of his 49 appearances. He also started a pair of playoff games for the Steelers.

The lineman’s 55-game starting streak ended this past season when he was benched for disciplinary reasons. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Broderick Jones, and the rookie ended up playing the majority of the snaps at right tackle for the rest of the year.

Okorafor inked a three-year, $29.25MM extension with the Steelers back in 2022. He was set to earn $4.75MM via base salary and $4MM in roster bonuses next season. As Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, the development of Jones coupled with the minuscule $1.23MM cap hit from Dan Moore Jr. made it easier to move on from the veteran Okorafor.

Harvin has spent the past three seasons as Pittsburgh’s primary punter. The 2021 seventh-round pick has continued to build off a rookie campaign where he earned All-Rookie Team honors. He finished this past season landing a career-high 38.5 percent of his punts inside the 20. He was set to enter the final year of his rookie contract.