The Steelers Have Their Quarterback … At Least For The Time Being
Kenny Pickett’s rookie season was promising but how long he’s perceived as the answer remains to be seen. That will depend, in part, on economics eventually, ask Lamar Jackson.
The Lamar Jackson saga may have the NFL world buzzing, but those who are shocked or appalled by the recent turn of events clearly haven’t been paying close enough attention.
The Ravens franchise-tagging Jackson and risking a rift in diplomatic relations with their franchise QB and opening the door to Jackson eventually playing for another team isn’t sinister, it’s business.
Get used to it.
The climate isn’t changing as it relates to quarterbacks, it’s already shifted.
There’s a saturation point, even at QB.
Unless you’re among the absolute elite, unless you’re either Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow or perhaps one of a scant few others, there’s going to be a limit on what teams are willing to pay.
The tipping point was clearly the five-year, $230 million-guaranteed contract the Browns gave Deshaun Watson.
This was a dynamic of operations the NFL embraced with gusto last season, when the Falcons decided they were better off without Matt Ryan, and when the Seahawks parted ways with Russell Wilson.
To paraphrase James Harrison from his infamous “Men’s Journal” interview in 2011, getting paid like Peyton Manning doesn’t make you Peyton Manning.
Ryan had been to a Super Bowl.
Wilson had been to two and won one.
But neither one of those guys is Manning, Mahomes or Burrow, especially at the advanced stages of their careers they were at when they were sent packing.
Jackson isn’t, either.
He’s younger, he’s a former league MVP and he’s gone 45-16 as a starter in Baltimore, but he’s also 1-3 in the postseason since 2018.
Jackson is dynamic and then some, but five years into his NFL career there are still questions as to whether the down-the-field aspect of his passing game is good enough, and about whether it ever will be if it isn’t yet. It could be argued that’s on the Ravens for not providing him with the quality wide receivers he needs, but there’s still reasonable doubt regarding Jackson’s ceiling.
So is it collusion or common sense that the Ravens and a handful of other teams have publicly acknowledged they aren’t willing to hand him a blank, guaranteed check?
This probably flushes out eventually with Jackson playing for the Ravens and playing well in the 2023 season.
But he might not be worth crippling constraints on the salary cap if that’s what it’s eventually going to take to secure his services long term in Baltimore.
More and more teams are starting to see it that way.
Why wouldn’t they?
Would you rather be Cleveland with Watson or Houston, having turned Watson into Cleveland’s first-round pick last season, this April and in 2024?
Would you rather be Denver with Wilson or Seattle with the two first-round picks and two second-round selections as part of the haul you attained in the Wilson trade?
The smart NFL teams these days are the ones who recognize the point of diminishing returns, either via performance or economic restraint or both, and make the tough decisions as they relate to their QBs.
Which brings us to Kenny Pickett and the Steelers and where that relationship may ultimately be headed.
Pickett performed admirably as a rookie and there are plenty of reasons to believe he’s a QB the Steelers can win with, particularly as long as Pickett is playing on a rookie contract and the Steelers have the resources to fortify the team around him.
“We’re excited about Kenny,” General Manager Omar Kahn confirmed last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We have our quarterback.”
For the time being, sure, but eventually Pickett is going to be in need of a second contract.
And when that time comes, paying him like Ben Roethlisberger won’t make him Big Ben.
He’s off to a promising start, but he’s a long way from establishing himself as Roethlisberger’s successor for the next decade-plus, from ensuring what has just begun will eventually become the Kenny Pickett Era.
And the clock is ticking.