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Russell Wilson Could Set the Steelers Back Years. So They Better Win Now.

SportRussell Wilson Could Set the Steelers Back Years. So They Better Win Now.

One thing you can’t accuse the Pittsburgh Steelers of anymore is being conservative. Or of not doing everything in their power to put themselves in a position to win championships.

That is quite clear after they courted and convinced Russell Wilson to join a team whose general manager, Omar Khan, said less than two weeks ago that he had “full faith” in incumbent quarterback Kenny Pickett and wanted to re-sign free-agent quarterback Mason Rudolph, who surprisingly led Pittsburgh on a late run to the playoffs in 2023.



What to expect from Russell Wilson and the Steelers

Bringing Wilson on board is not conservative, even if it is financially — the Broncos will pay just under $38 million of his $39 million guaranteed salary. The move shows the Steelers will do anything to win now, even if there is only an outside chance that the 35-year-old (who had a .386 win percentage over the past three seasons) will ever return to his championship ways.

It doesn’t matter. Win now and worry about later some other time. Wilson no doubt shows the Steelers are thinking win-now when it comes to quarterback play.

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He was 11-19 in two seasons with the Broncos after spending a decade with Seattle. He bounced back from a miserable 2022 season to throw for 3,070 yards, 26 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 2023.

Wilson still lost his job after going 7-8 in coach Sean Payton’s first season. He led the Broncos to consecutive wins over Green Bay, Kansas City, Buffalo, Minnesota and Cleveland but lost three of his last four before being benched.

But there are consequences to what sure looks like a low-risk, no-lose situation for Pittsburgh.

By signing Wilson, the Steelers are starting the process of finding a franchise quarterback all over again.

You don’t bring in a nine-time Pro Bowler, or better yet, a former Super Bowl champ with a cheap price tag to compete with a third-year quarterback who has thrown only 13 touchdowns in 24 career starts, as Pickett has.

The catch is that there’s no guarantee Wilson, who agreed to a one-year deal, will be on the Steelers in 2025. Maybe he’ll play so well that he can make more money in free agency, or maybe he’ll fail miserably like he did two years ago and the Steelers won’t want him back.

This screams of being a one-year experiment.

Even if Wilson does play well, he will turn 36 in November. How much confidence do you have in any quarterback not named Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or John Elway winning a Super Bowl at that age?

And do you think the Steelers are truly only a quarterback away from a championship?

Now, that doesn’t mean this is the wrong decision. Given how Pickett has played, his lack of development in his second season and the team’s obvious lack of faith in Rudolph, this is a no-brainer signing — a no-brainer with consequences.

It’s all about what you value.

Would you rather have a chance to be more competitive with a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback on the back end of his career? Or give the 20th pick in the 2022 draft — a guy the Steelers spoke glowingly of for the better part of 18 months — one more year with a competent coordinator and a new position coach?



Is Russell Wilson a Hall of Famer? Assessing his future, legacy after Broncos flameout

If you say try to win now and the hell with the consequences, the answer is Wilson.

If you say you aren’t interested in a turntable of possible quarterbacks of the future, the answer is Pickett, or whomever they might bring in or draft next year. The best-case scenario is drafting a quarterback in 2025 and developing him, which would bring you to at least 2027 before you’d know if you have your quarterback of the future.

You can deal with 2027 or even later if Wilson leads the Steelers to a championship. But, seriously, what are the odds of that happening?

They have to be extreme.

Many things have to fall the Steelers’ way — beyond Wilson playing well — for them to win a Super Bowl this season. Just look at the AFC, with Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, C.J. Stroud, Justin Herbert and, oh yeah, Patrick Mahomes to deal with.

Rudolph will likely sign elsewhere, and make no mistake about it, Pickett’s career as a Pittsburgh Steeler is all but over. The Steelers have to decide on Pickett’s fifth-year option next May. I suppose a colossal Wilson failure coupled with a late-season Pickett push could change the youngster’s trajectory, but that’s asking a lot.

Wilson’s signing was as much about his play as it was about his salary.

You don’t often get a $40 million quarterback for $1.21 million, so it is understandable why the Steelers played coy about Wilson until the news of his impending release became official, and he was permitted to negotiate with other teams before his release.

Call it what it is — a calculated gamble … a calculated gamble that alienated two quarterbacks in the process.

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Losing Pickett doesn’t appear to be a big deal right now, but it could be.

He wasn’t given much of a chance during his rookie season, taking nearly all third-team reps until right before the season. He was then thrown into the game 14 quarters into his career, with Matt Canada as his offensive coordinator and a directive from above to dumb down the offense. Pickett’s relative success in that environment was a shock.

Last season was a total disaster the day after the preseason ended, and you can’t help but think that Canada had a lot to do with that. If his offense wasn’t suited for a Hall of Famer like Ben Roethlisberger, then how could Pickett succeed?

Pickett couldn’t, and he didn’t. I get it, I do.

But that was all supposed to change this year with Arthur Smith running the offense and Tom Arth bringing the knowledge he passed onto Herbert with the Chargers.

Now, that won’t happen. When you think of Pickett, there will always be a, “What if?”

What if the Steelers didn’t retain Canada after the 2022 season? What if Pickett got a third year to develop? Those questions will never be answered now.

All Wilson’s signing will do is ensure a revolving door at quarterback, with no end in sight.

The only thing that will make this worthwhile is winning a Super Bowl, because when the Steelers decided to sign Wilson, they ensured they won’t have a stable quarterback position for years to come.

If you are OK with those consequences then, Let’s Ride … or should I say #HereWeGo?

(Photo: Harry How / Getty Images)


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