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The signing of Russell Wilson shows a willingness by the Steelers to find the right QB

What seemed like a pipe dream in 2022 became a reality for the Steelers on Sunday night when news broke that Russell Wilson would play for the team in 2024.

Holy cow.

Not that the Steelers are getting the Wilson of the 2010s or anything; you don’t get that guy on a one-year deal worth $1.21 million. The Broncos would be more than happy to pay that guy $39 million to play for them in 2024 rather than paying him $37.79 million to be someone else’s quarterback.

Will Wilson come in and compete with Kenny Pickett for the starting quarterback job in 2024? As I’ve said before, I find that very hard to believe. 

No, I believe the Steelers have already seen enough of Pickett, their third-year quarterback with 13 touchdowns in 25 games. It looks like they’ve lost faith in the guy with a career passer rating of 78.8. I’m not sure what happens with Pickett from this moment on, but I can’t envision any scenario in which he starts in Week 1 of the 2024 campaign.

Wilson is going to be the starter. If not, I highly doubt he would have agreed to sign with Pittsburgh at the onset of the legal tampering phase that has recently morphed into the defacto start of unrestricted free agency.

Does Wilson surpass any of the other quarterbacks in the AFC North pecking order? I’d be hard-pressed to make a strong case for him even passing Deshaun Watson, but I do believe he bridges the gap just a bit.

How could Wilson not bridge the gap?

The Steelers’ offense was atrocious the past two years.

Wilson completed over 66 percent of his passes for 3070 yards in 2023 while throwing 26 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. He had a passer rating of 98 before his season was shut down due to a desire to keep him healthy enough to get rid of him at year’s end without having to pay him $37 million because of an injury clause that was part of the contract extension he signed two offseasons ago.

But Denver is willing to pay Wilson $38 million to go away in 2024, which is a bit alarming.

There have always been rumors about what a terrible teammate Wilson was, in both Seattle and Denver.

That’s just hearsay, of course. But Wilson’s disastrous on-field performance in 2022 was a fact. He passed for 3,524 yards in 16 games in his first year as a Bronco. He threw just 16 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. His passer rating was a career-low 84.4.

But those numbers were an outlier for Wilson’s career. It was the only time he had thrown for less than 20 touchdowns in a season. It was the only time he had a passer rating of less than 92.6. In fact, Wilson has had a passer rating of over 100 seven times during his career–including his final four seasons in Seattle. Wilson’s 2023 passer rating (98) was pretty much on par with his career passer rating of 100.

There was the matter of Wilson’s lack of desire to throw across the middle in Denver, something that has frustrated Steelers fans when it comes to their own quarterbacks in recent seasons. But Pittsburgh still had that issue with Pickett in 2022 and 2023, sans the touchdown passes.

I get it, Pickett is still inexperienced. He was saddled with a horrible offensive coordinator in Matt Canada for all but two games. He had to endure chemistry issues with the Steelers’ ever-changing offensive line during his first two seasons behind center.

But would a more talented offensive coordinator make THAT much of a difference in Pickett’s game? Why did Mason Rudolph look so much better at the end of the 2023 campaign? Yes, I realize Canada was gone, but Eddie Faulkner and Mike Sullivan were using the same playbook. Maybe they were better at devising schemes and gameplans, but I can’t imagine that was the only reason Rudolph played so well.

Wilson, 35, obviously isn’t the long-term answer, but I can certainly envision a scenario where he plays well in 2024, and the Steelers then decide to extend him for another season or two at the going rate for very good veteran quarterbacks.

The Steelers didn’t exactly make quarterback a top priority in the years after Terry Bradshaw retired in 1984. They thought building a second time with defense and a running game (and not drafting Dan Marino in 1983) would be the best way to duplicate the Super Bowl success they had just enjoyed in the 1970s.

They were wrong. And even though they eventually enjoyed a lot of success in the 1990s and early-2000s with guys like Neil O’Donnell, Kordell Stewart and even Tommy Maddox, they didn’t enter another championship era until they found their next Bradshaw in the form of Ben Roethlisberger.

I don’t see the Steelers neglecting the quarterback spot for so long this time around. They are just three offseasons into Roethlisberger’s retirement, and they’ve already taken a swing with Mitch Trubisky, the second pick in the 2017 NFL Draft; Kenny Pickett, who they selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft; and now Russell Wilson, who was a bona fide franchise quarterback as recently as two years ago.

Maybe the Steelers will never select high enough to find their long-term answer in the draft. Perhaps, their next big swing will come in the form of an established young quarterback who is looking for a big payday (Baker Mayfield would have been that guy this year).

The Wilson signing is the Steelers’ way of becoming more competitive at quarterback in the present, but it also signifies that they’re not going to stop swinging until they find their future at the position.


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