Russell Wilson

Steelers OC Arthur Smith: Russell Wilson To Enter Training Camp In “Pole Position”

Before acquiring Justin Fields via trade, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear the team intended to use Russell Wilson as their starting quarterback in 2024. Both passers are pending free agents, and training camp looms as an opportunity for Fields to reverse the pecking order.

Tomlin later opened the door to Fields unseating Wilson for the starter’s gig this offseason, but such a development would still be considered an upset at this point. The latter has the opportunity to earn a multi-year stay in Pittsburgh or a deal sending him to another new team during free agency in 2025 with his play as a Steeler. New offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is in line with the organizational notion that the QB1 spot is Wilson’s to lose.

“Russ is in the pole position,” Smith said (via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor). “It’s a competition. Obviously, we get to Latrobe, I’m sure things will heat up, but both those guys knew that, however they were acquired, and they got here and I think it’s been pretty transparent.”

Indeed, Tomlin has routinely used the same phrasing this offseason when describing Pittsburgh’s situation under center. Wilson has impressed during spring workouts, giving him the edge so far over Fields. That has pointed further to the former Super Bowl winner opening the season at the helm, although the 25-year-old does not intend to spend the full campaign on the sidelines.

Opinion amongst PFR’s readers also pegs Wilson as the favorite to operate as Pittsburgh’s starter for at least a majority of the 2024 campaign. In that event, his free agent market (and that of Fields) would be interesting given the Steelers’ reset at the position undertaken this offseason. Moving on from Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph paved the way for the team’s new faces acclimating to Smith’s scheme. More clarity will emerge during training camp and the preseason, but the competition between Wilson and Fields will be one to watch as the summer unfolds.

Latest On Steelers’ Quarterback Situation

Both the Steelers’ top two quarterbacks are in Pittsburgh after unusual separations from their previous teams. Jettisoned after a rocky Denver tenure, Russell Wilson counts for a record-shattering dead money figure on the Broncos’ payroll. The Bears-Panthers swap for the 2023 No. 1 pick created another No. 1 selection for Chicago after Carolina’s 2-15 season, leading to the Bears capitalizing via Caleb Williams this year.

After showing some progress down the stretch last season, Fields is still viewed as a clear backup to Wilson with the Steelers. The three-year Bears starter said he is not prepared to sit behind Wilson for the season’s entirety. Although the Steelers have given Wilson indications he will be the starter, Mike Tomlin has left the door ajar to a training camp competition.

[RELATED: Who Will Lead Steelers In QB Starts In 2024?]

“I’m definitely competing,” Fields said, via ESPN.com’s Brooke Pryor. “I think Russ knows that we’re competing against each other every day. Him being out there for me, that helps me getting better, especially each other. I definitely don’t have the mindset of me just sitting all year.”

Turning 25 earlier this year, Fields is more than 10 years younger than Wilson. The 2021 first-round pick is certainly not as polished as a passer but offers a more dynamic presence by comparison, though Wilson did display more in the run game under Sean Payton than he did during a bizarrely ineffective season under Nathaniel Hackett. QBR placed Wilson two spots ahead of Fields last season (21st, 23rd), though passer rating gave a considerable edge to the then-Broncos starter. Wilson’s 26 passes and eight interceptions highlighted a bounce-back campaign — to a degree, at least — and an eighth-place finish in rating (compared to Fields’ 22nd).

As for the prospect of this becoming a straight-up competition come August, The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly points to no such setup developing. Barring injury, Kaboly notes there is no chance Fields unseats Wilson to begin the season (subscription required).

This matches up with how the Steelers addressed the situation following the Fields trade. Wilson was told before the Kenny Pickett trade he would be the starter; that was among the reasons the 2022 first-rounder was dealt to the Eagles. This messaging continued following the Fields trade, with Tomlin contacting Wilson before the Steelers acquired the ex-Bears starter to ensure him the QB1 job would be his. The 18th-year Pittsburgh HC then brought up competition for the job, though it is still assumed Wilson is the clubhouse leader.

Despite Fields landing with a team that — as of now, at least — plans to sign off on a demotion, the dual-threat performer confirmed a previously reported notion he wanted to be traded to Pittsburgh. The Falcons, Raiders and Vikings were also on Fields’ list of acceptable destinations prior to free agency. Ryan Poles had said he wanted to do right by Fields, and while reports of the third-year Bears GM turning down a better offer to make sure Fields landed on his feet probably does not mean another proposal was significantly better, the new Steelers QB thanked his former GM for trading him to the Steelers.

Shoutout to Poles. We communicated to him through my agent, and I told him where I wanted to be and this was a place I wanted to be,” Fields said. “He honored that, and I appreciate him for that and glad he was able to put me in a spot where I wanted to be at.”

The Bears only received a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick for Fields; that choice could be bumped to a fourth if the former 1,000-yard rusher plays 51% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps this season.

The Steelers have expressed interest in having both Wilson and Fields back in 2025. It would be highly unlikely that comes to pass, as both players are on expiring contracts and each is accustomed to starting. A Wilson-Fields pecking order could change during the season, but months away from Week 1, the Steelers’ QB plan would only have them sending a sixth-rounder to the Bears.

Poll: Who Will Lead Steelers In QB Starts?

Bailing on their handpicked Ben Roethlisberger successor two years in, the Steelers put together one of the more interesting quarterback offseasons in recent NFL history. Two starters on other teams last season are now in the mix, with neither tied to a pricey deal nor a commitment beyond 2024.

The dominoes that led Kenny Pickett out of Pittsburgh began to fall before the team’s Russell Wilson signing, but that contract — a veteran-minimum deal agreed to before the Broncos officially designated Wilson a post-June 1 cut — led the way in driving Pickett to Philadelphia. After it looked like Wilson had a firm grip on the Steelers’ starting job, the team reached an agreement on a low-cost trade for Justin Fields. The final year of the ex-Bears first-rounder’s rookie contract is on the Steelers’ payroll — at the cost of merely a conditional sixth-round pick.

Mike Tomlin has said plenty to suggest Wilson will be his starter in 2024, but given the age gap between the two high-profile acquisitions and how the potential Hall of Famer’s Denver chapter unfolded, it would be a bit unusual if Fields was not mentioned as a candidate to step in at some point. The team has already been linked to pursuing potential deals with both QBs beyond 2024, though the club’s longstanding policy not to negotiate contracts in-season will put these efforts on hold. That seems unrealistic, given each’s starter background. For this year, however, the Steelers have assembled a unique depth chart — one that also includes UFA addition Kyle Allen.

An eight-asset package — headlined by two first-round picks — brought Wilson to Denver. The Broncos cut the cord on the Wilson contract before the extension years (on a five-year, $245MM deal) began. This will bring record-smashing dead money to Denver’s payroll, as the Steelers’ Wilson contract (one year, $1.2MM) barely ate into the $85MM dead cap coming the Broncos’ way through 2025. Wilson bounced back in 2023, but Sean Payton deeming him a bad fit represented another setback in a career that has veered off course.

After a shockingly poor 2022 season when paired with overmatched HC Nathaniel Hackett, Wilson rebounded — to a degree — under Payton by throwing 26 touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions. Slotting him 12 points higher than 2022, QBR ranked Wilson 21st last season. That settled in six spots behind Fields. It is arguable Wilson (six original-ballot Pro Bowl nods) disrupted his Hall of Fame path with the Broncos stay and needs a strong Steelers season to firmly reestablish himself as a Canton-bound player. Fields stands in the way of this reality, and Tomlin kept the door open — while still affirming Wilson will go into training camp as the starter — for the younger player to challenge for the job at some point.

While Wilson trails only Michael Vick and Cam Newton in career QB rushing yards and is the league’s only 40,000-5,000 player, Fields is certainly a better runner from the position. Joining Wilson with a propensity to take sacks, Fields both led the NFL in sacks taken and QB rushing yards in 2022. The Bears saw some improvement through the air last season, and QBR interestingly viewed the Ohio State product’s 2022 showing as superior to his 2023 slate. Fields also posted a worse yards-per-attempt number (6.9) compared to 2022 (7.1) and upped his passer rating by barely a point from the ’22 campaign.

Mentioned as a player expected to command at least a Day 2 pick in a trade, Fields bringing the trade value he did reflects a dim outlook around the league regarding his potential to improve significantly as a passer. The Steelers quickly declined Fields’ fifth-year option, joining the Broncos (Zach Wilson), Cowboys (Trey Lance) and Jaguars (Mac Jones) in passing on an extra year for a recently acquired QB. Pittsburgh will still attempt to finetune the former No. 11 overall pick, and it will be interesting to see how long they do so while keeping him in a backup role. If Fields plays at least 51% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps this season, the 2025 pick owed to the Bears vaults to a fourth-rounder.

The post-Killer B’s Steelers have been among the NFL’s most dependable teams, but the ceiling from the Roethlisberger-Antonio BrownLe’Veon Bell period dropped as Big Ben aged and then Pickett, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph stepped in. Improved Pittsburgh defenses have been unable to make the past three Steelers squads, even as two of them advanced to the postseason, Super Bowl-caliber operations. This season will be key to isolate some variables within the organization, as Pickett and since-booted OC Matt Canada are gone. After seeing QB play sink his Falcons tenure, OC Arthur Smith will be tasked with coaching two middling — at this point, at least — signal-callers.

The Steelers are banking that Smith and the Wilson-Fields duo will provide sufficient upgrades from their previous play-calling setup and what the QB group of the past two seasons offered. Who will be the quarterback that ends up as the team’s preferred option by the season’s stretch run? Who gives the Steelers the best chance to succeed? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this revamped setup in the comments section.

Steelers Rumors: Patterson, Heyward, Wilson, Peterson

Cordarrelle Patterson became one of the best return men in NFL history despite playing during an era when rule changes limited the number of kickoffs that were actually returned. Patterson, 33, recently signed a two-year contract with the Steelers, and as Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, the club initiated a dialogue with Patterson when talks to modify the kickoff rules were gaining steam among league owners. Once those modifications — which are designed to encourage more kick returns — were formally approved, Pittsburgh acted quickly to bring Patterson aboard.

Per Dulac, Patterson’s two-year deal is worth $6MM. While the versatile four-time First-Team All-Pro may see some action in the passing game and ground game, it is clear the Steelers are primarily counting on him to reprise his role as a dominant return specialist.

Now for more news and notes out of Pittsburgh:

  • Franchise icon Cameron Heyward seemed to be contemplating retirement following a 2023 season marred by a serious groin injury, and there was even a possibility that the Steelers could seek to release him given how much cap room the club could save by doing so. As Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk relayed back in February, Heyward underwent an unspecified surgery, and the player himself wrote on X that he is “done doing stuff on [one] leg that guys were doing on [two] legs.” Heyward added that he “can’t wait to get back to myself,” and Dale Lolley of the team’s official website wrote several weeks ago that HC Mike Tomlin believes the soon-to-be 35-year-old will be fully cleared by training camp. In sum, it appears that Heyward will be back for a 14th season, $22.41MM cap charge and all.
  • Another indication that Heyward would return to the Steelers for the 2024 campaign is the fact that he was one of the strongest advocates for the team’s Russell Wilson acquisition, per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network (video link). Both players have Walter Payton Man of the Year Award honors to their name, and Tomlin also pushed for a Wilson signing after meeting with the veteran passer. According to Pelissero, Wilson’s agent made calls around the league to see if any team — like the Steelers — that might be interested in signing his client to a one-year contract would also be willing to tack on an “unprecedented, massive player option for 2025.” Unsurprisingly, there were no takers, so after another lengthy conversation with Tomlin, Wilson signed his contract with Pittsburgh.
  • Defensive back Patrick Peterson, whom the Steelers released last month, recently said that he has had preliminary talks with a handful of teams since his release, though he does not anticipate signing a new deal before the upcoming draft. The future Hall of Fame corner struggled during his one season in Pittsburgh, and the team gave him an extended look at safety as a result. Once clubs have a better idea of their roster weaknesses post-draft, interest in Peterson could pick up, and as Lolley writes, Tomlin is open to a Steelers-Peterson reunion (though a new contract will certainly be less valuable than the two-year, $14MM accord Peterson signed with the club in 2023).
  • Before signing Wilson and trading for Justin Fields, the Steelers considered, at least to some degree, Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, and Tyler Huntley.

Steelers Will Not Change In-Season Negotiating Policy For Justin Fields, Russell Wilson

Arranging an unusual but intriguing quarterback setup by signing Russell Wilson for the veteran minimum and trading a Day 3 pick for Justin Fields, the Steelers have since expressed interest in keeping both QBs beyond the 2024 season. As unrealistic as that may be, the Steelers could have some negotiating to do in the not-too-distant future.

The Steelers have exclusive negotiating rights with Wilson and Fields until March 2025, but the team’s policy with regards to extension talks would not allow it to take advantage of many of these months that could be used to discuss a deal. While many teams negotiate with players during the season, the Steelers do not. Despite the QB talks that could be set to commence to keep one of their passers beyond 2024, the Steelers are not deviating from their policy.

I think regardless of position, I don’t think those certain policies like that one are going to change,” GM Omar Khan said (via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly).

Khan was not with the organization when it implemented this policy, with the change coming back in 1994. That marked the salary cap’s debut and it came after some drama — brought on from in-season contract talks — emerged during free agency’s 1993 debut. The Steelers did deals with Rod Woodson and running back Barry Foster in-season in 1993, with Kaboly adding other extension candidates expressed frustration to create tension in the locker room.

The Steelers regularly extend players during the summer, with Alex Highsmith, Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt being recent examples. They also reached a deal with Antonio Brown shortly after the 2017 season, as one year remained on the All-Pro’s second Steelers contract, and re-signed Cameron Sutton to keep him off the market just before the 2021 free agency period. If Wilson or Fields is to be extended, a deal will need to come in one of these windows — almost definitely the latter.

Wilson, 35, has first dibs on Pittsburgh’s starting job, with Mike Tomlin stopping short of guaranteeing the veteran will be under center in Week 1. Though, it is clear Wilson is the favorite. Rumors about another Wilson contract have come out, but the Steelers are planning to see how the veteran quarterback looks in Arthur Smith‘s system before doing another deal. While a midseason extension would make sense, that will not happen. The parties would need to huddle up after the season ends.

The team is not picking up Fields’ fifth-year option, but it views the ex-Chicago starter as a multiyear option. Unless Wilson is out of the picture in 2025, it would make little sense for Fields to recommit to the Steelers. Seeing Fields, 25, usurping Wilson this season is not too difficult based on the former Pro Bowler’s uneven Broncos play. For now, he is on track to begin the season as a backup. Any changes to that would impact the 2021 first-rounder’s second contract, but Fields will almost definitely play out his rookie deal — before potential talks commence — this year.

Latest On Steelers’ QB Situation

The Steelers entered the offseason with some expectation of shaking up their quarterbacks room. However, Steelers general manager Omar Khan admitted this week that he never would have imagined the team adding both Russell Wilson and Justin Fields.

“I’m excited about both of those players,” Khan said earlier this week (via Dale Lolley of the team’s website). “They’re both really good quarterbacks. If you would have told me a month ago in Indy that we’d be here and Russell Wilson and Justin Fields would be our quarterbacks, I’d say, I’d be a little bit surprised.”

When the season ended with yet another one-and-done playoff appearance, Khan gave Kenny Pickett a vote of confidence. At the same time, the GM acknowledged that the Steelers would likely add some competition at the position. That mentality didn’t last too long, as both Russell (via free agency) and Fields (via trade) were acquired thanks to massive discounts. The Steelers were also able to find a trade partner for Pickett in the Eagles, allowing them to completely reset their QB depth chart. Despite the sudden pivot, Khan made it clear that it had nothing to do with Pickett’s ability.

“Nothing has changed. I still have a lot of faith in Kenny Pickett,” Khan said. “Kenny’s a good football player, a good quarterback. I think he’s got a big future in the NFL. Things just kind of evolved. I couldn’t really have foreseen that things would go the way they did.”

Now, the Steelers will shift their focus to their two new signal callers. Mike Tomlin made it clear this week that Wilson is in “pole position” to be Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback, although Fields will eventually have the “opportunity to compete” when the time comes. Tomlin noted the advantage of having clarity at the position, which is why he’s been straightforward when discussing his team’s QB plan.

“We’ve been very transparent about the pecking order, at least to start,” Tomlin said earlier this week (via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor). “I just think that provides clarity for all parties involved. Russell is a veteran, man. He’s got a proven process of readiness. He’s been in this league a long time. He’s capable of rallying troops, receivers, tight ends, running backs, et cetera. He’s just got a lot of experience in terms of what it takes to be the guy over the course of a 12-month calendar and I just think that that’s something that a younger guy like Justin could learn from.”

While the Steelers were clearly active in the QB market, the team didn’t pursue the biggest available name. Tomlin told reporters (including Pryor) that the Steelers didn’t make a run at Kirk Cousins, who ended up getting $180MM from the Falcons.

Latest On Giants’ QB Situation

After the Giants poked around at the likes of Russell Wilson and landed on Drew Lock, there was some speculation that the organization could be looking to manufacture a QB competition. Seahawks GM John Schneider only fueled that fire earlier this week, telling Seattle Sports 710AM that the Giants lured Lock away from Seattle by selling the QB on the “opportunity to compete to be the starter.”

[RELATED: Giants To Sign QB Drew Lock]

Lock was quick to dismiss that notion. After inking his one-year deal with the Giants yesterday, the QB told reporters that it’s clearly been conveyed to him that Daniel Jones is the starter.

“Now, I need to come in and push Daniel to be the best that he can be,’’ Lock said (via Paul Schwartz of the New York Post). “I’ve had both sides of this. I’ve been the guy to push a starter, I’ve been the starter that’s being pushed by the backups. It’s about making that room the best it can be. If we can do that, the sky’s the limit for this team.’’

As Jeff Howe of The Athletic writes, it was likely Jones’ career-long injury issues and Brian Daboll‘s quarterback-friendly system that helped lure Lock to New York. Both Tyrod Taylor and Mitch Trubisky parlayed stints as Daboll’s QB2 into larger pay days, and Lock is surely hoping for the same outcome.

Lock could have an opportunity to start in 2024 as Jones continues to rehab a torn ACL that ended his 2023 season, but the new addition will simply be keeping the seat warm. That’s a big reason why the Giants didn’t end up adding Wilson to the mix; as Lowe reports, the Giants didn’t make the veteran QB “any promises about playing time.” The Giants also tried to retain Taylor, as Tony Pauline of Sportskeeda.com writes. Ultimately, Taylor was able to garner a higher offer from the Jets than what Lock settled for with the Giants.

While the Giants continue to give Jones a vote of confidence, that doesn’t mean the team is entirely comfortable with his future outlook. As Ralph Vacchiano of FOX Sports writes, Jones’ injury history has “shaken” the Giants’ faith in the franchise QB. The former first-round pick has only made it through one season unscathed, and that’s led the team to consider taking a quarterback in next month’s draft. Even after handing Jones a four-year, $160MM extension last offseason, the Giants have scouted many of the draft’s top quarterback prospects. If the organization does pull the trigger on a rookie signal-caller, that will only further cloud the team’s QB picture moving forward.

Steelers, Russell Wilson Plan To Discuss New Contract After 2024 Season; More On Justin Fields Trade

Despite yesterday’s stunning trade that sent Justin Fields from the Bears to the Steelers, the recently-signed Russell Wilson will remain in place as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, head coach Mike Tomlin reached out to Wilson before the trade was finalized to let the nine-time Pro Bowler know that his job is safe.

And, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wilson and the Steelers are interested in a multiyear arrangement. While Pittsburgh is paying Wilson the veteran minimum on his one-year deal for 2024 — the Broncos are picking up the rest of Wilson’s $39MM tab — player and team are already planning to explore a “longer deal” at the the end of the season.

It would seem a bit premature to make those types of plans. After all, while Wilson’s second year in Denver was much better than his first, his brief stint with the Broncos was generally a disappointing one. And even if the Steelers do not exercise Fields’ fifth-year option for 2025, it is certainly possible that he impresses enough over the course of the upcoming year to convince Tomlin — long rumored to be a Fields fan — that his newest acquisition is worthy of a new contract and a starting role. Plus, Wilson will be 36 by the end of the 2024 campaign, while Fields just turned 25.

Nonetheless, the fact that these reports are even circulating is evidence of the Steelers’ faith in Wilson. And considering that the club is committing so little salary to him and was able to acquire Fields for a sixth-round draft choice — which will only become a fourth-rounder if Fields plays 51% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps in 2024 — the Fields trade will have been worth it even if he simply plays out the season as a high-end insurance policy for Wilson and heads elsewhere next year.

It was not too long ago that Dulac and other Steelers beats unequivocally wrote that the team would not pursue an external addition (like Wilson and Fields) who was eyeing a QB1 role. Per Pro Football Talk, those reports were correct when they were published, but the club has dramatically changed how its views the quarterback position over the past month. During that time, Pittsburgh saw Mason Rudolph sign with the Titans in free agency and subsequently traded Kenny Pickett to the Eagles. Whether Rudolph’s departure is what triggered the shift in organizational philosophy — Dulac et al. had suggested that Rudolph and Pickett could compete for the starting quarterback job in 2024 — is unclear, but one way or another, the Steelers have overhauled their QB room in a short amount of time, and for minimal cost.

Meanwhile, Chicago fans have Caleb Williams to look forward to in the near future, but the club is doubtlessly disappointed that it was unable to fetch a larger return for Fields, the No. 11 overall pick of the 2021 draft. We heard just last week that the Bears were not panicking even when the market for Fields did not develop as hoped, and as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk opines, the club should have continued exercising patience. If GM Ryan Poles was willing to accept a 2025 draft choice in exchange for Fields, he might have waited until the 2024 draft was over to see which teams were left without a passer. He might even have kept Fields on the roster, at least as a backup, and waited to collect a compensatory draft pick if and when Fields signed with a different club as a free agent next March.

Perhaps, as Florio suggests, Poles felt that he was doing the right thing for Fields by trading him sooner rather than later. Regardless of his rationale, Poles did confirm in a statement after the trade was announced that he had been exploring a deal for weeks.

The statement, issued by the club’s official X feed, reads, “We have engaged in multiple trade conversations in recent weeks and believe trading Justin at this time to Pittsburgh is what is best for both Justin and the Bears. Today we spoke to Justin to inform him of the trade and the rationale behind it for us as a Club. We want to thank him for his tireless dedication, leadership and all he poured into our franchise and community the last three years and wish him the best towards a long and successful NFL career.”

Per ESPN’s Courtney Cronin, five teams contacted the Bears to dicuss a Fields trade, though all of those clubs viewed Fields as a backup. Poles had hoped that the 2021 trade that sent Sam Darnold from the Jets to the Panthers in exchange for a 2021 sixth-rounder, a 2022 second-rounder, and a 2022 fourth-rounder would provide a framework for a Fields deal, but at the time, Carolina clearly viewed Darnold as a starter. Since rival teams did not feel the same way about Fields, Poles elected to resolve the matter quickly and to start the Williams era with a clean slate.

Bears Trade QB Justin Fields To Steelers

The Bears were finally able to offload quarterback Justin Fields into the trade market today. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports that Chicago is trading Fields to the Steelers, where he could potentially compete with newly signed quarterback Russell Wilson for the starting job.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter provides details, telling us that Pittsburgh is sending the Bears a 2025 sixth-round pick that can conditionally become a fourth-round pick, depending on whether or not Fields plays 51 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2024. Both teams have announced the deal.

Pittsburgh’s QB room has changed dramatically in recent days, starting with the team’s Wilson deal becoming official. The former Super Bowl winner’s arrival was followed in very short order by a deal sending Kenny Pickett to the Eagles being worked out. The Steelers’ 2022 first-rounder will head to Philadelphia in a pick-swap arrangement. Fields will occupy the vacancy created by Pickett’s departure.

Of course, this deal has led to immediate questions of how Pittsburgh’s depth chart will look in 2024. Rather than Fields entering his first offseason with the team in an opportunity to take over the No. 1 role, it will be Wilson handling starting duties, as reported by both Rapoport’s colleague Tom Pelissero as well as Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Wilson being handed the reins was a key factor in the Pickett deal coming together as quickly as it did.

Fields will firmly be entrenched in the backup spot, though, considering Mason Rudolph (who finished the 2023 campaign as the starter over Pickett) has signed with the Titans. Quarterback play was seen by many as something which had considerable room for improvement in Pittsburgh’s case compared to the post-Ben Roethlisberger options used to date. General manager Omar Khan has moved quickly in re-shaping the depth chart under center. As ESPN’s Ed Werder notes, this offseason marks the first since 1957 that no Steelers signal-caller who played the previous campaign will return for the following one.

The Bears have had a lingering Fields decision to make for the past two offseasons. General manager Ryan Poles had the opportunity to move on from the 2021 11th overall pick last spring, but the team instead elected to forego drafting a passer at the top of the board. The decision to trade last year’s No. 1 pick to the Panthers has left Chicago in a nearly identical situation in 2024, with Poles facing the task of re-committing to Fields or moving on and drafting a rookie (all-but certainly Caleb Williams) with the top selection this April.

Poles’ move last year paved the way for Fields, 25, to cement his status as the quarterback of the future in Chicago. He saw incremental growth in a number of passing categories in 2023 while remaining a threat with his legs. However, Fields’ performance (and that of the team as a whole during the first half of the campaign in particular) was not sufficient to convince Poles to again trade out of the chance to draft a new franchise passer. He, head coach Matt Eberflus and many Bears players publicly praised the Ohio State product but for some time it has been clear a trade would take place.

The matter of Fields’ market has led to challenges for Chicago’s front office. A shortlist of logical landing spots was in place before the outset of free agency, but very few teams made an aggressive push to acquire him knowing Poles was in position to sell at a low price. As one veteran QB domino fell after another this past week – including, perhaps most importantly, Kirk Cousins signing with the Falcons – signs increasingly pointed to Fields being destined for a QB2 gig. A team such as the Rams had been floated as a reasonable spot, but Los Angeles has just added Jimmy Garoppolo as its backup. That left Pittsburgh as one of the few remaining teams without a relatively certain quarterback depth chart in place.

Poles made it clear at the Combine that he wanted Fields’ future to be sorted out as soon as possible. While the Bears have indeed “done right” by him with this deal getting finalized well before the draft, it obviously marks a massive disappointment given the move to trade up and select him three years ago. Like fellow 2021 first-round draftees Trey Lance and Mac Jones, however, Fields has now been dealt to a new team with the possibility of a fresh start. The latter has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but Pittsburgh could add another via the fifth-year option. Picking up that $25.6MM option would come as a major surprise, however, given the fact Wilson will serve as the starter in 2024.

For the coming campaign, though, the Steelers will have a highly cost-effective QB room. Wilson signed for $1.2MM since he is owed $39MM guaranteed from the Broncos. Fields’ 2024 cap hit, meanwhile, will check in at just over $3.2MM. Those two passers will each have plenty to play for in the coming campaign as they spearhead the transition to an offense guided by new OC Arthur Smith and which no longer features wideout Diontae Johnson

Reacting to the news of the deal, Fields has offered a farewell to Chicago after three seasons in the city. The Bears – a team which has made several moves to augment its skill-position corps this week – will prepare to move in a new direction next moth when they add a passer first overall. As they look to break through for a postseason win for the first time since 2016, meanwhile, the Steelers will boast an intriguing quarterback room featuring little certainty beyond the coming campaign.

Ely Allen contributed to this post. 

Steelers To Trade Kenny Pickett To Eagles

So much for Russell Wilson needing to compete for the Steelers’ starting job. Hours after the Steelers announced the Wilson signing, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson reports they are preparing to trade Kenny Pickett to the Eagles.

The Steelers will indeed send Pickett to the Eagles in a pick-swap trade, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Two years remain on the former first-rounder’s contract. Pickett will be set to back up Jalen Hurts in Philly. Here is how the trade will break down:

Eagles receive:

Steelers receive:

  • 2024 No. 98 overall pick
  • Eagles’ two highest 2025 seventh-round choices

Demoted for Mason Rudolph late last season, Pickett wanted to move on. While competition was reported initially, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport indicates the behind-closed-doors understanding upon the Steelers signing Wilson pointed to the former Pro Bowler being the starter and Pickett staying at QB2. Pickett, then, preferred a fresh start, Schefter adds.

This development may not have been the team’s plan when the offseason began. Mike Tomlin had said Pickett would be given the QB1 job but that he would need to earn it by winning a competition. The Steelers did not observe Pickett handle the Wilson news well, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac. After indicating he was fine competing for the job, Pickett soured on the situation once the Wilson signing became imminent, SI.com’s Albert Breer tweets.

Following Pickett’s disappointment when the team kept Rudolph in the lineup late last year — a stretch that featured Pickett, per Dulac, refusing to dress as the emergency third QB in Week 17 — the team is moving on. Pickett had made it clear to teammates he thought he was the better option to close last season, via ESPN’s Kimberley Martin. Some in the building, however, believed Rudolph was the better option for 2024. In fairness to Pickett, veteran reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala indicates the Steelers reneged on their pledge that he would compete for the job upon informing him Wilson would take over.

Famous for his “volunteers, not hostages” M.O., Tomlin will sign off on this early separation. Rudolph has since signed with the Titans, putting the Steelers in the market for a backup QB once again. They released Mitch Trubisky earlier this year; he has since returned to the Bills.

A New Jersey native, Pickett grew up an Eagles fan. He then became quite familiar with the Steelers while playing at Pitt. The Steelers chose Pickett 20th overall in 2022, naming him as Ben Roethlisberger‘s heir apparent. But Pickett has not shown much to indicate he could fill those shoes. He will now join Sam Howell and Desmond Ridder as 2022 draftees (and primary 2023 starters) traded over the past two days. The 2022 draft class received low marks at the time; other than Brock Purdy, the early returns have not been good.

Due to signing bonus proration, the Steelers will eat more than $8MM in dead money on this trade. Of course, they are set to pay their new starter the veteran minimum as the Broncos pick up the tab. Wilson alluded to a potential competition at his morning presser Friday, but it is probably clear he was informed that would not happen. Two years remain on Pickett’s rookie contract; the Eagles will have the 25-year-old passer tied to $985K and $2.6MM base salaries.

Pickett ranked 27th in QBR last season and 20th in 2022. The ’22 placement came well ahead of Wilson, who submitted a stunningly woeful season alongside Nathaniel Hackett in his Denver debut. Wilson improved under Sean Payton, but the Broncos still bailed — after some back-and-forth drama — before the veteran’s 2025 salary could become guaranteed this month. The Steelers have largely used homegrown rookies at quarterback this century, going from Roethlisberger to Pickett. While Kordell Stewart held the reins for much of the previous decade, the team did use free agent pickup Tommy Maddox in what became a stopgap capacity ahead of Roethlisberger’s near-two-decade-long tenure.

Wilson, 35, will be set to operate in a bridge capacity as well. Though, it should not be expected the Steelers use a high draft choice to add an heir apparent this year. Despite Wilson’s step back in Denver — one that could potentially threaten his Hall of Fame status — Pittsburgh is set to give him the keys. Dulac adds this is the quickest the Steelers have jettisoned a first-round pick since releasing 1996 Round 1 tackle Jamain Stephens following his second season.

On Feb. 29, GM Omar Khan said he had full faith in Pickett. While he cited competition as important for the would-be third-year starter, a recent report also indicated a meeting between the QB and new OC Arthur Smith went well. But the Wilson news emerged soon after. While Wilson has not shown much of his Seahawks form since the 2022 blockbuster trade, Pickett winning a potential competition seemed unrealistic. There will now be no competition involving Pickett this year, as Hurts is entrenched as the Eagles’ starter.

Pickett has thrown just 13 touchdown passes in 25 games, starting 24 of those. Although the Steelers rolled out a poor offense for most of Pickett’s tenure, he showed some promise late in his rookie season. But 2022’s top QB pick did not build on that form last season. This led to OC Matt Canada being fired. This preceded a Pickett ankle injury that required surgery. The 6-foot-3 passer will carry just a 6.3 yards-per-attempt figure to Philly, which did not re-sign Marcus Mariota this offseason.