PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin addressed the media for the final time in the 2023 season on Thursday, making his year-end press conference at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex three days after the team was eliminated from the playoffs on Monday in Buffalo.
Here are four takeaways from Tomlin’s availability:
MIKE TOMLIN’S FUTURE
Tomlin started with a joke and an apology for his press-conference walk-off after Monday’s loss, saying he was open to discuss his contract and his future in this setting.
Tomlin said that he intends to return for 2024, which is the final year of his contract. He also said he expects there to be a conversation about a contract extension at some point this offseason.
Tomlin can’t come out and say it, but it seems obvious based on what’s been reported by others around the Steelers that Tomlin will be offered a contract extension this offseason and will likely have one in hand before the team heads to training camp this fall.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the team is committed to Tomlin going forward, but more an acknowledgement that it’s a necessary step for doing business. The team needs to hire an offensive coordinator (more on that in a bit) and attract veteran free agents. Those people are going to expect a level of stability at head coach. Whether it’s real or not, a contract represents that necessary stability.
QUARTERBACK BATTLE UPCOMING
Kenny Pickett is against the team’s starting quarterback — for now. Tomlin said that the team will not “anoint” him and that there will be competition.
He said he hopes that competition comes in the form of Mason Rudolph, but acknowledged that he is set to become a free agent, and that whether he returns is at least partially up to Rudolph.
Not mentioned at all in this press conference was Mitch Trubisky, who is under contract for 2024, but you can almost be sure will not be back.
Tomlin said he believes that his 2024 quarterback is on the roster, so it sure seems like they’re trying to set up a Rudolph vs. Pickett quarterback battle next summer.
Tomlin was especially effusive in his praise of the way that Pickett handled his demotion, and said he’s more confident in his intangible abilities than he was when the steelers first drafted him.
STEELERS ONLY LOOKING AT EXTERNAL OC OPTIONS
Tomlin was unusually forthright about the team’s vacant offensive coordinator position. He said that internal candidates Eddie Faulkner and Mike Sullivan will not be considered. They will bring in an external coordinator, preferably one with NFL offensive coordinator experience.
Tomlin said that he, Omar Khan and Art Rooney II will make a joint decision on the next offensive coordinator.
STEELERS ROSTER RUNDOWN
Some quick hits from the rest of the roster:
RB: Tomlin was noncommittal about a fifth-year extension for Najee Harris, but was quick to praise his efforts this season, and his consistency over three years.
TE: When asked to single out a player the grew and developed as a leader in 2023, Tomlin went straight to Pat Freiermuth.
WR: George Pickens was a lightening rod this season for his personal antics, and while Tomlin acknowledged some growth over the back half of the season, said there’s a “lot of meat on that bone.”
OL: The team hasn’t made a decision about whether Broderick Jones will play left tackle or right tackle in 2024. Part of that might be honest, but he’s not going to commit to an action with Dan Moore and Chuks Okorafor both still on the roster.
DL: Tomlin called Keeanu Benton a potential star, and said that he feels the urgency to get Cam Heyward a title before he hangs up his cleats, calling his failure to do so for Maurkice Pouncey one of his greatest professional regrets.
ILB: It seems like the plan could be to run things back with some combination of veterans Cole Holcomb, Kwon Alexander, Elandon Roberts and Myles Jack, as that group was playing well before injury. Tomlin said they’re still waiting for timeframes for Holcomb and Alexander to get back to practice. Alexander and Jack are free agents, but Tomlin expressed a desire to continue to work with them.
OLB: T.J. Watt likely would have played this week if the team had won in Buffalo.
DB: Tomlin said its premature to make a plan for Patrick Peterson, his contract, his potential future position, and how that might fit with the team in 2024.
P: Pressley Harvin III was “not consistent enough, particularly down the stretch,” which is about as damning of a quote you’re going to get from a coach in this kind of setting.