Where Do Steelers Go From Here? Futures of Mike Tomlin, Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph Up for Debate

The Steelers did more than walk away with a 31-17 defeat. There was one notable walk-off after the Bills loss, plus numerous questions surrounding Pittsburgh's future.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made 11 playoff appearances in the 17 seasons Mike Tomlin has coached the iconic franchise. However, they hit some new lows on Monday in Buffalo.

Not only did the Steelers fall 31-17 to the Bills in the Wild Card round, but they have now lost their third consecutive first-round matchup while also becoming the first team in NFL history to surrender 31 or more points in their last five playoff games.

With the loss, the Steelers now have numerous questions to address involving the future of some pivotal team members, including Tomlin and the quarterback room.

Did Mike Tomlin Walk Out of a Question Regarding His Future?

Tomlin has never fallen below .500 to end the regular season. That astonishing accomplishment, which is a first for head coaches in their first 17 seasons of the NFL, has put Tomlin in a position where he won’t hear any chatter of him being fired. Or could he still be facing an uncertain future?

The coach was asked one last question at the podium regarding his current coaching contract. However, that question never got a response — or was even completed. That’s because Tomlin walked out.

The question was asked by Brooke Pryor, who covers the Steelers for ESPN.

She had some backers for trying to deliver a strong question directed at Tomlin. PFN’s Miami Dolphins beat reporter, Adam Beasley, was one of the many who defended the reporter.

As Pryor stated, Tomlin has one year remaining on his current deal. But now, there’s new speculation that the coach may be considering exploring options outside of the Steel City.

The 51-year-old head coach has lost his last trio of playoff games. His last playoff win was in January of 2016.

Tomlin Still Needs To Address Offensive Coordinator If He Returns

The longtime head coach has a crucial hire to make if he does return. He made the gutsy decision to fire offensive coordinator Matt Canada during the season — a first for Tomlin, as he’s never had to remove a staff member during the season. The Steelers’ offense still ranked 28th in scoring and 25th in yards. Tomlin will have to make a marquee move at offensive coordinator to bolster this offense moving forward.

Perhaps the Super Bowl-winning head coach goes after two-time Super Bowl-winning OC Eric Bieniemy, who may not be a part of the next regime for the Washington Commanders after they canned HC Ron Rivera.

MORE: Pittsburgh Steelers Depth Chart

Or, Tomlin and the Steelers can sit back and await the fate of Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. The Chargers interviewed Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh on Monday. Signs are indicating the national champion is the front-runner for that opening, which likely means Moore will be free to join another staff. The Steelers can potentially capitalize here.

Then there’s one more idea, which comes with a Tomlin tie-in: Byron Leftwich. The former Steelers quarterback won a Super Bowl as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator in the 2020 season. According to Mark Kaboly of The Athleticduring an Oct. 9 appearance on 93.7 FM The Fan, Leftwich himself reached out to Tomlin after Canada was axed.

There’ll be other evaluations on Tomlin’s end in scrutinizing the state of his offensive staff, but could one more area witness changes?

State of the Steelers’ Defense Following 31 Points Surrendered

Teryl Austin ends his second season as defensive coordinator in a disappointing fashion.

His unit just allowed 31 points to a Bills team that struggled for most of the year until their December charge. It marked the fourth time this season that Pittsburgh allowed 30 or more points in a game.

Granted, it didn’t help Austin and the Steelers that elite EDGE T.J. Watt was out for the playoff loss. He watched QB Josh Allen run right through the Steelers’ defense, especially on a 52-yard scoring run, Monday.

Even with the Pro Bowler, the Steelers end up ranking 21st in yards allowed. They failed to produce a three-interception playmaker on defense. The team only produced 16 picks this season.

Tomlin may grant Austin another year, but if the coordinator comes back, he becomes the coach on the hot seat in Pittsburgh.

Does Mason Rudolph — Not Kenny Pickett — get QB1 Reins?

Finally, the most pressing roster question: Who represents the future under center?

QB Mason Rudolph went from third-string to taking Pittsburgh to the playoffs by going 3-0 in his three starts. He carried the Steelers into the postseason when Pickett was healthy and cleared to play.

MORE: NFL Playoff Bracket

Pickett has yet to recreate the explosive plays he made from his University of Pittsburgh days — he only has one 300-yard outing in 24 starts. His career has also been marred by injuries.

However, his completion percentage, yards, and touchdowns slightly dipped this year. He also hasn’t thrown for three touchdowns in a game during his professional career.

If the Steelers opt to cut Pickett, it’ll present a $3,836,701 cap hit, plus a dead cap value, of $8,312,853. Another idea is to trade him for more draft capital.

But, Rudolph is an unrestricted free agent ahead of the 2024 cycle for March. He’s already signed back-to-back one-year deals to stay in Pittsburgh. With playoff experience as a starter now in tow, Rudolph could demand a better-paying deal for his next contract. The Steelers could find themselves in a dilemma with the team currently having only $7,409,273 in cap space to work with.

The quarterback is the most pressing roster inquiry on the Steelers’ end. That’s something Tomlin, or anyone in charge of the Steelers, can’t walk away from. But after 8 p.m. ET, many are wondering if Tomlin walking out signified changes on the horizon for this proud franchise.

Want to predict the results of the 2023 NFL postseason with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? How about looking into in-depth breakdowns of team depth charts or the NFL playoff schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with all that and more!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Join the Conversation!

Related Articles