The pros and cons of Russell Wilson signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers

News broke late Sunday evening that the soon-to-be free-agent quarterback Russell Wilson will be signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers when the NFL league year begins on Wednesday.

Wilson, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, was due to split from his previous stint in the Mile High City as a mutual parting of ways when free agency begins. The Broncos agreed to allow Wilson to begin seeking suitors ahead of the legal tampering period which begins on Monday.

Wilson took advantage of this and met with two teams over the weekend: the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers. It was reported that Wilson was in Pittsburgh for close to six hours, meeting with everyone in the organization.

The news wasn’t expected to land until Wednesday when Wilson is free of his contract from Denver and can officially sign with another team. However, several NFL Insiders and Wilson leaked the story late on Sunday.

Wilson, who turns 36 years old in November, will enter his 13th NFL season after a rollercoaster ride over these last few years. An iron man who never missed time on the field, the nine-time Pro Bowler missed his first games in 2021 and subsequently lost his job in Seattle to Geno Smith.

The Seahawks made a landmark trade during the 2022 offseason that sent Wilson to the Denver Broncos. The Seahawks traded Wilson and a fourth-round pick to the Broncos in exchange for two first-round picks, two second-round picks, a fifth-round pick, quarterback Drew Lock, defensive lineman Shelby Harris, and tight end Noah Fant.

For the Broncos, the deal was intended to end a long drought at the quarterback position, where the team failed to find a suitor since Peyton Manning retired. To solidify their future, the Broncos inked Wilson to a five-year, $245 million contract extension before the start of the regular season.

Wilson would only play for two seasons, with his first year marred by a poor coaching job with Nathaniel Hackett coming and going from Denver. The Broncos, who were recently under new ownership, immediately jumped at the chance to add former Saints long-time head coach Sean Payton to their staff.

Wilson did not improve under the offensive prowess of Payton, and was benched late in the season so the franchise would not have to pay certain incentives. Wilson leaves the Broncos with $85 million in dead cap space over the next two seasons. He also left the Seahawks with $26 million in dead space, leaving a lot of questions to be answered.

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Among those questions is, why did Wilson fall out of favor with not one, but two legendary coaches in Pete Carroll and Sean Payton? And why were both organizations willing to eat dead money to get rid of him?

Wilson is a former Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner. However, it’s no secret that Wilson could be an odd bird behind the scenes, often communicating with teammates through his agent or taking underhanded shots at management. (He denies rumors of trying to get Carroll and Seahawks general manager John Schneider before departing Seattle, but was also instrumental in hot hire Nathaniel Hackett being canned after one year on the job with the Broncos.)

One has to wonder if Mike Tomlin can do better? Tomlin has performed miracles with off-field headaches such as Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. He will now have to navigate murky waters with a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who is out to prove he still has something left in the tank.If he does, what does that mean for the team’s future?

The Steelers invested a first round draft pick in 2022 to select Kenny Pickett. Pickett, however, has faltered in his first two seasons. The team declared they would bring in competition this offseason, and Wilson would represent a serious threat to Pickett’s starting job in 2024.

What happens if Pickett doesn’t win the job? Conversely, what happens if he does? The situation will be hot to handle either way as if one quarterback fails, public pressure to start “the other guy” will be at an all-time high. It will be a situation that Tomlin has only had to handle most recently, but to a lesser extent with Mitchell Trubisky, Pickett, and Mason Rudolph.

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Most fans are already out on Pickett, despite recognizing that several quarterbacks, including Ben Roethlisberger and Trubisky, all failed under previous offensive coordinator Matt Canada. With a new OC in town, Arthur Smith, Pickett will need as much time as possible to learn a new system – as will Wilson, who may need to heed the words of his new coaches unlike the tumultuous relationship he had with Payton.

Wilson’s pros of course, is his aforementioned success and experience, which brings credibility to the quarterback position for the Steelers. Wilson has appeared in 16 playoff games, with a 9-7 record. The biggest con is whether or not he can return to that same level of success at 35 years of age starting over with a new team. Wilson last appeared in the postseason at the conclusion of the 2020 season in a 30-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

The last game in which Wilson passed for over 300 yards and achieved a victory occurred back in October 2020 against the Miami Dolphins. Since the 2020 season he’s 17-27 as a starter.

Yet, once again, Wilson’s stats shine a bit brighter than anyone who has recently been on the Steelers roster, as during that time he’s thrown for over 9,700 yards for 67 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. But a telling sign is that most of his major stats have been accrued while trailing in games. In 44 starts over the last three seasons, Wilson only has 8 games with three-plus touchdown passes, and 24 games with one or zero.

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Where Wilson excels is not throwing picks. But where he falls short is getting sacked – and he’s among the all-time worst at taking negative plays.

During his two seasons in Denver, Wilson was sacked 100 times in 30 games. Over his career he has taken 527 sacks in 188 games. That figure proves to be worse than fellow sack-ees such as Ben Roethlisberger, who took 554 sacks in 249 career games.

Wilson currently ranks fifth all-time in the category, behind Fran Tarkenton (570 sacks), Tom Brady (565), Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers (531). The difference is, all of those quarterbacks played over 200 games and have at least a 50-game spot on Wilson.

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The defense of the former Broncos QB is that Denver’s offensive line wasn’t good – but can we honestly say the Steelers line is better at this juncture? The hope would be that Steelers GM Omar Khan can improve the trenches this offseason and provide Wilson with more of a security blanket. Otherwise we could expect more of the same with Wilson under center in Pittsburgh.

Finally, the other pro/con I have with Wilson’s signing is that it’s for one year. The veteran minimum cost, as to stick the Broncos with the dead salary cap bill, is of little risk to the Steelers financially. The true risks are how this plays out and if they are right back in the same situation next season of needing a quarterback.

Only time will tell how this ends up, but for all parties involved – and as a formerly huge Russell Wilson fan – I’m hoping for the best for the Steelers.

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