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Khan: 'I have full faith in Kenny Pickett'

INDIANAPOLIS – Steelers general manager Omar Khan knows the team has just one quarterback under contract with the start of free agency looming March 13.

He also knows the Steelers have consistently been a team that carries three quarterbacks on its roster into the regular season each year.

In other words, Khan has some work to do to fill out the roster at that all-important position in addition to returning starter Kenny Pickett. And he's willing to look at all options available to fill those spots.

"We're looking at everything," Khan said Thursday here in Indianapolis at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I have an obligation to this organization, to the players, to the front office, to every member of the Steeler nation, to look at every option and every way of trying to improve this team and we're going to do so."

That could include acquiring additional quarterbacks through free agency, trade or the draft, and Khan said all of those are in consideration. But the Steelers also feel good about the possibility of filling one of those spots with one of the team's own pending free agents, Mason Rudolph.

"We have been in communication with his representative and he knows we want him back," Khan said, later adding that he believes Rudolph also would like to return. But he also knows that Rudolph would at least like to test free agency.

"It's just the process and I understand it, but we you know, we'd like to have him back and they indicated a desire to see what's out there beyond," Khan said. "I think every player kind of owes it to himself. At the end of the day, it's a few weeks until the start of the league year. But I know we'd like to have him back, and I believe he wants to come back and compete. He likes it here and we've had a good experience with Mason."

Rudolph, a third-round draft pick of the Steelers in 2018, opened last season as the team's No. 3 quarterback behind Pickett and Mitch Trubisky.

But Pickett suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and missed the final five games of the season. Trubisky started the next two games, both losses, before Rudolph was inserted into the lineup and led the Steelers to three-straight wins and a playoff spot.

Pickett was healthy enough to return for the regular season finale at Baltimore, but head coach Mike Tomlin decided to stick with the hot hand and then also started Rudolph in the team's playoff game at Buffalo.

The Steelers still feel Pickett, who is 14-10 as a starter in two seasons as the starter after being a first-round draft pick in 2022, has upside potential and will be given a chance to build upon that in 2024. But they also would like to add competition.

"(I) feel really good about Kenny, but he knows and we all know that there's going to be competition in the room, and we've always been a team that keeps three quarterbacks and I'd expect that to be the same this year. So we'll look at all avenues."

In his two seasons as the Steelers' starter, Pickett has completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 4,474 yards with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions – though he had just four interceptions in his 12 starts in 2023. But the Steelers also made a change at offensive coordinator in the offseason, hiring former Falcons head coach Arthur Smith for that job.

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"We are excited about Kenny and excited about the impact that Arthur Smith is going to have on the offense," Khan said, adding, "I have full faith in Kenny Pickett. He showed us some good things. And obviously there were some issues with the offense, and I'm excited about the impact that Arthur Smith is going to have on him. I know Arthur's very optimistic about Kenny, and I know they've communicated. And we'll see where it goes. We feel really good about him."

• Khan also said the team feels good about its situation at center, despite releasing Mason Cole recently. Cole had been the team's starting center the past two seasons.

"Right now we have Nate Herbig," Khan said of the current plan at center. "I always talk about offensive linemen that have position flexibility. It's always been important to me, and we have guys on the roster that are center capable. But that's not to say we're not going to take a look at free agency, in the trade market and the draft process. There's some good players and every one of those. We feel good about the center draft; feel good about the free agents, and we'll see."

• The Steelers also released Trubisky, offensive tackle Chuks Okorafor and punter Pressley Harvin recently, and Khan said that was done largely as a favor to those players, along with Cole.

"We knew that they weren't going to be part of the 2024 plans," Khan said. "Those guys are all really great guys, and we felt like the right thing to do was to give them an opportunity to catch on earlier with a team, so that's really what it was."

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