In 2018, when Rudolph arrived in Pittsburgh via third-round selection, it was Roethlisberger who said he wouldn't go out of his way to help the newcomer. In 2019, Roethlisberger's injury is what opened the door for Rudolph to appear in 10 games, starting eight of them.
And in 2020, a week of rest for Roethlisberger is what allowed Rudolph to get his lone start of the year. After 2021 began with uncertainty surrounding Big Ben's future, Rudolph appears headed for yet another season spent behind the decorated veteran. The downside, of course, is simple: It's also the last year of Rudolph's rookie deal.
Might Rudolph never get a true shot at earning Pittsburgh's starting job? Sure, but one could also argue Rudolph had that opportunity in 2019 and didn't seize it. Regardless, Rudolph doesn't want to be anywhere else, at least not now.
"At the end of the day, I want to be in Pittsburgh," Rudolph said on a Zoom call Tuesday, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "This is where I was drafted. This is home. This is where I want to continue to play."
Rudolph has been generally unimpressive in his professional career, but he did manage to post a 5-3 mark as a starter in 2019, nearly helping the Steelers to a surprise playoff berth, but doing almost nothing down the stretch of that ultimately futile effort. Rudolph lost his only game as a starter in 2020, but it came with Pittsburgh resting multiple key players after having already secured the division crown.
Oddly enough, that same game might have been Rudolph's best in the NFL. When he'd last taken the field at Cleveland's FirstEnergy Stadium, Rudolph was an abject disaster, throwing four interceptions before ending the night in a shocking fracas involving Myles Garrett and others in November 2019. A little over a year later, Rudolph broke 300 yards passing for the first time in his professional career, threw two touchdowns and nearly eliminated the Browns from playoff contention in Week 17.
Instead, Cleveland won, and a week later it was Roethlisberger's turn to take his brown and orange medicine in a 48-37 wild-card loss to the Browns. What ensued was mass uncertainty followed by an agreement to run it back for 2021, putting Pittsburgh's future as a contender in doubt beyond this season -- with or without Rudolph.
It seems he's a tertiary actor in this plot, then, but that Week 17 game might actually be the one that stands as the best example of whether Rudolph is improving at all while lingering in Roethlisberger's shadow. Rudolph found success going deep against Cleveland's weakened secondary and caught fire in that game, nearly overcoming a 24-9 deficit before failing on a two-point conversion attempt in the game's final 90 seconds. Pittsburgh's offense found life while also not operating with its top players. And perhaps Rudolph received the confidence boost he'd need going into 2021.
The only problem, of course, is that he's not in line to take the reins. And by the time that opportunity opens, he'll either not be under contract, or he might not end up as Option No. 1, if Joshua Dobbs or new addition Dwayne Haskins proves to be a better candidate.
"You're always excited and you're always looking forward to competition," Rudolph said of Haskins and Dobbs. "You know it's going to be there each and every year. It's just a matter of who."
In the meantime, Rudolph is operating as if the job is his -- or as if he's anticipating it will be at any moment.
"That's my goal, is to be a starting quarterback in this league and for our team," Rudolph said. "I'm working toward that goal every single day. I can only control myself and the way I prepare -- the way I approach and play in OTAs and camp -- and that's on the forefront of my mind.
"I'm not worried about 2022 or anything like that. I'm trying to live in the moment and be the best I can for my team."
The moments with Pittsburgh might soon dwindle, though as is the case with everything related to the Steelers, there's truly no telling what they might look like a year from now.