Russell Wilson's hurried deal with Steelers may say a lot about his intentions, and Pittsburgh's

When the Denver Broncos and Russell Wilson publicized their divorce last week, speculation ran wild on where the aging nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback would land.

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

But the one quarterback agent, who overachieved and ranked three top guesses, waited to mention the Raiders until third.

The agent slotted the Atlanta Falcons second.

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

“Obvious need and a playoff team,” the agent texted six days before Wilson and the NFL tweeted apparent confirmations. “This is his best shot to start and have [a] competitive team.”

Wilson seems to agree. Because by Sunday night, more than two full days before Wilson's Broncos release would finalize and clear the way for his Steelers deal, Wilson tweeted a video.

Its caption: “Year 13. Grateful. @Steelers"

The NFL’s official Twitter account chimed in to 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 ended the 2023 season starting for Pittsburgh, but is scheduled to hit free agency).

As interesting is the haste with which the Steelers moved to lock up Wilson.

Sure, his $1.2 million veteran minimum salary is an attractive price tag. But Wilson has also found mixed reception in locker rooms and team offices, and his play declined enough to convince the Broncos (and mostly head coach Sean Payton) that $85 million in dead salary-cap space is more palatable than calling upon the services the Broncos will be paying 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 so strongly in Wilson 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 deal. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
Things didn't go well for Russell Wilson in two seasons with the Broncos. He'll get a fresh start in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

It makes sense the Steelers would want to lock up a player they want (especially at Wilson’s bargain-bin price point) in order to plan the rest of their personnel moves and free agency strategy accordingly.

Wilson, though, had more reason to wait. With money as no object, why not guarantee his greatest chance to start? Some executives and agents believed Wilson would wait until after the NFL Draft to locate a team that needed him, especially in 2024. Find a team that didn’t get the quarterback it sought or a team who did but knows the kid needs time, league voices reasoned.

“Look for a team with a young and suspect QB,” an agent said.

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

Then came another executive who set up a paradigm.

“In almost all cases, the sooner the better so he can get the system, reps, etc. …” the executive said. “I’d feel decent that it’s done quickly, if starting.

“If he’s a backup, then all bets are off because there’s not the same amount of 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 start working with receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, and to start learning first-year coordinator (and former Falcons head coach) Arthur Smith’s scheme. Expect Wilson to have a meaningful chance to supplant 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 in offseason activities and training camp, whether or not Rudolph returns to the building. (The Steelers seem to have better leverage to bring Rudolph back at a cheaper 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 assertions at the NFL scouting combine last month that he has “full faith in Kenny” amid “issues in the offense last year,” an on-camera quote that seemed to levy blame at coach and playbook and assuage it from player.

Only afterward did Khan offer up what might be the truest part of his statement.

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

It’s not hard to envision one road the Steelers quarterback competition could very likely travel. Waiting at the end, before long, is the coronation of Wilson.