Kenny Pickett

Latest On Minkah Fitzpatrick, Kenny Pickett Contracts

In terms of overall structure, the extension that the Steelers recently authorized for star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is fairly straightforward. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes, Fitzpatrick landed a $17.5MM signing bonus, and from 2022-26, the two-time First Team All-Pro will earn base salaries of $4MM, $14.5MM, $14.5MM, $15.5MM, and $17.6MM.

What is particularly notable in light of Pittsburgh’s historic approach to contract negotiations is that, in addition to guaranteeing Fitzpatrick’s $4MM salary for 2022, his $14.5MM salary for 2023 is also fully-guaranteed. Before edge defender T.J. Watt signed his record-setting extension last year, the Steelers had never guaranteed any money beyond a contract’s first year for a non-QB veteran player. But Watt landed three fully-guaranteed years, and now Fitzpatrick has two fully-guaranteed seasons.

Former GM Kevin Colbert was at the helm when Watt’s deal was signed, and the Fitzpatrick signing will go on new GM Omar Khan‘s ledger. Khan, like Colbert, has been in the Steelers’ front office for over 20 years, so as Florio suggests, the Watt contract was not so much an aberration as it was a sign of an organizational policy shift.

Still, Fitzpatrick’s deal shouldn’t be particularly difficult for Pittsburgh to stomach. There is every reason to believe that the 25-year-old will continue to play at a high level over the 2022-23 seasons, and if the team does not want to continue the relationship beyond that, it will be easy enough to get out of the remainder of the contract. Given that the Steelers’ QB depth chart presently features a rookie signal-caller (Kenny Pickett), a former first-rounder looking to reestablish himself as a starter (Mitchell Trubisky), and a player who has enjoyed limited success in his first four years as a pro (Mason Rudolph), it will be especially important for their defensive stars to keep shining for them to to stay competitive in the near term.

Speaking of Pickett, the University of Pittsburgh product is one of just two 2022 first-rounders who have yet to sign their rookie deals. And it could be that he is pushing the Steelers to set yet another new precedent. As Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes, the structure of Pickett’s four-year, $14MM fully-guaranteed contract is really the only explanation for the delay. Many rookies push for higher roster bonuses and lower base salaries so they can get paid more money upfront, but the Steelers have never authorized that type of payout. It will be interesting to see if they make an exception for the player they hope will serve as their starting quarterback for years to come, and if so, how that will impact negotiations with future draft choices.

Latest On Steelers’ QB Competition

As Pittsburgh rolls into the post-Roethlisberger era, they are in the less than common situation of having four drafted quarterbacks on the roster. Mind you, the Steelers did not originally draft Mitchell Trubisky, but the point is that while most teams’ third- and/or fourth-string quarterbacks tend to be undrafted long-shots, every quarterback on Pittsburgh’s roster had draft capital invested in them. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic gave a breakdown this weekend of where each of these quarterbacks has slotted through spring practices. 

Pittsburgh acquired Trubisky in free agency this offseason after also considering then-free agents Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston. Despite the hole left behind center, the Steelers never seemed to consider trade options such as Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo and made it known early that they were not going to acquire Deshaun Watson. Trubisky signed a reasonable two-year deal to compete for the starting job in Pittsburgh after spending last season as Josh Allen‘s backup in Buffalo.

Trubisky saw all of his work this spring come with the first-team offense, throwing almost solely to Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freiermuth. Not only did he only work with the first-team, he was the only quarterback to work with the first-team receivers and offensive line combination. Trubisky appears to be a good fit with offensive coordinator Matt Canada‘s motion-heavy offense. Regardless of whether or not this is a clear indication of who will start Week 1, Trubisky is in the mindset that he will win the job saying, “I’m preparing to be a starter. I feel like, no matter what position you’re in, that’s the way you should prepare.”

The quarterback taking snaps with the second-team is not who most would assume. Third-year Steeler Mason Rudolph is currently the second-string quarterback. The former third-round draft pick has started 10 games over his career (eight in his rookie season) with limited success. Despite the potential for him to settle in as someone who had their chance and watched it pass by, Rudolph reportedly “looked the best of the four quarterbacks” this spring. Rudolph is a meticulous worker and preparer and threw the most consistent ball with the biggest body in the group. While many considered him to be nothing more than a camp body, Rudolph put himself in the quarterback conversation, even if it will require some failures from Trubisky and Pickett to get him to the top of the depth chart. “This is the best opportunity I’ve had in four years,” Rudolph told Kaboly. “I am excited, and I look forward to competing.”

Working as the third-string quarterback this spring has been rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett. Head coach Mike Tomlin and Canada both offered that their current snap distribution is based solely on seniority, with Pickett falling behind Trubisky and Rudolph despite the possibility that he may be the most talented of the bunch. The idea is for Pickett to take the time this spring “to learn how to be a pro,” getting comfortable with the scheme and playbook now so that he can focus on competing for his depth chart spot in the summer. Luckily for Pickett, he has a bit of a leg up in terms of the language of the playbook with some familiarity from the time Canada recruited Pickett to Pitt. Pickett didn’t have too many snaps fewer than Trubisky or Rudolph, but his third-string status had him throwing to a very different receiver group. Pickett said he was “trying to be the best pro (he) can be,” calling this spring “100 percent successful.”

Lastly on the roster is rookie seventh-round draft pick Chris Oladokun. Oladokun transferred from South Florida to Samford to South Dakota State throughout his college career, spending that whole time outside of consistent Power 5 football. According to Kaboly, it showed, as Oladokun “looked like a guy who didn’t get many reps and came from a small college.” Oladokun is a project and his dearth of playing time reflected that, with Oladokun pointing out the importance of staying “locked in” mentally. The benefit of Oladokun’s lowly roster status is that he gets plenty of exclusive time working with David Corley, the assistant to quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan. Whether or not Oladokun ever competes for starting snaps in Pittsburgh, his dedicated time with Corley will foster benefits throughout the future of his career.

For now, the spring depth chart reflects the level of experience, just as Tomlin and Canada have intended. Based on the amount of time Trubisky has had with the first-team, it’s hard to imagine anyone else starting behind center in Week 1 at Cincinnati. Though, with Rudolph coming into his own and the talented rookie, Pickett, hot on their heels, it’s anyone’s guess who the Bengals will face in their season opener.

Latest On Steelers’ QB Situation

As one of the teams without a surefire Week 1 starter at the quarterback position, the Steelers are, naturally, receiving attention with respect to their competition at that spot. That makes the question of which signal-caller would receive first-team reps an important one as OTAs get underway. 

[RELATED: Poll: Which Rookie QB Makes Most Starts?]

As detailed by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the answer to that question is Mitch Trubisky. That comes as little surprise, given the multi-year deal he signed in free agency, as the team began its multi-pronged search for Ben Roethlisberger’s successor. The former No. 2 pick has the potential to be a starter once again, after attempting just eight passes as Josh Allen‘s backup in Buffalo last year.

The news that Trubisky is in pole position for the No. 1 job, albeit early on in the offseason, comes after a report Breer made earlier this month that first-rounder Kenny Pickett would have the opportunity to become the starter right away. The Heisman finalist was the only QB taken on Day 1, universally seen as the most NFL-ready prospect in a generally underwhelming class. That may make him the favorite to see the most playing time amongst rookies this year, but Pittsburgh’s situation at the position could remain unsettled into the fall.

Meanwhile, Mark Kaboly of the Athletic adds that incumbent Mason Rudolph “feels he has a legitimate chance” of beating out the two arrivals for the starting role. The 2018 third-rounder has 10 starts to his name, although only two of them have come since 2019. He is still most likely destined to remain a backup or No. 3 on the depth chart, but with uncertainties surrounding his other competitors, the door is still open for him to win the job this summer.

Like in Seattle, the identities of the contenders for the top QB spot are known, but the order in which they will appear on the depth chart remains up in the air to a greater extent than arguably anywhere else. Without the addition of Jimmy Garoppolo or Baker Mayfield looming, of course, the forthcoming competition in the Steel City will be strictly internal, but intriguing nevertheless.

Poll: Which Rookie QB Will Make Most Starts In 2022?

As players widely linked to first-round destinations fell into the third, the long run of skepticism about this year’s quarterback class manifested itself. While this was the lowest-rated quarterback crop since at least the 2013 class, a few of these passers have paths to early playing time.

Russell Wilson‘s rapid rise notwithstanding, third-round QBs do not have an extensive track record for extended QB1 run as rookies. Only six non-Wilson Round 3 QBs (Joe Ferguson, Mike Glennon, Chris Chandler, Davis Mills, John Hadl and Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton) made at least 10 starts as rookies. (Wilson is the only third-round QB to start a full season.) The bar is low for the likes of Desmond Ridder, Malik Willis and Matt Corral, but they each landed in interesting situations.

Conversations around starter promotions for this year’s class must first include Kenny Pickett, who ended up going 54 spots before the next quarterback came off the board. The Pittsburgh alum, who will turn 24 next month, was a four-year starter at the ACC school. Pickett’s NFL entrance looks similar to new teammate Mitchell Trubisky‘s. The No. 2 overall choice in 2017, Trubisky unseated Glennon after the latter signed with the Bears that offseason. A value gap between being picked second and 20th certainly exists, but the Steelers clearly have Pickett penciled in as their long-term preference.

Four of the five QBs taken in last year’s first round were full-time starters by September, while three of the four 2020 first-rounders moved to the top depth chart position by October. The Steelers bumped 2004 No. 11 overall pick Ben Roethlisberger into their lineup in Week 3 of his rookie year, following a Tommy Maddox injury. How eager will they be to put Pickett out there? Trubisky has 50 career starts to his credit, and the oft-maligned Bears draftee rebuilt his value in Buffalo — to some degree — to create a bit of a market in March. A Trubisky-Mason Rudolph depth chart adds some fuel to a scenario in which Pickett waits a bit before taking the reins.

The second quarterback chosen this year, Ridder joins a Falcons team amid a full-scale rebuild. This is a similar situation to the one Mills walked into in Houston. Ridder started four seasons at Cincinnati, topping it off by helping the Bearcats become the first Group of Five team invited to the College Football Playoff. Marcus Mariota resides as Atlanta’s stopgap starter, and while Ridder’s No. 74 overall draft slot does not mandate a lengthy look as the team’s long-term arm, Mariota has not made it past October as a starter since 2018.

The former Arthur Smith Titans pupil would stand to buy Ridder time in a low-expectations season post-Matt Ryan, but Ridder has a clear path to an extended look — if he proves worthy in the coming months.

Willis’ tumble doubled as one of the modern draft’s most notable freefalls. Linked to teams in the top half of the first round, the Liberty prospect fell to No. 86, when the Titans traded up for him. Of the top QBs taken this year, Willis seemingly has the best chance for a full-on redshirt. Ryan Tannehill has not seen his job threatened since taking over for Mariota midway through the 2019 slate, though the Titans have featured one of the lowest-profile QB2 situations since Mariota left for Las Vegas.

Willis’ all-around skillset, which allowed the Auburn transfer to nearly put up a 3,000-1,000 season during a year in which he accounted for 40 touchdowns, will make things interesting for Tennessee — if the Titans struggle after losing a few key offensive starters.

Perhaps the biggest wild card here, Corral resides on a Panthers team that spent the past two offseasons trying to made a big quarterback splash. Sam Darnold still represents Carolina’s projected Week 1 starter, unless the team finally decides to acquire Baker Mayfield. The Panthers have balked at trading for the disgruntled Browns QB for several weeks, due to his $18.9MM fully guaranteed contract. Darnold and Corral’s performance this offseason may well determine if Mayfield ends up a Panther, with Matt Rhule on the hot seat and Darnold showing little — albeit behind a bad offensive line — in 2021. Corral finished last season with a 20-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio, adding 11 rushing scores, and led Ole Miss to its first major bowl game in six years.

Which quarterback will make the most starts for his team this season? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Open Competition For Steelers’ Starting QB Role?

While some were surprised that only one quarterback heard his name called on the first day of last week’s draft, no one was caught off guard by the fact that Pittsburgh was the lone team to add a signal-caller. After the draft was over, it was confirmed that Kenny Pickett will have a chance to win the No. 1 role right away. 

[RELATED: Steelers Select Pickett At No. 20]

As detailed by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, head coach Mike Tomlin was “pretty clear” in his post-draft media availability that Pickett “will be given the chance to unseat Mitch Trubisky as [the] starter”. Once the latter had been signed, it was expected he would operate as a stop-gap while the team searched for a long-term Ben Roethlisberger replacement. Given the structure of his two-year deal, Trubisky’s cap hit for 2022 is only $3.66MM, while it jumps to over $10.6MM the following year.

While that pointed to the ex-Bears first-rounder being the favorite for the starting role, the team made it clear in the build-up to the draft that they would add competition at the position. On that point, Breer adds that Tomlin named Pickett’s status as the most NFL-ready of this year’s prospects as “a big reason the Steelers took him” with their top pick. Another, undoubtedly, was the familiarity the team has with the Pitt product, who had a record-breaking final season in college en route to being a Heisman finalist.

Much of the team’s evaluation of both Trubisky and Pickett, of course, will depend on their performances during the offseason. With most other starting QB spots already decided, though, the internal competition between the two will be one to watch in the run-up to the 2022 campaign.

Draft Notes: Remaining QBs, Jets, Vikings, Burks, Johnson

One of the main storylines from last night’s first round was the fact that only one quarterback came off the board. The Steelers have their preferred choice in Kenny Pickett, but the other top options likely won’t have to wait long to hear their names called.

Jeff Howe of the Athletic reports (via Twitter) that “several teams” are trying to move up in the second round. As a result, there is “anticipation that a QB run could be on the way”. A number of teams could be interested in adding the likes of Malik Willis, Sam Howell, Desmond Ridder and Matt Corral as intriguing developmental options.

On that point, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer names the Titans, Falcons, Seahawks and Commanders as teams to watch for. He reports that “Ridder’s name has been consistently connected to Tennessee”, who now holds the 35th overall pick. The other teams have done significant work on signal-callers as well. Perhaps eyeing a passer, the Seahawks have made “exploratory calls” about moving up tonight, per CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson (Twitter link).

Here are some other notes looking back on last night:

  • The Jets, as it has been reported, were willing to part with the No. 10 pick for Deebo Samuel. They almost made a different deal with that selection, though, as detailed by ESPN’s Rich Cimini (on Twitter). New York wanted to swap with Seattle for No. 9 to avoid a team leapfrogging them to select Garrett Wilson. Both teams were able to successfully stand pat, ultimately getting Charles Cross and Wilson, respectively.
  • Not long after the top-10 was complete, the Vikings ceded the 12th overall pick to the Lions. With their second first-rounder, Detroit selected Jameson Williams, who may have been the pick at that spot had Minnesota kept it. Breer reports that the Alabama receiver “was very much in play ” for the Vikings, who added Lewis Cine and two Day 2 picks as a result of the deal.
  • Another of the top receivers to be taken last night was Treylon Burks, whom the Titans selected as a replacement for A.J. BrownWhen speaking to Pat McAfee, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said the Arkansas alum “was the guy Aaron Rodgers wanted” (video link). With him off the board, the Packers extended their streak of not using a Round 1 pick on a wideout, but he reports that they are a candidate to trade up for one tonight (video link).
  • One of the most surprising fallers on Thursday night was pass rusher Jermaine Johnson II. Part of the reason he was still on the board for the Jets at No. 25, Breer notes, was poor interviews with teams in the pre-draft process. Thought by some as a top-10 pick, he ended up with the Jets anyway, and figures to serve as a notable boost to their pass rush.

Texans Considering Round 2 QBs; Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo On Radar?

Although Lovie Smith voiced support for Davis Mills early in the offseason, GM Nick Caserio was noncommittal about the second-year QB’s starter status going forward. Everything Houston has thus far done points to Mills receiving another opportunity, but the team may make a late entrance to the quarterback market.

The Texans considered the prospect of trading back into Round 1 for Malik Willis, Jeff Howe of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Houston, which also liked Kenny Pickett, holds the fifth pick in Friday’s second round (No. 37 overall). Willis’ fall opens the door to a potential investment for a Texans team that can certainly afford to give a rookie quarterback a redshirt season, given where the Caserio-led franchise is on its rebuild track.

This draft producing the first one-QB first round since 2013 opens the door to teams making lower-cost investments tonight. Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, who is on the Saints’ radar, and Desmond Ridder qualify as potential second-round picks. North Carolina’s Sam Howell may well go off the board tonight as well. The Buccaneers, Vikings, Titans and Giants pick in front of the Texans in Round 2. There are some QB landmine spots here for Houston, which runs the risk of missing out on its preferred second-day passer by standing pat.

Should the Texans not take a quarterback tonight, two veterans are available in trades. The team is likely to explore a Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo addition, Howe adds. This would seem contingent on Houston not drafting Willis or another QB in Round 2. While the Texans are still fine with running Mills back out there in 2022 and did not consider drafting a passer with either of their first-round picks Thursday, per Howe, the team is not committed just yet.

The Panthers and Seahawks have been connected to Mayfield, with the former a bit more closely linked. Garoppolo’s market has yet to take shape, with the longtime 49ers starter still rehabbing from surgery on his throwing shoulder. The Texans were not interested in Mayfield when they traded Deshaun Watson to the Browns, but Howe adds the expectation of Cleveland needing to eat some of the QB’s fifth-year option salary ($18.9MM) has changed the equation. The 49ers’ asking price for Garoppolo remains too high for the Texans, however, though Caserio’s time with the ex-Tom Brady backup in New England does create a logical connection here — Garoppolo’s desire to end up with a contender notwithstanding.

Another wrinkle here is the 49ers’ willingness to keep Garoppolo through training camp. That could put the former Super Bowl starter in position to need another team’s QB injury to prompt a trade. Absent a reasonable offer, the 49ers are willing to carry Garoppolo’s salary ($26.9MM cap number) to camp, per Howe. This would hinder their ability to extend Deebo Samuel or Nick Bosa, but Garoppolo doubles as an insurance policy in case Trey Lance is not ready to take over.

Steelers Pick Kenny Pickett At No. 20 Overall

The Ben Roethlisberger-era is over for the Steelers. In comes Kenny Pickett from nearby University of Pittsburgh, selected with the 20th overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. 

The long-awaited conclusion to the debate of which quarterback would be selected first finally ends in historic fashion, as this is the latest we’ve seen a draft go without any quarterback selections since 1997, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.

Picket is the first quarterback off the board over Liberty’s Malik Willis and Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, as well as some other contenders.

Pickett’s statistics in his last year exploded off the page as he threw for 4,319 yards with 42 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, adding 233 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground. Pickett had a prolific season, leading the Panthers to their first ever ACC Championship. He was named a first-team All-American and finished 3rd in Heisman voting, taking advantage of a rare opportunity due to COVID-19 granting him a fifth year of eligibility.

Pickett is the latest Panther to walk across the campus and join the Steelers’ organization, as running back James Conner did in 2017.

Saints Willing To Move Up Or Down In First Round

The middle and later stages of tonight’s first round are expected to house most of the trade action which could take place. That makes the Saints one of the most important teams to watch. It comes as little surprise, then, that New Orleans has been calling other teams regarding moves up and down the board (Twitter link via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler). 

After their deal with the Eagles, the Saints own the 16th and 19th overall picks. That likely puts them in range of some – if not all – of the top quarterbacks in the class. If the team does elect to add a signal-caller, it appears their preference would be either Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral. With that said, the team has already re-signed Jameis Winston and added veteran backup Andy Dalton, leading some to believe other positions could be of greater concern to them.

The two positions most referenced along those lines are offensive tackle and wide receiver. In need of a Terron Armstead replacement, Trevor Penning will likely be the top blocker still available at 16, so a move up to select a top-tier option like Charles Cross wouldn’t come as a surprise. Likewise, the team would, in all likelihood, need to move into the top 10 (or thereabouts) to be in range of wideouts such as Drake London, Jameson Williams and Garrett Wilson as they look to boost last year’s passing game.

If the top options at those positions are off the board by the middle of the round, though, a trade down would become a possibility. The strength of this class is said to be truly seen on Day 2; especially if the team chooses not to add a quarterback, then, and a run on the position occurs in the 20s, moving down could become mutually beneficial for the Saints and a QB-hungry team.

Like all Day 1 trades, the ultimate decisions teams make will become known in a matter of hours. Depending on how the top of the board shakes out, New Orleans could become one of the most active teams, and therefore one worth keeping an eye on.

Saints High On Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral?

It remains to be seen if the Saints will end up selecting a quarterback during the first round of tomorrow’s draft. However, if they do, one faction of the organization could be disappointed. According to Albert Breer of SI.com, the Saints front office likes Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett while the coaches seem to prefer Ole Miss’ signal caller Matt Corral.

There have been some recent rumblings that the Saints could use one of their two first-round selections on a quarterback, especially after the organization hosted Corral, Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis, and UNC passer Sam Howell on top-30 visits. The front office had made it clear that they didn’t make their trade with the Eagles with the goal of selecting a quarterback, but the move certainly set them up if one of their preferred prospects falls in their lap.

The Saints added Andy Dalton to pair with Jameis Winston, and regardless of what happens in the draft, one of the veterans will likely be under center come the start of the 2022 season. Dalton’s one-year pact and Winston’s two-year extension (which is effectively a one-year deal) certainly won’t preclude the organization from selecting a rookie QB, especially after the team made it clear that Taysom Hill will no longer be considered for the position.

Armed with No. 16 and No. 19, the Saints will have two decisions to make tomorrow night. Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano, sources believe the Saints are positioning themselves to get one of the draft’s top offensive tackles after losing Terron Armstead. Other sources believe the front office could be targeting a wide receiver.