Steelers Sign QB Russell Wilson

MARCH 15: The Steelers announced the signing Friday. While Wilson will become by far the highest-profile quarterback on Pittsburgh’s roster, the former Seahawks and Broncos starter is still expected to compete with Pickett for the starting job.

MARCH 10: After a strange two-year tenure in Denver followed an outstanding 10 seasons as a Seahawk, Russell Wilson plans to take his next snaps with the Steelers, per Adam Schefter of ESPN. What was anticipated to be a potentially lengthy and competitive free agency ends up being determined just before the start of the free agent period.

Wilson seemed to confirm the report by posting his own video on X. It is a one-year contract, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac tweets. Wilson’s third team will enjoy the chance to have him on a veteran-minimum deal, due to his Broncos situation, and the Washington Post’s Mark Maske confirms the Steelers are likely to pay Wilson only $1.21MM.

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Wilson’s short stint on the market started less than a week ago, when the Broncos made the decision to announce their plans to release him at the start of the new league year and granted him the right to communicate with outside teams. After failing to come to an agreement on a slight restructure to his five-year, $245MM deal with the Broncos, Denver is set to eat a record-obliterating dead money sum.

The Broncos will be hit with $85MM over the next two years, with nearly half that financial lump coming in 2024. By waiting until free agency opens on Wednesday to officially release him, the Broncos will be able to designate him as a post-June 1 release to minimize the historic damage this year. Now, Wilson heads to the Steel City to compete for the starting job with Kenny Pickett.

Pickett won the starting job in his rookie season from the newly departed Mitchell Trubisky, but this year, veteran backup Mason Rudolph took over as starter while Pickett was hurt and kept it after Pickett was healthy enough to play again. There were some in the Steelers’ camp who supported a camp battle between the two for the right to start in 2024, as opposed to gifting the job back to Pickett without a fight. Things sure change now.

With Wilson coming to town, Pickett may be in an uphill battle — one in which Rudolph is unlikely to be involved. In fact, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic reports that Rudolph’s reps met with the team Sunday, and with the Wilson news now public, it is hard to imagine Rudolph stays in Pittsburgh this year. This likely means that Pickett will find himself on the bench learning from a Super Bowl-winning nine-time Pro Bowler.

Wilson visited the Steelers late this week, after he met with the Giants. The Raiders also loomed as a potential option, but the Steelers surged to the front of the line. New OC Arthur Smith and Wilson met for several hours, per CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson, who adds Wilson’s Steelers homework effort involved reaching out to some players in advance of the meeting. A productive Smith-Pickett meeting took place last month in Florida, but the Steelers are changing their QB dynamic in the aftermath.

It is difficult to overstate how far Wilson drifted off course in Denver. The Broncos’ hiring of Nathaniel Hackett and giving Wilson considerable autonomy in the design of their 2022 offense resulted in a stunning freefall for the decorated quarterback. The Broncos fired Hackett after 15 games. Brought in partially to salvage their Wilson investment, Sean Payton coaxed a better season from the 12th-year veteran. But the year involved behind-the-scenes drama and a benching ahead of Denver’s Week 17 game. That week represented a sea change for the Broncos, effectively confirming Wilson would be elsewhere in 2024 and the 2022 trade — headlined by two first-round picks going to Seattle — will go down as an all-time debacle.

The Wilson contract, which was set to begin its extension years in 2024, will likely lead to the Steelers paying only $1.21MM for a potential Hall of Fame passer. Offset language will stick the Broncos with the rest of the tab, barely cutting into their dead money. Wilson is eager to help his new team on the contract front, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, and it will certainly be easier to build a roster around him compared to what became of his $49MM-AAV Broncos contract.

Wilson accused the Broncos of threatening to bench him unless he moved his injury guarantee vesting date from 2024 to 2025. That would have given the Broncos more flexibility. While the Broncos have denied a benching ultimatum was part of the equation, GM George Paton confirmed they wanted to adjust the guarantee date. Wilson refused and, as should be expected, omitted the Paton-Payton tandem from his Denver farewell post.

Wilson, 35, is the only quarterback in NFL history in the 40,000-5,000 club, reaching that air-ground place in Denver. Wilson did throw 26 touchdown passes compared to just eight interceptions last season, but Payton kept a tight leash on the improvisational passer. Even as the Broncos strung together a five-game midseason win streak, amid the behind-the-curtain drama, Wilson was not leading a high-octane attack. QBR ranked Wilson 21st last season. That marked an improvement from his 2022 disaster, but the former third-round find appears to be somewhere past his prime. The Steelers will determine how far.

Pickett has not progressed like the Steelers hoped. While Mike Tomlin said Pickett would be the starter coming into the offseason program, Wilson’s presence probably changes the equation. Wilson has seen a number of detractors emerge in recent years, but Pickett not keeping his QB1 gig through a second season is eye-opening. The Pitt product has thrown only 13 touchdown passes in 25 career games. Even with Wilson past his Seattle peak, Pickett will face stiff competition to recapture the job.

Sam Robinson contributed to this post.

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