Posted by Mission146
Mar 20, 2024


It certainly didn’t take very long for my most recent article on Russell Wilson to become outdated; in fact, it was still in the publishing pipeline when it became old news.

While Wilson is still with the Steelers (though some are speculating-already-that it’s possible for the team to deal him away this year), one thing that changed, very shortly after my submission of the previous article, is that Kenny Pickett is no longer with the organization.

In the interim, the Pittsburgh Steelers have traded a conditional sixth-round draft pick to the Chicago Bears in exchange for Justin Fields; the sixth-round 2025 pick will become a fourth-rounder if Fields takes 51%+ of snaps for the Black & Gold this season.

Evidently, at least according to the reporting that seems most likely, to me, Kenny pIckett felt slighted that the Steelers would bring Wilson into the fold. While the team has very little cash invested in Wilson, courtesy of the Denver Broncos (the team would have been paying Pickett more than Wilson for 2024, in fact), Kenny evidently had no interest in competing with Wilson for a starting job.

That came as quite a surprise to me, as I had opined (linked article):

Of course, even that would go out the window with the Steelers’ signing of Russell Wilson; while Rudolph may have beaten Pickett for the job, there’s almost no question that he wouldn’t beat Wilson in a contest for the starting job. I’d certainly call Wilson the Steelers’ presumptive 2023 starter, but certainly, Head Coach Mike Tomlin would be willing to go with Pickett if Kenny looks remarkably better in practice and preseason.


The worst case scenario is either that Kenny Pickett actually beats DangeRuss for the starting job (incredibly unlikely) or that Wilson comes out and just flat sucks. Even if Wilson did come out and flat sucked, at least he’d be sucking courtesy of the money that the Denver Broncos are paying him; I also don’t think, after what we have seen, that anyone expects Kenny Pickett to do any better.

The fact that Kenny would want to leave is very surprising as the Pittsburgh Steelers might still have represented the best opportunity (barring injury) for him to go into the 2024 regular season as the starting quarterback—for anybody. As stated, given how little the Steelers are paying Wilson for this season (1.21M), combined with the fact that they've only got Wilson locked up for one year, it stands to reason that Pickett could have started simply by outplaying Wilson in camp and preseason.


On the other hand, it’s not a total surprise that Pickett is gone.

For one thing, true or otherwise, there had been speculation that Pickett had refused to dress (even if he had been healthy) and act as Mason Rudolph’s backup against the Seattle Seahawks. A fiery Pickett retorted these claims with:

“I saw reports out there that I feel like were attacking my character and how I am as a person,” Pickett said Tuesday. “There was not talk of me being a backup quarterback this week [against the Seahawks] in terms of being a two. If I was healthy enough to play, if the trainers and coaches felt like I looked good enough to play, I was going to start and play.”

That sort of language strongly implies that Pickett felt as if he would return to his starting duties as soon as he was healthy, but following a victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Head Coach, Mike Tomlin, announced that Rudolph would remain the starter going into the regular season finale against the Baltimore Ravens:

“We’re going to leave the ball in Mason Rudolph’s hands,” Tomlin said. “He’s done a good job and we’ve done a good job in the most recent two weeks.

“We’ve taken care of the ball. He’s taken care of the ball. We scored points at a rate in which we hadn’t done to this point this year. With the urgency of the moment and because of those reasons, we’re going to leave the ball in his hands.”

Of course, given that Pickett had only thrown for six touchdown passes, in twelve starts, it’s not as if Mason Rudolph had a huge hurdle to clear vis-a-vis offensive production.

After a win over the Ravens, it came as a surprise to nobody that Rudolph would go on to start in the Steelers Wildcard appearance against the Buffalo Bills.

In that matchup, the Steelers looked poised to take a 21-0 deficit into the locker room, but a blocked field goal would set the Steelers up with great field position and enable them to go into halftime only down by two scores.

The two teams would trade field goals, but after a shaky start to the Steelers’ final drive of the third quarter, Rudolph would convert a long third down attempt and then the Black & Gold would carve up the Bills’ defense, bringing the game back within reach as they’d be down only 24-17 in the early fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Bills would be the only team to do any more scoring and the Steelers would fall by a score of 31-17.

Throwing for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns to one interception, Rudolph would leave the game (and the season) with a reasonable statline. Whilst there was rampant speculation that the Steelers could be a potential landing spot for Russell Wilson, there were probably just as many Steelers fans who thought the 2024 starter would come down to a matchup between Pickett and Rudolph.

The moment that I thought Pickett might not be back with the organization was when the quarterback refused to take any questions on the final day of media availability, when the team cleans out their lockers:

Pickett apparently didn’t want to face any such questions during the annual media availability that happens on the final day of the yeer, when players conduct exit interviews after they clean out their lockers.

Via Ray Fittipaldi of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pickett wasn’t present for the routine Q&A.


I thought that Kenny Pickett’s decision to simply skip the last day of media availability was astounding.

Certainly, Pickett would have known what questions were coming from reporters; certainly, he wouldn’t have been particularly happy, or eager, to answer any of them…but that’s part of the gig. I’m certain Tomlin is sick of hearing about how many seasons it’s been since the Steelers have last won a Playoff game, but if you can’t handle the pressure, and maintain composure, when facing questions from reporters (who aren’t being unfair and are just doing their jobs), then what can you ever be expected to do on the field?

From Pickett’s perspective, it would seem that he feels slighted by the Steelers and thinks he deserved to be the starter in the Wildcard game against the Bills.

I’d have only one question: Why?

Say what you want about sample sizes, but Mason Rudolph went 3-0 as a starting quarterback to end the regular season, threw three touchdowns against zero interceptions, averaged more than 200 yards per game and completed nearly 75% of his passes to walk out of the 2023 season with a 118.00 QB rating.

If I were discussing the question of starting against the Bills with Kenny Pickett, I’d say, “Without mentioning that you went into this season as the starter, give me exactly one reason why you should start in this Playoff game, as opposed to Mason Rudolph.”

And…no reason Kenny could give would have been good enough.

I just find it amazing that Pickett would skip the last media day of the 2023 regular season and couldn’t imagine anyone being that ungrateful.

The Pittsburgh Steelers used a First Round Draft Pick (#20 overall) in order to get Pickett on the team. I find that very telling for two reasons:

  1. If Kenny Pickett had been widely seen as a quarterback with the potential to start right away, then certainly some other team would have wanted to trade up (especially if they thought Pittsburgh would take him) and snatch him away.
  2. Pickett wasn’t necessarily seen as a first-round caliber QB.

There was some debate over whether or not Pickett was a legitimate first rounder; of course, it really didn’t hurt his prospects that 2022 was a pretty weak draft class at the position. This report wasn’t exactly glowing:

Pickett doesn’t have Josh Allen or Trey Lance-level physical upside as a prospect. Nevertheless, he still passes the physical threshold required to be an NFL starter. He’s a great positional athlete with the short-range burst and agility to extend plays. He has a supremely elastic arm, which he uses to generate velocity and accuracy off-platform. Most importantly, Pickett visibly refined the mental and mechanical part of his game in 2021, showing that he’s worth a long-term investment.

“...he still passes the physical threshold required…”

Okay, so he’s slightly more than the bare minimum that’s strictly required out of an NFL starter?

I also love that Pickett doesn’t have Trey Lance-level physical upside; how has Trey Lance’s NFL career gone, so far?

There seemed to be widespread agreement that Pickett would barely have been a second thought in a stronger draft class. Even in the 2022 Draft Class, he’d gone into the 2021 Pittsburgh Panthers season being projected as a Day 3 draft prospect. While he did have a remarkable season in his last year at Pitt; a single season is all it was. Still, some analysts:

The trade of Matt Ryan to the Colts seemed a fait accompli after Atlanta's failed attempt to land Deshaun Watson. Picking up Marcus Mariota is a nice insurance policy, but the Falcons find their future starter by trading up for Pickett, giving up a 2023 first-round pick as well as a second- and fourth-rounder this year.

Had Pickett going as high as third in the draft; with Atlanta making a trade (with the Texans) in order to move up and get him.

Could you imagine if Kenny Pickett had been taken third in the 2022 NFL Draft, appeared in twenty-five games (over two seasons), threw for thirteen touchdowns and thirteen picks (1:1 ratio) and had a QB Rating of sub-80 going into his third year in the NFL? That’s abysmal enough coming from the 20th overall pick in the draft!

I definitely remember one person who was skeptical about Kenny Pickett’s ability to even start, going into the 2022 NFL season: Me:

I’d called into the local radio station, but got into a bit of an argument with the producer (right after the draft) as I thought this is EXACTLY what the Steelers would be doing. To be fair, he did make some compelling arguments in favor of Pickett, (while kind of ignoring my point that Pickett had ONE good season) but also sounded kind of pissed off at the notion of Trubisky starting, so I just told him he was right (before going on the radio) and ended the call.

The fact is this: While you do expect players to develop to some extent over their college careers, Pickett’s final season at PITT remains something of an aberration. They went from 6-5 the previous season to 11-3 (losing in the Peach Bowl), which obviously had something to do with Pickett’s great performance, but in a game that calls for no fewer than 24 players to regularly see the field, you’d have to believe that Pickett couldn’t have been the ONLY factor. In fact, if the team around him is better, then Pickett, by extension, should look better…so there are a bunch of moving parts.

I really wish I could remember what show that was; of course, the host probably wouldn’t remember the call, anyway. I certainly am not inclined to celebrate Kenny Pickett’s failure in Pittsburgh, but as they say, some clouds have a silver lining. In this case, the silver lining would be gloating over being right…which I rarely get to do when it comes to football takes.

Of course, Kenny Pickett didn’t actually play in the aforementioned Peach Bowl:

"One of the best moments of my football career was standing on stage with you, the team, and our ACC Championship trophy," he wrote. "I will never forget our victory and everything it took to get us there."

Pickett made the decision to return to Pitt for his senior year to improve his draft stock, but also help his team win a championship. He did both.

Who am I kidding? College football is just an audition for the NFL; why should any college football player actually care about his team, them winning a bowl game, or anything else, really? It’s no surprise I stopped watching NCAAF about twenty years ago.

Pickett did manage to improve his draft stock, that much is true, but his decision not to try to help his team win the Peach Bowl might have been a bit of foreshadowing into what kind of dude he is.

Needless to say, while I very much saw Pickett as an experiment; it’s an experiment that everyone (in Pittsburgh, anyway) wanted to succeed. The fact that Kenny Pickett, a Pennsylvania native, would go to the local University (Pitt) and then get drafted by the Steelers is fairy-tale level stuff…as long as it works out.

It didn’t.

Of course, Kenny Pickett left the Steelers’ locker room (for the final time) refusing to take any questions from the media. He was probably angry about the extent to which Mason Rudolph had outperformed him, and perhaps, thought the 2024 starting job might be Rudolph’s to lose, but certainly, Pickett would still be able to compete for it.

Instead, Mason Rudolph would sign for the Tennessee Titans, on a one-year deal. Of all of the quarterbacks to have played in Pittsburgh, Rudolph might be THE ONE who can legitimately claim that he might not have been given a deserved opportunity, and yet, Rudolph departed in the classiest way imaginable.

Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but it was a very nice Instagram post:

But on Wednesday, Rudolph took to Instagram to thank the city and organization for his six seasons with the team as a farewell.

“For the past 6 years, it has been a privilege to be part of the Pittsburgh community and represent the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“To my teammates, coaches, staff, Art Rooney, the Rooney family, Thomas Tull, Larry Paul, and the rest of the Steelers organization: Thank you for changing my life forever six years ago when you gave me the opportunity to wear the Black & Gold.

“To the fans—your love and passion for the team is what makes it so special to play here. I will never forget playing in front of Yinz one final time this past December. All the Best. MR.”

See? Classy.

Of course, it might not be the last time that Mason Rudolph dons the Black & Gold, but we would certainly wish him every success with the Titans; at least, I would. May he win the starting job and keep it for years to come.

With that, Kenny Pickett might have been feeling pretty comfortable; after all, the team had already released Mitch Trubisky (who is happy to be back in Buffalo). I always liked Trubisky here; he described his first half performance, following a loss to the Patriots, as, “I played like crap…But, I got to play better, and that’s the bottom line.”

It’s definitely nice to have a quarterback who’s accountable.

As difficult as it would be to believe, the Steelers (technically, albeit briefly) only had one quarterback on the depth chart: Kenny Pickett.

And then, they signed Russell Wilson, who is basically free.

The rumors that have swirled are that Pickett, through his agent, requested a trade.

As I mentioned in the Introduction, while I believe the reports, I still find them shocking. With so little money invested in Russell Wilson, and the fact that the Steelers spent a First Round pick on Pickett, who I’d argue they gave every opportunity possible–certainly Pickett would start the 2024 season for the Black & Gold if he represented Pittsburgh’s best opportunity to win.

After all, even if Wilson didn’t start this year (or even see the field), the Steelers would only be losing an insignificant amount of money that they’d have to pay some other backup, which is to say they wouldn’t be losing anything.


Of course, the most likely case is that Russell Wilson will go into the 2024 season as the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. What of 2025?

Even if Wilson did start this year (with Pickett backing him up), there are a few ways I think it could go:

1.) Wilson absolutely balls out and the Steelers make a deep Playoff run

-While I don’t think this scenario is especially likely, if it had happened, then the outcome that follows is that Wilson becomes unaffordable for the Steelers. Wilson would be likely to command 30+M, in free agency, which I don’t think the Steelers would be inclined to pay an aging veteran…again. I’d have hoped they’d have learned their lesson from running with Roethlisberger well after his, “Best by,” date had lapsed.

2.) Wilson either gets hurt or underforms

-I would see this as the second most likely scenario. If Wilson had been injured, or performed woefully, then Pickett steps in as the starter for the remainder of the year. Absent the Steelers grabbing someone in next year’s (2025) draft, then the likely result would be Pickett going into the 2025 season as the presumptive starter. I’d find it really hard to believe that, if Pickett were amenable to staying, that the Steelers would have wanted him gone; they’ve always been big on organizational stability.

3.) Wilson is just mediocre

-I’d see this as the most likely event. In this case, Pickett either replaces him towards the end of the season and we are right back to square one with Pickett being the presumptive 2025 starter unless the Steelers wanted to draft someone or make a huge move in free agency.


In any event, it’s going to take an injury, and only an injury, for Pickett to start over Eagles’ quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who’s already made a Super Bowl appearance in his short career.

Some pundits (in Pittsburgh) were quick to point out that Hurts’ doesn’t exactly have a stellar career QB rating, thereby lending the possibility that there could be a legitimate QB competition and…yeah, shut up. Looking at QB Rating and throwing mechanics totally ignores what Fields has managed to do with his legs; he’s rushed for at least ten touchdowns in the last three years of his career.

While Hurts would miss two games in both 2021 and 2022, he started every game of the season last year. There’s absolutely no way that this will be a QB competition and Hurts is signed with the Eagles for at least the next four seasons. The Eagles probably won’t have a compelling reason not to keep Pickett around for 2025, so the earliest he’ll conceivably compete for a starting job is probably 2026.

In terms of the trade, the Eagles get Kenny Pickett and a fourth round draft pick in exchange for two seventh-round draft picks (in 2025) as well as the 98th overall pick (a compensatory pick that is, functionally, a third-rounder). Hell, I’d have probably settled for swapping the fourth rounder for the late third round compensatory pick and see the two sevenths as a bonus.

In the meantime, the Steelers have acquired Justin Fields, from the Chicago Bears, for the conditional sixth-round pick mentioned earlier.

This is an interesting development as, one would assume, the idea is for Fields to sit behind Russell Wilson for most of this season, if not all of it, as long as Wilson is playing well.

While Fields’ career QB Rating (three years) is very much backup level, he is a similar quarterback to a younger Russell Wilson in that he has displayed excellent escapability and an ability to make plays when the designed play breaks down. He was extremely generous with opposing defenses in his rookie season (seven touchdowns, ten interceptions), but has become a bit safer with the ball in the last two years.

I would think that the Steelers are hoping Fields can show some improvement, and may, if he spends a year learning behind someone who plays a similar game, with similar strengths, in Wilson. More than that, Fields has the sort of foot speed that could enable the Steelers to incorporate some trick plays, gadget plays or designed flea flicker plays with both Wilson and Fields on, well, the field.

If they’re going to do that, then I think it’s going to be important to have some designed plays that see Fields involved, but the ball doesn’t go to him; otherwise, it’s going to be a cinch for opposing defenses to see him out there and know the ball is going to him, at some point.

In addition to the Steelers having rights to Fields this season, Fields has a fifth-year team option for 25.6M. The Steelers, however, are described as unlikely to avail themselves of it:

The team is “highly unlikely” to exercise Fields’ fifth-year option, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac. Seeing as it would cost Pittsburgh $25.7MM fully guaranteed to pick up Fields’ 2025 option, the team’s plan would effectively make doing so a non-starter. Despite a rocky Denver stint, Russell Wilson has already been assured he will be Pittsburgh’s Week 1 starter.

It stands to reason that the team will see how Fields looks at practice, and in training camp, then possibly come up with a new (and longer) contract with the player. Given that Fields wanted to be in Pittsburgh, (the Bears actually sent him where he wanted to go as there is no animosity between the player and the team-who for their part are expected to land Caleb Williams with the first pick that they inherited from the Panthers) it stands to reason that he’d be on board with such an arrangement. I seriously doubt if he believes that the Steelers will pick up his fifth year option, especially if he’s this year’s backup.

With that, whether or not Fields gets any starting time this year is going to depend on Russell Wilson’s performance and/or the Steelers’ playoff position and position in the AFC North. If the Steelers find themselves out of Playoff contention with a few games left, then I would expect for Justin Fields to get the opportunity to show them what he can do with the team.

In the meantime, Russell Wilson probably believes that he is auditioning for his next job, but also, that the Steelers have a legitimate opportunity to make some noise in the Playoffs this season. Not only did they make the Playoffs last year, but it’s not as if the Wildcard loss to the Bills was a total blowout, and even if it had been, that was with Mason Rudolph as quarterback.


With that, the Steelers’ current depth chart, at quarterback, is Russell Wilson as the presumptive starter with Justin Fields backing him up. In the meantime, I would expect the QB3 to come via a day three pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but given how little the Steelers have invested in Wilson and Fields this season (both are getting backup money), even that player might have a chance to start if he goes into training camp and plays lights out.

Pickett might have started this season, or next, had he stuck around, but it wasn’t to be. As much as everyone would have loved the Kenny Pickett story had the experiment been a success, most Steelers fans now seem happy to have him gone; I really don’t think skipping media on the final (business) day of the 2023 NFL Season did him any favors with this fanbase.

In any event, as much as I like Mitch Trubisky, I have to admit that the Steelers are in much better shape at quarterback, going into the 2024 campaign, than they were last year.


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