The Pittsburgh Steelers need an offensive coordinator, and have already started to interview candidates after firing Matt Canada mid-season and rejecting their two internal candidates. They also need a quarterback, with Mason Rudolph a free agent, Mitch Trubisky a likely salary cap casualty and Mike Tomlin promising competition for Kenny Pickett.
What if they got them as a package deal?
The new offensive coordinator will be bringing in a new scheme and playbook. Getting Pickett up to speed in the new offense will be the first and most important job of the new coaching staff. There isn’t going to be a lot of time for them to be spreading their efforts around.
So it makes a lot of sense if the second quarterback is someone that is already familiar with the OC’s offensive scheme and playbook. As the Steelers are likely looking to add a veteran, that new quarterback could be almost like a second quarterbacks coach — they’re likely to need one of those as well — in the room along with Pickett and potentially another younger passer.
It’s a paradigm that Tomlin is certainly familiar with. He pointed out the upside of it when discussing Gardner Minshew’s move to the Indianapolis Colts this season. Minshew followed his former offensive coordinator Shane Steichen to Indianapolis when Steichen was hired as a head coach. Minshew’s familiarity with the offense became key when first-round pick Anthony Richardson was lost for the season to injury. Minshew stepped in and put up a better passer rating, QBR and adjusted net yards per attempt than Richardson had. Tomlin credited his familiarity with the offensive system for his success.
“He’s got a history within that system of offense, that even most people that start in that offense don’t have because he came over with the coaching staff,” Tomlin said. “And so, there’s oftentimes some exposure that’s not reflective of playing time that tees up performance.”
So who are the available quarterbacks that have worked with the Steelers potential offensive coordinator candidates? Let’s go to our Steelers Offensive Coordinator Search Big Board and take a look.
Byron Leftwich > Blaine Gabbert, Jameis Winston
The candidate most obviously tied to Leftwich is Blaine Gabbert, who worked with him in Arizona and then again in Tampa Bay. But it’s not clear that Gabbert is really a fit to push Kenny Pickett. The 34-year-old backed up Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City this year and is a free agent, but has played in just three games and made one start of the past two seasons. He had an 80.5 passer rating in his last season with extensive playing time, under Leftwich in Tampa in 2021. He might be better suited to being a coach than a coach on the field at this point.
Jameis Winston played just one season with Leftwich, in 2019 in Tampa, but seems to much more clearly fit the bill as a free agent borderline starter. Over four seasons with the Saints, he’s played in 21 games and started 10, maintaining an 87.7 passer rating. But his 2023 season was his worst, completing just 53.2% of his passing, and throwing more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two) on 47 passing attempts. His inability to unseat Derek Carr as the starter doesn’t lend a lot confidence.
Klint Kubiak > Sam Darnold, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson
Sam Darnold, the former No. 3 overall pick, spent the 2023 season as the backup to Brock Purdy in San Francisco, and played well when he was called into action. Darnold had extensive playing time in two games this season, and he combined to complete 60.9% of his passes and posted an 85.1 passer rating. His 2022 season in Carolina went better than I remembered, too. Darnold played only six games, but threw for 1,143 yards, seven touchdowns compared to three interceptions, and had a 92.6 passer rating and a 7.13 adjusted net yards per attempt. That’ll do. He’s a legit option, and Kubiak might be the best of the offensive coordinator candidates.
Kirk Cousins is likely going to demand more money than the Steelers will want to spend on a 1B-type quarterback. Cousins is pretty much the best quarterback available on the market this season. It would be a strong move, but it seems unlikely.
Russel Wilson is set to get cut by the Denver Broncos while they’re still paying him an enormous amount of money to play for someone else. That could open the door to the former Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl champ coming to Pittsburgh on a less expensive contract. The bad news is that Kubiak and Wilson didn’t exactly make for a productive combination in Denver in 2022.
Darrell Bevell > Teddy Bridgewater, Wilson
Darrell Bevell, on the other hand, was present for most of Wilson’s most prominent success in Seattle. He was also there, calling the play for Wilson to throw an interception into the end zone against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, instead of calling a handoff to Marshawn Lynch. Still, Bevell and Wilson would represent exactly the kind of duo that Tomlin was talking about.
Teddy Bridgewater has not been an NFL starter since 2021, spending the last two seasons as a backup in Miami, where he got hurt, and in Detroit, where he hasn’t played. It seems like a stretch that he would legitimately push Pickett at this point.
Eric Bieniemy > Jacoby Brissett
Brissett just had this role in Washington this season, as he was brought in to be the veteran competition for Sam Howell. In 2022, he was the stop-gap for suspended Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. You could make a pretty good argument that his 11-game run was best quarterback play the Browns have gotten lately. Bieniemy is as strong of an offensive coordinator option as could be imagined, if he’s even available, and Brissett would be a very strong tandem quarterback.
Pep Hamilton > Tyrod Taylor, Easton Stick, Joe Milton III
Tyrod Taylor is another veteran of this process, holding the door for Daniel Jones the last two years with the New York Giants. Taylor hasn’t been a regular starter since 2017, but he started six games for Houston under Pep Hamilton in 2021 and five more for the Giants this year. With New York, he has an 88.9 passer rating — better than Jones.
Easton Stick did not inspire in his 2023 fill-in efforts for an injured Justin Herbert. The Chargers were a mess, but it’s hard to envision him turning that lackluster performance into a more prominent role.
Hamilton was a college coach not too long ago, and when he was at Michigan, he had a young Joe Milton III in his quarterbacks room. Milton was the starter at Tennessee last year and is part of the draft process, projected as a Day Three pick. That’s an interesting option.
Greg Roman > Tyler Huntley, Joe Flacco, Taylor, Gabbert
It seems unlikely that the Steelers are going to want the full Greg Roman mobile quarterback offense experience, as Pickett does not really fit that mold. But Tyler Huntley would be the guy to get if they do. He’s done a very good job as Lamar Jackson’s backup and even went to a Pro Bowl.
On the other hand, Joe Flacco was basically everything the Browns could have wanted him to be in 2023. The Browns might try to bring him back, but if they don’t, he and Roman have a long working relationship. The Steelers could do worse.
Frank Reich > Carson Wentz, Brissett
Carson Wentz has been around, and was available for most of 2023 before catching on with the Los Angeles Rams late, so it’s hard to take him seriously as a challenger to Pickett at this point. This would be a coach-on-the-field only kind of choice.
Mike LaFleur > Wentz, Flacco, Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy Garoppolo is likely to get cut by the Las Vegas Raiders after a disastrous 2023 season as the starter. He will find backup work somewhere, but his recent past will put into question whether he could be a legit option in 2023 and beyond or not.
Arthur Smith > Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill, Gabbert
Marcus Mariota had a mediocre year as the Atlanta Falcons starting quarterback in 2022 before giving way to Desmond Ridder, who turned out not to be an upgrade. Mariota had an 88.2 passer rating, throwing for 15 touchdowns compared to nine interceptions. He spent 2023 in Philadelphia, giving him a couple of connections on this list.
Tannehill got hurt, lost his starting job to Will Levis, and is a free agent. He’s been a solid starting quarterback for the Titans for a few years now. It’s not a sexy name, but the Steelers could do a lot worse.
Anthony Lynn > Darnold, Garoppolo, Taylor, Stick, Geno Smith
The big connection to Geno Smith would have been form Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, but he got snapped up by the Chicago Bears before the Steelers even started interviewing candidates. Lynn had one year with Smith as a backup while he was the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, so this isn’t a strong connection.
Marcus Brady > Mariota, Gardner Minshew, Wentz, Brissett
Minshew, the prophet of this entire article, could be an option. His contract is up in Indianapolis and he works with Marcus Brady in Philadelphia. Steelers fans should not need much of a refresher on what Minshew is capable of.
Thomas Brown > Baker Mayfield
Baker Mayfield is another hot name in free agency, and honestly, it seems hard to envision the Tampa Bay Buccaneers letting him get away. If he does, he will likely not want to look over his shoulder at Pickett, so I don’t see the Steelers as a great fit. Brown has already interviewed for the job, but as a former running backs coach, his quarterback connections are probably less of a big deal than others.
Scottie Montgomery > Wentz, Taulia Tagovailoa, Minshew
Taulia Tagovailoa is another player in the 2024 NFL Draft class that could come on board and push Pickett. He was at Maryland when Montgomery, a former Steelers wide receivers coach, was the head Terp. Tagovailoa is a late Day Three draft option.