Mason Rudolph

AFC North Rumors: Lamar, Clowney, Rudolph

The PCL sprain heard around the world continues to dog Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s Ravens are headed to Cincinnati next week for a rematch against the division-winning Bengals. Yet the question remains: will Jackson be the one under center for Baltimore’s wild-card matchup?

Jackson suffered his knee injury in a Week 13 win over the Broncos. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the former MVP hasn’t practiced since. The initial prognosis saw him sitting out for one to three weeks. Five missed games later and panic is growing as the playoffs approach. To many in the media, it sounded after three weeks that the Ravens had such a simple road to the playoffs that they were simply resting Jackson for an eventual playoff run. But starting a quarterback that hasn’t seen the field in five weeks is far less than ideal.

Jackson has done everything that’s been asked of him in rehab sessions, but his knee reportedly still hasn’t quite felt right, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Rapoport asserts that PCL injuries take a bit longer than MCL injuries and that perhaps, due to Jackson’s explosive and agile nature of play, the standards for being back to 100% are different for Lamar than they would be for other quarterbacks.

Regardless, Jackson indicates that he’s confident he’ll be able to return in the playoffs, even if others involved in the recovery aren’t quite as sure. If Jackson isn’t available next week, a familiar refrain continues as Rapoport reports that the belief is that he will be able to go the following week, should Baltimore advance to the divisional round of the playoffs.

Here are a couple of other rumors from around the AFC North concerning the two teams in the division who played their last football of the season against each other today:

  • Browns edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney made headlines when he announced he was “ninety-five percent sure” he wouldn’t return to Cleveland and was sent home by the team. Although a likely change in defensive coordinator could improve his views on returning, Clowney has likely burned those bridges with his reported behavior, according to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. In the team’s October loss to Baltimore, Clowney reportedly told defensive line coach Chris Kiffin that he was hurting after the first series of the game and, as a result, Kiffin only sent Clowney in on third downs for the rest of the game. It was later revealed that Clowney told Kiffin he was hurt because he was upset that the Browns lined him up on the left side over Ravens star tackle Ronnie Stanley instead of the right side with Morgan Moses. If the anecdote is true, a moved like that, which could be viewed as manipulative or petty, would almost guarantee that Clowney’s future was determined in way back in October.
  • During a Q&A with fans this week, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hit on an intriguing note concerning Steelers third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph. A fan inquired about the chances of Rudolph accepting a deal to be the team’s backup in future seasons. Dulac’s response indicated that Rudolph likely doesn’t have “any interest in staying (in Pittsburgh) after the way he was demoted/treated.” This assertion is nothing new from Dulac who posited early in December that Rudolph and Mitchell Trubisky may both find themselves in new homes next year.

Steelers To Start Mitch Trubisky In Week 15

Kenny Pickett exited the Steelers’ loss to the Ravens last week with a concussion, and he has not recovered in time to play tomorrow. As a result, he has been ruled out, and Pittsburgh will once again turn to Mitch Trubisky as its starting quarterback, per a team announcement.

The veteran finished the Week 14 contest after Pickett suffered his second concussion this year. The team’s offense generated notable yardage with Trubisky at the helm, but three interceptions sealed their fate and represented the latest example of why Pickett was named the No. 1 in Week 5. Trubisky split first-team reps with third-stringer Mason Rudolph this week, inviting speculation that the latter could see his first action of the year; instead, he will dress as the backup. However, Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo of NFL.com say that Trubisky could be on a short leash and, if he should struggle, he may pulled in favor of Rudolph.

Trubisky joined the Steelers on a two-year deal this offseason, one in which the team needed to make both short- and long-term moves aimed at finding a Ben Roethlisberger successor. The 28-year-old has made six total appearances (including four starts) in 2022, putting up numbers essentially in line with his career averages with respect to completion percentage (63.3) and yards-per-attempt-average (6.8). He has thrown for 1,073 yards and, after last week’s contest, has more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four).

Despite being under contract for 2023, then, speculation has increased that the Steelers will move on from him in the coming offseason. A trade sending him elsewhere would, in a best-case scenario, likely represent another opportunity to compete for a starting role during training camp with a younger signal-caller. Rudolph, meanwhile, is a pending free agent, so the team’s actions with respect to Trubisky could substantially affect his standing with the organization.

Pittsburgh faces a long road to a playoff berth at 5-8, especially compared to their Week 15 opponent, the Panthers, despite Carolina boasting the same record. The Steelers have been underwhelming in almost every category on offense this season – a reflection of both of their signal-callers – but their commitment to a healthy Pickett both now and in the future could add significance for Trubisky on Sunday and for any further games in which he receives the nod.

Steelers Likely To Change Backup QBs This Offseason?

The Steelers have their quarterback of both the present and the future in first-round rookie Kenny Pickett, but their depth chart at the position could see plenty of turnover soon. Backup Mitch Trubisky and third-stringer Mason Rudolph are in a position to look elsewhere this offseason.

Detailing both veterans’ situations, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that it is “a safe bet to assume” Rudolph and Trubisky will not be back in 2023. The former is a pending free agent, so he will have the option of signing with a team which will give him at least a No. 2 role. That appeared unlikely to be available this year in Pittsburgh, given the addition of Trubisky in free agency and the subsequent decision to draft Pickett.

Those moves made Rudolph a logical trade candidate, but his experience and the relative uncertainty surrounding the other two signal-callers led the Steelers to keep him in the fold. The 27-year-old has made 10 career starts, but only two of those have come since 2019. That will no doubt lead to a modest free agent market, but with the prospect of starting in Pittsburgh no longer in play, a move elsewhere would come as little surprise. Dulac does add, however, that the Steelers would “probably” welcome the Oklahoma State product back if he were interested in re-signing.

Trubisky, meanwhile, has one year remaining on the $14MM deal he signed this offseason. That contract put him in line to operate as a starter after a one-year No. 2 stint with the Bills last season, but the addition of Pickett one month later – which, as Dulac mentions, the Steelers did not inform Trubisky of prior to doing so – led to immediate predictions that he would be a temporary starter at best. The former Bear was replaced by Pickett midway through Week 4, and the Steelers have committed to him as the starter moving forward.

Dulac therefore predicts a mutual parting of ways via a trade this offseason which will allow Trubisky, 28, to at least compete for a No. 1 gig with what would be his fourth career franchise. His 2023 cap hit of $10.6MM would make him an inexpensive bridge starter, or an experienced backup for any number of teams.

Pittsburgh will move forward with Pickett at the helm into 2023, but a departure from both Rudolph and Trubisky would leave the team in need of multiple additions. On that point, Dulac names Joshua Dobbs as a name to watch, as the 2017 Steelers fourth-rounder has bounced around to the Jaguars and Browns but has still yet to make an appearance for a team other than Pittsburgh. In any case, the team’s plans at the position will be worth monitoring when they turn their attention to rebounding from a disappointing 2022 campaign.

AFC North Notes: Steelers, Pocic, Ravens

The Steelers are trending in the wrong direction to start the 2022 season, one which came with a number of questions on offense. After last week’s 38-3 loss to the Bills, though, no shake-up on the sidelines is expected.

When speaking to the media after the loss, head coach Mike Tomlin stated that he has been “highly involved” in the team’s offense, a unit led by Matt Canada. The latter has been the subject of plenty of scrutiny dating back to last season, his first as offensive coordinator. As Tomlin stressed, however, he will not make “changes for the sake of changes” with respect to the maligned play-caller (Twitter links via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor).

Through five weeks, Pittsburgh ranks 30th in the NFL in both yards (308.6) and points (15.4) per game. The underwhelming play of veteran signing Mitch Trubisky led to first-round rookie Kenny Pickett being installed as the starting quarterback, something which certainly didn’t produce the desired results in Week 5. He and the team face another tough matchup this Sunday against the Buccaneers.

Here are some other notes from around the AFC North:

  • Beside Tomlin, another high-profile coach who has had a hand in offensive game-planning has been Brian Flores. The former Dolphins head coach sat in on that unit’s meetings prior to the Steelers’ game against the Patriots, per SI’s Albert Breer. More generally, Breer notes, Flores has been operating as an “over-the-top assistant” with the offense, in addition to his primary responsibilities as LBs coach. The expanded role comes as the team “hopes” Flores is able to land another HC opportunity down the road.
  • As for the QB position, a deal could be coming soon. Mark Kaboly of The Athletic points out that, with Pickett having assumed No. 1 duties, it would make sense for Pittsburgh to move on from one of Trubisky or Mason Rudolph at the upcoming trade deadline (subscription required). The latter is a pending free agent and was the subject of trade talks this offseason, though the Steelers held on to him. Trubisky, meanwhile, is under contract for 2023 with a cap hit of $10.625MM.
  • The Browns have the league’s top rushing attack, something owing in no small part to the play of their offensive line. That includes center Ethan Pocic, who signed in Cleveland this offseason after five years in Seattle. When weighing the options presented by a modest free agent market, the 27-year-old chose to work with Browns o-line coach Bill Callahan. “As soon as I wasn’t going to get a big contract, a long-term contract, everything was pretty low, league minimum for the most part, I just went to the team with the best coaches and the best players,” he said, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. After the season-ending injury suffered by Nick Harris, Pocic assumed a starter’s role and currently ranks as PFF’s fourth-highest rated center.
  • The first few weeks of the season have offered a glimpse into a new element in the Ravens’ offense. The team has implemented more looks from under center for QB Lamar Jackson, as detailed by the Washington Posts’ Jason La Canfora. Jackson operated almost exclusively from the shotgun prior to entering the NFL; Baltimore deployed plenty of pistol formations during the first four years of his career. 2022, however, has seen a dramatic uptick in his under-center looks, especially in the passing game – part of OC Greg Roman‘s attempts to diversify the team’s run-heavy offense. Overall, that has so far translated to just 213 passing yards per contest (23rd in the league), so the degree to which the team remains committed to this new element will be interesting to monitor as the season progresses.

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.

Steelers Expected To Retain Mason Rudolph

Although trade rumors have followed Mason Rudolph for a few days now, the Steelers are not planning to deal their longest-tenured quarterback.

Rather than move Rudolph for a draft pick, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac notes the team’s intention is to hang onto him (Twitter link). One season, on a $3MM base salary, remains on the extension Rudolph signed in April 2021. A couple of teams have made inquiries, per The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, but they have not swayed the Steelers.

Trades around this time often involve players teams plan to cut ahead of the deadline to move rosters to 53. Rudolph falls outside of that category, which does not impose a deadline for the Steelers. Rudolph has remained on Pittsburgh’s roster for five years now, and it is clear no satisfactory offer has come in.

This season has the clear look of a bridge situation, not unlike the Tommy Maddox-to-Ben Roethlisberger one that formed in 2004 (a Maddox injury summoned Roethlisberger in Week 2 of that season; the rookie kept the job for 18 years). At some point, Mitchell Trubisky will give way to Kenny Pickett. Mike Tomlin also has not named Trubisky his Week 1 starter yet, though Kaboly expects that to happen. That has long been the expectation, but Pickett impressed in preseason game action. Tomlin said Monday he “might” have already made his Week 1 QB decision.

Rudolph, 27, is not expected to be in contention to start for Pittsburgh. The team has Trubisky signed to a two-year deal but could escape the contract with a minimal dead-money hit in 2023. Trubisky’s incentive package begins to pay out if he plays 60% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps this season. It would be a slight surprise if, barring a Pickett injury, that happened this season. Pickett taking over could reopen the door to another Rudolph extension for 2023, as the Pitt product’s backup, but for now, Rudolph lingers — in 2021 Nick Foles fashion — as a veteran third-stringer.

Mason Rudolph Drawing Trade Interest

AUGUST 29: The Steelers continue to receive calls on Rudolph, but Tom Pelissero of NFL.com adds the team is hesitant to unload its veteran backup (Twitter link). Pittsburgh may be angling for teams to up their offers, with Pelissero adding the team will not merely trade Rudolph just to save a roster spot.

AUGUST 27: Pittsburgh’s transition from Ben Roethlisberger to the Mitchell Trubisky-to-Kenny Pickett bridge situation leaves Mason Rudolph without a clear role. Other teams look to be coming to this conclusion, with Ian Rapoport of NFL.com noting the veteran backup is drawing trade interest (video link).

The Steelers are expected to listen to Rudolph trade inquiries, though it would need to be at “the right price.” The team should not be expected to land too much for the former third-round pick, and earlier this week, a report indicated trade interest was scarce.

Ahead of what turned out to be Roethlisberger’s final season, the Steelers extended Rudolph through 2022. He is due a manageable $3MM base salary and, as of now, accounts for just more than $4MM on Pittsburgh’s cap sheet. The Oklahoma State product has started a game in each of the past two seasons but was used regularly in 2019, when Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2.

Rudolph, 27, is viewed as Pittsburgh’s QB3 presently. With Trubisky expected to get the call for Week 1 and be replaced by Pickett at some point this season, Rudolph could be set to play out the string in Pittsburgh. Then again, the Steelers are seemingly in the market for a long-term Pickett backup. Trubisky would likely attempt to pursue another chance to start somewhere, or be a bridge to another team’s early-round draftee, whereas Rudolph’s ceiling looks like a backup.

The Steelers cut seventh-round rookie Chris Oladokun early, leaving three quarterbacks on their 80-man roster. A mid-round pick coming the team’s way would likely convince GM Omar Khan to part with Rudolph, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo, but otherwise, the trade chip might end up staying. The fifth-year passer would likely upgrade a few teams’ backup situations, but it remains to be seen what the Steelers’ price point would be.

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.

Latest On Steelers’ QB Situation

Although the Steelers used a first-round pick on Kenny Pickett, Mitchell Trubisky is the favorite to be the team’s Week 1 starter. Pittsburgh’s initial 2022 depth chart reflected that plan, listing Trubisky with the first team and Mason Rudolph as his backup.

These placements can certainly change over the next month, and each of Pittsburgh’s three passers has received first-team work. But Trubisky has garnered the bulk of the Steelers’ starter reps during training camp. The former No. 2 overall pick has not distanced himself from his competition. Trubisky has enjoyed bright spots, but for the most part, he has struggled in camp, via Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com and The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly.

After Trubisky flamed out with the Bears, Steelers signed the 2021 Bills backup to a two-year, $14MM deal that included playing-time incentives. This is a fairly clear-cut bridge situation, similar to the one in which Trubisky replaced Mike Glennon in Chicago five years ago, but it is unclear how much developmental time Pickett will need to take over. Only three Round 1 passers over the past 10 years have gone beyond Week 10 of their rookie years without making a start (Jordan Love, Patrick Mahomes and Johnny Manziel), though a few (including Trey Lance and Paxton Lynch) returned to the bench after rookie-year starts.

Rudolph has looked the best thus far, ESPN.com’s Brooke Pryor said during an interview with 93.7 The Fan (Twitter link). This continues a trend from the team’s offseason program. The Steelers have been careful to include Ben Roethlisberger‘s longtime backup in conversations about this year’s starting job. The former third-round pick beating out Trubisky, however, would certainly signal a free agency misstep by the team. Rudolph’s extension, signed in 2021, runs through this season.

We’re not going to micromanage or overmanage this quarterback competition,” Mike Tomlin said, via Wilson. “The depth chart will not rest on every throw. I know that you guys will want to ask me every day and every throw, but we’re going to be a little bit more steady than that.”

The 49ers continue to dangle Jimmy Garoppolo in trades, and although the veteran starter is tied to a $24.2MM base salary (nonguaranteed until Week 1), any team that trades for the ninth-year passer would rework his contract. No rumors have emerged indicating Garoppolo is a legitimate option for Pittsburgh, but if Pickett is viewed to be closer to a redshirt rookie than one who takes over early, the 49ers trade chip would almost certainly be a better option compared to the two Steelers vets. Pittsburgh holds just less than $10MM in cap space.

AFC North Rumors: Trubisky, Apple, Pratt, Johnson

With Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and Deshaun Watson (tentatively) being cemented behind center in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, respectively, Pittsburgh is working to name their starting quarterback to open the 2022 NFL season. According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the current situation points towards free agent acquisition Mitchell Trubisky being named the starter for the Steelers’ season opener in Cincinnati.

On 105.7 The Fan, Dulac was quoted saying, “I think the plan is, and I don’t think there is any question about this, unless something would dictate otherwise including injury, I think Mitch Trubisky will go into the regular season as the starter.” He continued, “NFL teams don’t draft quarterbacks No. 1 to have them be the third quarterback and a gameday scratch. I expect Kenny Pickett to be the guy who dresses on gameday (as the primary backup).”

When asked where that leaves five-year veteran Mason Rudolph, Dulac thinks the Steelers will have “a little bit more respect than to keep him around as the third quarterback and a gameday scratch.” Dulac believes Pittsburgh would rather have the two parties mutually move on and try to find him a trade to a desirable location.

Here are a few other rumors from around the AFC North, starting with a couple rumors from the division (and conference) champions from last year:

  • When detailing some training camp position battles in Cincinnati this summer, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic asserted that six-year veteran cornerback Eli Apple will be favored to keep his starting job over rookie second-round pick Cam Taylor-Britt. After the rollercoaster start of his career, Apple played well last year for the Bengals. Despite the team spending heavy draft-capital on his position by drafting Taylor-Britt early, Apple has reportedly responded very well to the pressure and kept his eye on the ball. Taylor-Britt may eventually unseat the incumbent, but, for now, expect to see Apple across from Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool to open the season this September.
  • Expanding further on the Bengals’ offseason to-do list, Dehner Jr. reported on some possible extension candidates in Cincinnati, claiming that, for now, the Bengals don’t view linebacker Germaine Pratt as an extension candidate. Since Cincinnati selected him in the third-round of 2019, Pratt has been a formidable defender, racking up 76 tackles as a rookie as well as 89 and 91 tackles in the two seasons since. Despite his defensive tenacity, it doesn’t appear that Pratt does quite enough to force an early decision from the Bengals on his future. Instead, Pratt will want to put together a contract year that will either convince Cincinnati to keep him around or convince another franchise to spend big to bring him in. The Bengals will allow him to play out the last year of his rookie deal and assess his value before free agency.
  • Despite the recent one-year deal running back D’Ernest Johnson signed earlier this month to remain in Cleveland, ESPN’s Jake Trotter believes that Johnson could still potentially find himself as the odd man out of a loaded running back room for the Browns. With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt cemented as 1-2 at running back, Johnson is competing with 2021 draft pick Demetric Felton and 2022 Draft pick Jerome Ford for playing time behind them. Since both Felton and Ford offer versatility to rush and receive out of the backfield, along with cheap rookie deals, it’s not out of the question to imagine Johnson on the outside looking in. In this case, the Browns may want to find a trade-partner to take Johnson and make sure they don’t completely waste the deal they awarded him weeks ago.