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Typically to get a franchise quarterback, you have to be really bad. And if that quarterback is in the right system and is surrounded by talent, it changes things instantly. We saw that with Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 when he led the Steelers to a 15-1 season and an AFC Championship Game appearance. Roethlisberger was the No. 11 overall pick that year after the Steelers finished the season 6-10 in 2003, which was the Steelers' last losing season.
The 2004 Steelers had more of a veteran presence and past playoff experience, but this year's Bengals team has turned things around fast. And it all started with drafting quarterback Joe Burrow at No. 1 overall in 2019. A year later, the Bengals coupled Burrow with wide receiver JaMarr Chase, who they drafted at No. 6 overall. The Bengals are now in the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs.
Of course, you don't need to have the No. 1 overall pick or a top 10 pick to get a franchise quarterback. Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round and has seven Super Bowl rings. But, the odds are definitely better.
As John Steigerwald pointed out on Twitter, the Steelers' two franchise quarterbacks in their history both were high draft picks. The Steelers drafted Terry Bradshaw at No. 1 overall in 1970 after finishing 1-13 in 1969. And as mentioned, Roethlisberger was the 11th overall pick in 2004 after the Steelers finished 6-10 in 2003.
The whole nation saw two elite quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen duel it out on Sunday night in the divisional-round game. That's what teams are looking for, but of course, they're hard to find. Franchise quarterbacks don't grow on trees. The Chiefs traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to select Patrick Mahomes at 10th overall. Kansas City traded up all the way from No. 27 overall and gave up their 27th pick, a 2017 third-round pick and a 2018 first-round pick to the Bills. The Bills got their franchise quarterback in Allen the next year after trading their No. 12 pick and two second-round selections (Nos. 53 and 56) to the Buccaneers.
The Bills finished 9-7 in 2017, so they were slightly above average. They missed on Mahomes the year before, so they had to make up for it and be aggressive. The Steelers don't typically trade up or give away draft picks, but they have been more aggressive in recent years. They traded up from No. 20 to No. 10 overall to select inside Devin Bush in 2019 (who's been a bust so far) and traded a first-round pick to the Dolphins after Week 2 in 2019 to acquire free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has worked a lot better than the trade up for Bush. Fitzpatrick made the Pro Bowl and was named first-team All-Pro in 2019 and 2020.
The Steelers will never just tank, they always believe they have a roster capable of competing, but they might be setting themselves up to have a losing season if they go with Mason Rudolph as their starting quarterback in 2022. A losing season like 2003 might be what it takes for the Steelers to get their next franchise quarterback via a high draft pick. Or they can be aggressive like the Chiefs and Bills and trade up for an elite quarterback. This year isn't the year to do it, however, as they have the 20th overall pick and it's a weak quarterback class. Maybe in 2023, however, if the Steelers are not picking in the top 10. There's also the option of trading for a future Hall of Fame quarterback like Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but I just can't see that happening.