Syndication: Beaver County Times
Michael Longo/For USA Today Netw

Pittsburgh finished the regular season with a .500 record or better for the 17th consecutive season under head coach Mike Tomlin. The past few seasons have been an adventure, though, as the franchise has leaned on a strong defense to overcome offensive struggles led by the quarterback. 

After a 31-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Super Wild Card Weekend, the franchise faces a pivotal decision this offseason as it relates to the position. 

The Steelers selected Kenny Pickett with the No. 20 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, which means he has two years, plus a potential fifth-year option, remaining on his rookie deal. Despite the investment, the franchise opted to start Mason Rudolph, whom the team could have named the long-term starter after Ben Roethlisberger retired, over a healthy Pickett down the stretch and in the team's playoff game.

At one point or another, Pittsburgh has now said that neither Rudolph nor Pickett has played well enough to curry favor within the organization. It could opt to give Pickett another year to prove himself after firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada midseason, but it is more likely the team explores all avenues in the offseason.

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As a result of advancing to the NFL Playoffs, Pittsburgh will finish with no better than the No. 19 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. They would be in range to trade up for one of the perceived top quarterback targets -- like LSU's Jayden Daniels, Washington's Michael Penix Jr. or North Carolina's Drake Maye -- but would they want to go down the rookie path again knowing the roster is playoff-worthy now? 

The most likely scenario is that general manager Omar Khan and Tomlin sit down this offseason and, in a moment of transparency, come to the conclusion that acquiring a veteran -- who has some level of success in the NFL, understands the responsibilities of the position, and has illustrated professional behavior -- is the best course of action. 

Who may be some of the players who check those boxes? 

If Chicago takes a quarterback at No. 1 overall, then it opens the door for the Bears to trade quarterback Justin Fields, who has one year, possibly two with a fifth-year option, remaining on his rookie contract. The former No. 11 overall selection has completed 61.4% of his passes for 2,562 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions, in addition to rushing for 5.3 yards per carry and four touchdowns this season. 

The jury is still out on Fields, but his athleticism would provide Pittsburgh's offense with an element it has been lacking: explosiveness.

 If the Seahawks or Giants were to take a quarterback in the draft, would that open the door for Daniel Jones or Geno Smith to play elsewhere? Neither serves as a massive step up, but they do have ample playing experience.

As far as potential free agents are concerned, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is in a tier of his own. 

The 35-year-old has played for 12 seasons but never advanced to the conference championship. Pittsburgh needs consistency and Cousins has been the epitome. The Illinois native will eclipse 40,000 passing yards next season. In 2023, he was limited to 2,331 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions due to missing half of the season with a torn Achilles. In the eight seasons prior, he had missed just one game. 

Baker Mayfield, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill are likely atop tier two of potential free agents, but Mayfield is expected to return to Tampa Bay. From there, the team may have to dive into a pool of traveled veterans, such as Gardner Minshew, Jameis Winston, Jacoby Brissett and Joe Flacco.

The Broncos and Titans have made it clear that neither Wilson nor Tannehill is expected to return next season. The latter was replaced midseason with rookie second-round choice Will Levis. However, there is a stabilization that happens within a locker room when a successful veteran enters. 

The Steelers' season came to a screeching halt with a blowout loss to the Bills. Now looms a big decision on what to do at the sport's most important position.