Russell Wilson’s hurried deal with the Steelers may say a lot about his intentions, and those of Pittsburgh


When the Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson announced their divorce last week, speculation was rife about where the aging nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback would land.

The Las Vegas Raiders led a Yahoo Sports survey of quarterback agents’ and league executives’ predictions.

But the lone quarterback agent, who overperformed and scored three top slots, waited to mention the Raiders until he was third.

The agent ranked the Atlanta Falcons second.

And the Pittsburgh Steelers, in what now seems prescient, were in first place.

“Clearly needed and a playoff team,” the agent texted six days before Wilson and the NFL tweeted apparent confirmations. “This is his best chance to start and have a competitive team.”

Wilson seems to agree. Because Sunday night, about 16 hours before the Steelers could legally submit a deal to the league, Wilson tweeted a video.

The caption: “Year 13. Grateful. @Steelers”

The NFL’s official Twitter account chimed in with its 35 million followers: “.@DangeRussWilson is a Steeler!!”

The marriage is intriguing, with Wilson poised to compete with 2022 first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett and a likely third quarterback in the building (veteran journeyman Mason Rudolph finished the 2023 season for Pittsburgh but is scheduled to to play free agency).

Equally interesting is the haste with which the Steelers signed Wilson.

Certainly, his $1.2 million veteran minimum salary is an attractive price tag. But Wilson also received a mixed reception in locker rooms and team offices, and his play dipped enough to convince the Broncos (and especially head coach Sean Payton) that $85 million in dead salary cap space is more palatable than enlisting the Broncos’ services. will pay for.

So why agree to a deal so quickly?

FILE - Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson sits on the bench during the second half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023, in Denver. Denver believed in Wilson so much that the Broncos gave him a five-year, $245 million extension before he played a game for them, even though he had two years left on his contract. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

It makes sense for the Steelers to want to lock up a player they want (especially at Wilson’s bargain price) to plan the rest of their personnel moves and free agent strategy accordingly.

Wilson, however, had more reason to wait. Since money is no object, why not guarantee his best opportunity to get started? Some executives and agents felt that Wilson would wait until after the NFL Draft to find a team that needed him, especially in 2024. Find a team that didn’t get the quarterback it was looking for, or a team that did did, but knows that the child needs time, competition voices reasoned.

“Find a team with a young and suspect QB,” one officer said.

“Waiting for an injury? Like all the dust has to settle,” an executive added.

Then another manager came along and set up a paradigm.

“In almost all cases, the sooner the better, so he can get the system, the reps, etc….” the director said. “If I start, I would feel good about it being done quickly.

“If he’s a backup, all bets are off because there’s not the same urgency.”

Which brings us to what the Steelers may have revealed Sunday night: We should expect Wilson to be in legitimate contention to start for Pittsburgh in 2024.

Expect him to work with receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, and to learn the scheme of first-year coordinator (and former Falcons head coach) Arthur Smith. Expect Wilson to get a meaningful opportunity to replace Pickett, who completed 62% of pass attempts for 2,070 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions in 12 games last season. And expect Wilson to get real snaps from offseason activities and training camp, whether or not Rudolph returns to the building. (The Steelers appear to have better leverage to bring Rudolph back at a lower price now, if Rudolph wants to stay.)

Forget the criticism of Wilson, who, by the way, ranked eighth in passer rating and ninth in touchdowns despite Payton benching him in December. Forget Steelers general manager Omar Khan’s claims at last month’s NFL scouting combine that he has “complete confidence in Kenny” amid “problems on offense last year,” an on-camera quote that seemed to lay blame on the coach and the playbook and the guilt seemed to soften. of player.

Only then did Khan deliver what was perhaps the truest part of his statement.

“We’ll have strong competition there,” he said, “and we’ll see where it goes.”

It’s not hard to imagine one path the Steelers quarterback competition could most likely take. At the end, Wilson’s coronation awaits, soon.

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