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Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024
The Observer

Crow: Could Mitchell Trubisky be the Steelers’ next franchise quarterback?

Amidst the huge trades and free agency signings that have shaken up the NFL over the last few weeks, one move that seemed to get lost in the shuffle was the Pittsburgh Steelers signing quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. This was presumably done with the intention of having him replace the retired Ben Roethlisberger as the team’s starter for the upcoming season.

The general reaction to the signing among fans and media seemed to be neutral, or even indifferent, with very few strong feelings in either direction. Trubisky is viewed as a solid stopgap for a Steelers‘ team that was in desperate need of a quarterback, but he is not considered a long-term solution.

These predictions may indeed prove prescient, and Trubisky has certainly not done much to prove that he is more than a replacement-level player, but I believe that he could be the missing piece for the Steelers and if things break right, the quarterback to guide them back to the top of the AFC.

Of course, it’s important to remember that just one year ago it would have been surprising to see Trubisky land an opportunity to even compete for a starting job, much less have one handed to him by a consistent playoff contender. Following the 2020 season, his reputation and future prospects were at an all-time low.

Trubisky’s pro career got off to a well-enough start. Following a strong college career at North Carolina, his stock rose rapidly during the pre-draft process and he was selected second overall by the Chicago Bears in 2017. After an up and down rookie year that saw him earn the starting job midway through the season, he took a big step forward, leading the Bears to a 12-4 record and being named to the Pro Bowl. That would be the peak of his Chicago tenure, as his performance declined over the next two years to the point where he was temporarily benched during his last season with the team.

To make matters worse, he became something of a laughingstock on social media due to the constant comparisons made between him and superstar quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, who were selected after him in the draft. When he signed with the Buffalo Bills as Josh Allen’s backup last year, it seemed that his time as an NFL starter could be finished.

Since then, his standing in the league has undergone a major facelift. Part of this is due to his association with Allen, who has grown from a raw, unrefined prospect into one of the league’s best players under the tutelage of noted quarterback guru Brian Daboll (now head coach of the New York Giants). Many believe Trubisky could have a similar transformation in store, and it’s not too far-fetched, given how highly he was regarded entering the league, and how the Bills’ coaches and executives as well as Allen have spoken of him during his time with the team.

Another part stems from the fall of former Bears head coach Matt Nagy. Nagy was once seen as one of the league’s great offensive minds. However, since the Bears struggled immensely on offense last year, much of the criticism landed on his shoulders, and he was fired during the offseason. This has raised questions about whether Trubisky’s disappointing play during the second half of his Bears tenure could have been primarily caused by lackluster coaching and a weak offensive system.

While both of these reasons help explain why Trubisky is no longer viewed as a bad quarterback, the primary cause of this, in my opinion, is that people are realizing that he was never one in the first place. Criticism of Trubisky was often targeted at his inconsistent play, but that was to be expected given that he started just one year in college and did not play in a traditional pro-style offense. When considered as a whole, his time in Chicago looks far more impressive than most remember. He made a Pro Bowl, led the team to two playoff berths, went 29-21 as a starter, and threw for over 10,000 yards and 64 touchdowns with just 38 interceptions while also bringing value as a runner. He did all this while only being given two full seasons to start while also being effectively handcuffed by his coaching staff.

In Trubisky and Pittsburgh, I see a perfect pairing. The Steelers have a roster that is well-positioned to succeed, with a great coaching staff, a consistently good defense and talented young skill position players like wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool as well as running back Najee Harris. This team made the playoffs last year, and anyone who watched Ben Roethlisberger play knows that this was no small feat. Playing in Pittsburgh gives Trubisky a clean slate, as he is no longer burdened by the expectations and pressure of being a top draft pick and someone counted on to be the franchise savior.

Over the past year, Trubisky quietly bided his time while learning from one of the best quarterback-offensive coordinator pairings in the league. He is in a favorable situation and will be highly motivated to shed the dreaded “bust” label and prove himself as a top-tier quarterback. The Steelers haven’t made much off-season noise, but with Trubisky in tow, I expect that we’ll be hearing much more from Pittsburgh come fall.