Kenny Pickett

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Jones, Ravens

A bit of a controversy developed in Pittsburgh this week. Mitch Trubisky and Diontae Johnson engaged in a shouting match during halftime of the Steelers-Jets contest, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, adding that this provided the impetus for Trubisky’s benching. Mike Tomlin did not confirm or deny a shouting match between the quarterback and the team’s highest-paid wideout ensued, though Johnson essentially confirmed a football-related argument took place. But The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly adds the dispute was not the deciding factor in the 16th-year coach moving to Kenny Pickett for the second half of that game. Johnson wanted more targets from Trubisky in that Week 4 game, Dulac adds, leading to the team’s original starter standing up to the fourth-year receiver.

Tomlin benched Trubisky primarily due to his underwhelming performance during the season’s first month, with Kaboly adding he had already decided to go with Pickett. Trubisky sat throughout Week 5 but played well when reinserted into Pittsburgh’s lineup following Pickett’s Week 6 concussion. Despite a bounce-back relief effort against the Buccaneers, Trubisky is set to return to the bench. Pickett cleared concussion protocol Friday and is in line to start against the Dolphins, Tomlin said. Levi Wallace and Pat Freiermuth also cleared the protocol, arming the Steelers with key starters.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • It looks likely Deion Jones will make his Browns debut Sunday. The team held off from activating the recently acquired linebacker from IR last week, giving the longtime Falcons starter more time after designating him for return. Jones is progressing fast in Joe Woods‘ defense, per linebackers coach Jason Tarver (via’s Mary Kay Cabot, on Twitter). Tarver said Jones could be in position to wear the green dot, signifying headset communication, in the near future. The Browns, who lost Anthony Walker to a season-ending injury in Week 3, acquired the six-year Atlanta cog for merely a 2024 pick swap.
  • Cleveland will be without multiple Pro Bowlers against Baltimore, however. The Browns ruled out Wyatt Teller and Denzel Ward for their divisional matchup. Teller is battling a calf strain, while Ward will miss a second consecutive game due to a concussion he suffered in Week 5.
  • Ben Powers has operated as the Ravens‘ left guard this season, winning a training camp competition. While 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland was nominally in that battle, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes the younger Ben in this matchup did not mount a serious push at winning the job opposite Kevin Zeitler. The Ravens have been frustrated with Cleveland’s inability to practice consistently due to injuries, Zrebiec adds. Cleveland missed the first week of training camp due to a failed conditioning test and has missed the past two games due to a foot injury. The Ravens did see Cleveland return to practice Thursday. Cleveland, who started four games last season, has not played an offensive snap this year. Baltimore was holding a three-player competition for the job Powers won. The third entrant, Tyre Phillips, is now with the Giants.

Steelers QB Kenny Pickett Suffers Concussion

Kenny Pickett‘s second career start was headed in a much better direction than his first one before he had to exit the game. The rookie quarterback took a hard hit in the third quarter of the Steelers’ game against the Buccaneers, and suffered a concussion. The team quickly announced that he was out for the remainder of the game. 

The first-rounder replaced veteran Mitch Trubisky in the second half of Pittsburgh’s Week 4 game. To little surprise, that was followed by head coach Mike Tomlin naming him the starter moving forward. Pickett’s first full game ended in a 38-3 loss to the Bills, in which he threw for 327 yards and an interception.

That, coupled with a plethora of major injuries in the secondary, led to tempered expectations at best for today’s showing. However, Pickett went 11-of-18 for 67 yards and his first career touchdown pass prior to the injury. That gave the team a legitimate chance to pull of the upset at the time Trubisky came into the game. His benching had come after underwhelming performances, though, so his level of play came as a surprise as well.

Trubisky completed 9 of 12 passes, totaling 144 yards and one touchdown in relief. The score came on what ended up being the game-sealing drive, as the Steelers completed the 20-18 upset. That ended Pittsburgh’s losing streak, and could ease concerns about the former No. 2 overall pick resuming the starter’s role if doing so becomes necessary.

Pickett’s injury comes in the wake of new concussion protocols being agreed to and implemented. While much of the focus has been placed on erring on the side of caution with respect to removing players from games on the suspicion of head trauma, recovery timelines will not doubt be watched closely as well. Pickett’s status will be worth monitoring in the build-up to Pittsburgh’s game next Sunday against Miami.

Matt Rhule Latest: QBs, Giants, Brady

Despite authorizing a seven-year contract to lure Matt Rhule from Baylor, Panthers owner David Tepper cut the cord this week. Tepper did so less than three years after he outmuscled the Giants for Rhule, who was believed to have preferred the Giants job to the one he ended up taking. After the Giants sent a private plane for Rhule’s January 2020 interview, Tepper upped his offer from six years to seven, according to Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). The seven-year, $62MM contract ensured Rhule never boarded that plane.

Although Rhule reached out to the Giants to see if they would match, John Mara viewed such a contract as exorbitant for a coach without much NFL experience. Still, the Giants preferred Rhule to Joe Judge that year. The Panthers, who paid Baylor a $6MM buyout fee in 2020, will not be forced to pay out Rhule’s guaranteed $40MM-plus remaining. Carolina is on the hook for Rhule’s 2022 salary, but the remaining cash will be offset by the coach’s next college gig — whenever that comes to pass. Here is the latest from the Rhule dismissal:

  • The Panthers made a quarterback splash in 2020, giving Teddy Bridgewater a three-year deal worth $63MM. Then-OC Joe Brady lobbied for Bridgewater, whom the young coach worked with during his time with the Saints, Person adds. Bridgewater was by far the best QB option during the Rhule period, with the Sam Darnold, Cam Newton 2.0 and Baker Mayfield (so far) stays producing bottom-end work.
  • Another option for Carolina would have been Justin Herbert, but Person notes the team did not want to give up the draft capital necessary to trade up for the Oregon prospect. The Panthers held the No. 7 overall pick in 2020; Herbert went sixth to the Chargers. Carolina, however, may have needed to trade up to No. 3 (Detroit) to secure Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa real estate. The Dolphins and Bolts likely were not open to moving down, and at that point, Dave Gettleman had never traded down during his time as the Giants or Panthers’ GM. The Panthers liked Herbert as a prospect, but they ended up taking Derrick Brown at 7. That certainly qualifies as a notable “what if?” for the organization.
  • After the Panthers passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in 2021, they were linked to ex-Rhule Temple recruit Kenny Pickett at No. 6 this year. But Carolina did not view Pickett as worthy of such a high pick, Person adds. GM Scott Fitterer openly said before the draft the team would have the tackle prospects rated above all the QB talents in this year’s draft. Other teams tended to agree, with the Steelers nabbing Pickett at No. 20 — without trading up — and no other QBs coming off the board until Round 3.
  • Rhule’s decision to fire Brady after going on vacation during Carolina’s 2021 bye week did not sit well with some players, per Person. Rhule encouraged players to get away that week and kept his travel plans, but Brady and QBs coach Sean Ryan stayed in town to work with the recently re-signed Newton as he learned the Panthers’ new offense. Brady’s firing leaked on the Sunday during Carolina’s bye week, when Rhule returned to Charlotte. Brady is now the Bills’ quarterbacks coach.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo said the Panthers were one of the teams that showed interest in trading for him. “Things were advancing with a couple different teams,” Garoppolo said, via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch. “They were at the top of the list, I would say. One of the top couple, but I’m glad the way things worked out and I’m here.” The Panthers were among the teams skittish about Garoppolo’s salary, leading to his 49ers restructure, and his injury history was an issue with some Carolina staffers. Carolina acquired Mayfield in early July, but, adding to this franchise’s recent quarterback complications, Tepper’s desire to not overpay led to a delay that went against Rhule and Fitterer’s wishes.

Steelers To Stick With Kenny Pickett

OCTOBER 4: In a press conference today, Tomlin confirmed that Pickett will start against the Bills (video link). When making the announcement, he reiterated that Trubisky’s level of play is only partially responsible for the change. The veteran will operate as the backup, and Tomlin revealed that he was considering starting Trubisky this week, given his time in Buffalo last year, ESPN’s Brooke Pryor tweets.

OCTOBER 3: The Steelers began the Kenny Pickett era before they were planning to, bumping the first-round pick into their lineup in Week 4. Unsurprisingly, the rookie will keep their QB1 reins going forward.

Pickett is expected to stick as Pittsburgh’s starter over Mitch Trubisky, Ian Rapoport of tweets. Pickett replaced Trubisky in the second half of the Steelers’ Week 4 loss to the Jets. While the No. 20 overall pick threw three interceptions — the last on a final-play heave — he provided a bit of a spark for the team’s offense.

Teams generally do not turn back once a first-round quarterback enters the lineup, so it would have been more surprising if the Steelers restored Trubisky as their starter. The Steelers have been operating under the assumption Pickett will take over, Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post notes.

A former No. 2 overall pick, Trubisky struggled during his short time as Pittsburgh’s QB. The ex-Bears starter and Bills backup averaged an NFL-low 5.6 yards per attempt. Saying as much postgame, Pickett was more willing to make downfield throws. The 1-3 Steelers’ season now centers around the forthcoming extended look at Ben Roethlisberger heir apparent.

Mike Tomlin told Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer he wanted Trubisky to start throughout the season, providing a true redshirt year for Pickett. While that was a borderline-stunning report, given how Trubisky had fared through two games, a subsequent offering indicated the Steelers hoped to give Pickett until at least midseason to develop from the sideline. The Steelers are set for a grueling Bills-Buccaneers-Dolphins-Eagles stretch — ahead of a Week 9 bye — so Pickett will certainly be tested in his first batch of starts.

Pickett completed 10 of 13 passes for 120 yards and those three INTs against the Jets. After playing five seasons at Pitt (four as a starter), the 24-year-old rookie profiled as a player who would not require a full-season NFL redshirt. He performed well during the preseason, but the Steelers still exercised caution here. Signed to a two-year deal worth $14MM (plus incentives), Trubisky offered a shaky bridge that left the Steelers little choice but to try Pickett early.

Trubisky’s contract called for nearly $13MM in incentives, but that tiered package did not begin until the sixth-year quarterback hit the 60% start threshold. If Pickett stays healthy, Monday’s news would make Trubisky collecting any incentive dough unlikely. The Steelers can release Trubisky, who also received interest from the Giants this offseason, and incur less than $3MM in dead money next year. Mason Rudolph‘s contract expires at season’s end, leaving the team with work to do on its QB2 front in the months ahead. That will be a back-burner issue for the franchise, however, with Pickett’s development now front and center.

Steelers Replace Mitch Trubisky With Kenny Pickett At QB

Given the team’s offensive struggles to begin the season, questions have been asked with increasing volume regarding the Steelers’ quarterback situation. At halftime during today’s game against the Jets, the Steelers benched starter Mitch Trubisky in favor of first-round rookie Kenny Pickett

Trubisky signed a two-year deal this offseason to operate (at least temporarily) as Pittsburgh’s starter to begin the post-Ben Roethlisberger era. In the build-up to the draft, however, it was widely known that a long-term move was coming. Pittsburgh made the Heisman finalist the only first-round quarterback of his class, leading to questions about when he would see the field.

Those were intensified when Trubisky struggled out of the gate. Despite an average of just 5.5 yards per attempt, and only a pair of touchdown passes through the first three games, it was reported that the team was intending on keeping him as the No. 1 throughout the 2022 season. It came as little surprise, then, that the former Bears first-rounder got the nod again for today’s contest.

By halftime, however, Trubisky had managed 84 scoreless yards and an interception, and the Steelers trailed 10-6. Going against the perceived notion that Pickett wouldn’t take over until at least midseason, head coach Mike Tomlin decided to make the swap. The effect on the team’s offense turned out to be substantial.

The unit scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half, and got the lead until the game’s final seconds. Overall, Pickett finished 10-of-13 passing, with 120 yards through the air and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Each of his other three passes were, however, intercepted, contributing greatly to the end result, a 24-20 loss.

After the game, Tomlin said, “I thought we needed a spark… We didn’t do much in the first half, not enough offensively, and I thought he could provide a spark for us” (Twitter link via Tom Pelissero of NFL Network).

He added that no decision has been made regarding Pittsburgh’s Week 5 starter. Given the performance of each of the team’s signal-callers, the way the team ultimately leans will be worth watching in the coming days.

Steelers Aiming To Delay QB Change Until Midseason?

Although the Steelers had their mini-bye window to consider an early Mitch Trubisky-to-Kenny Pickett transition, no change is expected this week. Trubisky is set to start against the Jets, despite mounting scrutiny.

A report that surfaced just before the Steelers’ Week 3 loss in Cleveland indicated Mike Tomlin wanted to make this a true redshirt year for Pickett, which would have Trubisky starting throughout the season. That timeline may be shortening. The Steelers are now seen as wanting to give Trubisky until around the midseason point, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post.

The patience here can be attributed to Pickett. Early reports have the franchise seeking a long runway for its Ben Roethlisberger heir apparent, and Trubisky operated as Pittsburgh’s first-stringer throughout the offseason. Even though Trubisky was signed to a two-year, $14MM deal five weeks before the Steelers made Pickett the 20th overall pick, the team added the veteran to give its then-TBD rookie QB sufficient time to develop, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes.

That said, some in the organization may not be as patient. Some calls within the building have come for a quicker Pickett promotion, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (video link). A “strong push” exists in the building to pass the baton to Pickett, per Florio. Considering how Trubisky has played, this is understandable.

An organizational split regarding Pickett’s timeline would be an interesting plotline, though Tomlin has certainly built up enough capital to make the call. Setting a timetable of this sort is one of the last new challenges for the 16th-year HC, who had Roethlisberger installed as his starter since being hired in 2007. Tomlin has praised Trubisky, but calls for a Pickett bump will only become louder if the former No. 2 overall pick’s mediocre play persists. Pittsburgh ranks 31st in total offense, with Trubisky averaging only 5.5 yards per attempt — last among qualified starters. Steelers receivers have shown frustration with Trubisky this season; both Chase Claypool and George Pickens remain under 80 yards for the year.

In a division with established quarterbacks — Jacoby Brissett is not that, but the Browns’ stopgap starter outplayed Trubisky in Week 3 — Pittsburgh is in danger of falling too far behind early. Following their Week 4 Jets matchup, the Steelers’ schedule becomes much more difficult. From Weeks 5-8, the Steelers will face the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins and Eagles. Three of those games are away from home.

That schedule stretch would bring a stiff challenge for a rookie quarterback, but as of now, Pickett’s ceiling is higher than Trubisky’s. It seems clear Tomlin would prefer to avoid throwing the Pitt product into the fire during the upcoming gauntlet, which precedes a Week 9 bye. But if Trubisky continues to restrict the Steelers’ offense, it could put the accomplished HC to a decision on whether to change his designed timetable.

Steelers Planning To Keep Mitch Trubisky As Starter Throughout Season?

The Steelers lost their second straight game Thursday, and their offense has been held under 20 points in each of their three contests. Mike Tomlin remains committed to Mitch Trubisky as his starter, however.

Tomlin said postgame he is “definitively” not planning to make a quarterback change. The 16th-year Steelers HC went further before his team’s Week 3 game. Tomlin’s plan is to stick with Trubisky throughout the season and give Kenny Pickett a true redshirt year, according to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer (h/t Awful Announcing), who adds Tomlin told him, “This is Trubisky’s team.”

This endorsement says a lot about the Steelers’ Pickett timeline, and while it would still be stunning if the team sat its first-round quarterback throughout the season, Tomlin’s pregame and postgame stances makes it look like a long NFL onramp is indeed being built for this year’s No. 20 overall pick. This plan would qualify as a zag compared to how most teams have handled first-round quarterbacks over the past decade.

Although Jordan Love and Patrick Mahomes (save for a Week 17 cameo five years ago) were able to go through full-on redshirt years, their respective teams had solid-to-excellent (in Aaron Rodgers‘ case) starters. Trubisky checks in well below the Rodgers or Chiefs-years Alex Smith level. The Steelers, however, not entertaining a Pickett promotion during their upcoming mini-bye effectively affirms their view of the local rookie’s progress.

Pickett played well during the preseason, but Trubisky was viewed as the first-stringer throughout the offseason. The Pitt product also was a four-year starter at the ACC school that shares a home stadium with the Steelers, giving Tomlin and Co. a fairly good indication of his readiness. Pickett sitting throughout would still surprise, given that this is his age-24 season and his upside outpaces Trubisky’s at this point in the latter’s career.

Trubisky only spent one season as a full-time college starter — at North Carolina in 2016 — but was among the bevy of first-round picks to take their NFL team’s reins early in his first season. The Bears gave him the call in Week 5 of the 2017 campaign. Excluding the Mahomes-Love-Trey Lance genre of rookie QB and the two first-rounders who did not hold down the job after seeing first-string action as rookies (Johnny Manziel, Paxton Lynch), every first-round QB since 2012 has been given a genuine first-season run as a starter.

Should the Steelers insist on Pickett sitting in 2022, they do have third-stringer Mason Rudolph in place. The team passed on trade interest in its fifth-year reserve arm. With Pickett having leapfrogged Rudolph on the depth chart, it would surprise if the longtime Ben Roethlisberger backup usurped Trubisky anytime soon.

Pickett questions will likely continue for the Steelers, whose offense appears to have a low ceiling as presently constructed. Then again, the franchise prioritizing Pickett’s growth over 2022 success would make sense as a long-term plan. This latest report certainly makes Pittsburgh’s Roethlisberger succession plan more interesting.

Tomlin: Mitchell Trubisky Is Steelers’ Starting QB

Although the Steelers made a change to their depth chart Tuesday morning, moving Kenny Pickett from the third-string spot to No. 2, Mitchell Trubisky‘s name remained with the starters. That will be the case Sunday against the Bengals.

Mike Tomlin confirmed Tuesday morning the long-expected path the Steelers will take to open the season: Trubisky is the starting quarterback. The former No. 2 overall pick had been viewed as the starter since signing a two-year, $14MM deal in March. This is all but certain to change at some point this season, with Pickett being groomed to take over. For now, however, the Pitt product will learn from the sidelines.

Chosen 20th overall, Pickett played well in the preseason and is now in position to dress as Pittsburgh’s gameday backup. Tomlin said he has been “really pleased” with Pickett’s development thus far. This will be the first time since 2007 that no rookie QB will have started in Week 1 (h/t’s Field Yates, on Twitter). Pickett and third-round Falcons pick Desmond Ridder almost certainly will make starts this season, but Atlanta (Marcus Mariota) and Pittsburgh will go with vets to open the campaign.

After Trubisky’s Bears tenure underwhelmed, putting it mildly, he rebuilt his stock somewhat by backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo. Trubisky, 28, has started three openers — 2018-20 — previously and was Chicago’s full-time starter early in his 2017 rookie year. The North Carolina product replaced Mike Glennon five games into his rookie season, but after his Bears tenure began to go south in 2019, the Matt NagyRyan Pace regime traded for Nick Foles. The former Super Bowl MVP replaced Trubisky early in the 2020 slate, though the younger passer regained his starting job and helped the Bears to that year’s playoff bracket.

Trubisky has made 50 career starts. He is a career 64.1% passer (6.7 yards per attempt) who is 29-21 as a starter. The Giants were connected to the ex-Brian Daboll Buffalo pupil as well, but the Steelers landed him to be Ben Roethlisberger‘s immediate successor. Pickett looms, however. Roethlisberger took over as a starter in Week 3 of his rookie year, though a Tommy Maddox injury prompted that change. Save for 2019, when Roethlisberger’s elbow injury led to both Rudolph and Devlin Hodges making starts, the Steelers did not need to worry about their QB depth chart for the next 18 seasons

The Steelers will only dress Trubisky and Pickett in Week 1, Tomlin said, noting a clerical error had Rudolph above the rookie on Monday’s depth chart. Rudolph, who has been with the Steelers since 2018, emerged in late-summer trade rumors. The Steelers passed on moving the former third-round pick, but Rudolph will not be in uniform on gamedays — as long as Trubisky and Pickett are healthy.

Latest On Steelers’ QB Competition

SEPTEMBER 6: The Steelers look to have issued a correction. A day after releasing a depth chart that placed Rudolph as their backup, the Steelers now have Pickett in that spot (Twitter link). Trubisky-Pickett-Rudolph was believed to be the quarterback hierarchy for Pittsburgh, which discussed Rudolph in trades before cutting their roster to 53 last week. This change, which puts the Pitt product in position to dress on gamedays, creates a clearer path for the long-expected Trubisky-to-Pickett bridge.

SEPTEMBER 5: After the final round of roster cuts had been made last week, the Steelers still had the same three quarterbacks at the top of the depth chart as they have since the draft. Their rankings in the pecking order were thought to be known, though nothing became official until today. 

Pittsburgh’s Week 1 depth chart lists Mitch Trubisky as the starter, as noted by ESPN’s Brooke Pryor. That was the expected decision throughout the offseason; the veteran signed a two-year, $14MM deal in free agency after one season as a backup in Buffalo. That, of course, was preceded by his four-year stint as the Bears’ starter which included a pair of playoff appearances but not enough production to warrant his draft status as a No. 2 pick or a new deal from Chicago.

Things became more complicated at the draft when the Steelers became the only team to use a first-round pick on a signal-caller, selecting Kenny Pickett 20th overall. Widely seen as the most NFL-ready prospect available, the move came as no surprise, and expectations have persisted that the Pitt alum will see action at some point. That became especially true when Trubisky struggled in training camp, though he — like Pickett and fourth-year returnee Mason Rudolph — acquitted himself relatively well during the preseason.

As was the case in June, Rudolph is listed as the backup ahead of Pickett. The veteran was thought to be a cut, or perhaps more likely, trade candidate in the past few weeks, but the team elected to keep him. Rudolph has put up underwhelming numbers in his 17 career appearances, leading to speculation about whether or not he would be active on gamedays.

As Mark Kaboly of The Athletic writes (subscription required), Trubisky (who was also elected a team captain) is likely to get a multi-game run with the first team to start the season. While he also “guarantees” that Pickett will see the field in 2022, he adds that Trubisky will receive a long leash before being replaced.

Head coach Mike Tomlin is expected to confirm the news tomorrow, but the Steelers appear set to move forward into a season once again featuring playoff expectations without a surprise at the game’s most important position.

Latest On Steelers QB Situation

It’s been assumed that the Steelers would roll with Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback before eventually handing over the reins to rookie Kenny Pickett. However, head coach Mike Tomlin suggested that the team is still evaluating their options when it comes to the QB1. As ESPN’s Brooke Pryor tweets, Tomlin said that this upcoming week’s practices will determine a number of spots on the roster, including the “starting quarterback position.”

As Mark Kaboly of The Athletic wrote last week, the Steelers have had a focused plan as they guide their rookie quarterback up the depth chart. While Pickett had a standout performance as the third quarterback in Pittsburgh’s preseason opener, his promotion to QB2 wasn’t attributed to his performance…it was attributed to the strict roadmap created by Tomlin, offensive coordinator Matt Canada, and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan.

“Yeah, we’ve got a system in place,” Canada told Kaboly. “Coach, we’ve had this thing mapped out since I don’t know when. We’ll continue to stay right on our plan and see where it goes.”

Many assumed the plan would see Trubisky starting at least a handful of games, especially since the veteran has exclusively taken first-team snaps in practices. The thing is, the quarterback plan hasn’t been communicated to anyone outside of Tomlin/Canada/Sullivan, with third QB Mason Rudolph even admitting that he knows “nothing about that process of what they are looking for.” So, while Trubisky was the assumed starter, the coaching staff may have always intended to have Pickett under center for Week 1.

Speaking of Rudolph, it’s clear that the 27-year-old is the third QB on the depth chart, and it remains to be seen if he’ll stick around for the start of the season. Kaboly recently wrote about the situation, noting that the Steelers haven’t actively shopped Rudolph…but they also haven’t received any calls. The writer opines that it makes more sense to keep Rudolph around as insurance, and the front office could recoup a compensatory pick when he inevitably leaves after the season. The Steelers also have Chris Oladokun around, but despite his seventh-round status, there’s a better chance he lands on the practice squad.