Former Steelers rival hints at major QB move looming in Pittsburgh

As the Pittsburgh Steelers search for their next franchise quarterback, star receiver Chad Johnson suggests a well-known veteran could bridge the gap.

Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks
Denver Broncos v Seattle Seahawks / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been in a state of flux ever since the retirement of long-time starter Ben Roethlisberger. A disappointing sophomore season from quarterback Kenny Pickett produced one of the league’s worst offenses during the 2023 NFL season. The Steelers finished the campaign with the fifth-fewest points per game (17.9) and the eight-fewest passing yards per game (186.1). 

Head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear that the team would pursue an upgrade at quarterback during his last press conference of the season. There has been no shortage of quarterbacks linked to the Steelers during the offseason rumor mill, including names such as Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins and Justin Fields.

Chad Johnson claims Pittsburgh Steelers will sign QB Russell Wilson

Now, another quarterback is entering the fray. Former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Johnson hinted at a potential blockbuster move that could see Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson trade the mile high mountains of Denver for the steel city of Pittsburgh.

"We've gotta work on the Steelers now," Johnson said on the Nightcap podcast. "A little birdie told me — and I said this many shows ago — Russell Wilson's coming on over to the Steelers."

Following a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Seahawks in 2022, the Broncos signed Wilson to a five-year, $242.5 million contract extension that included $161.1 million guaranteed.

Wilson’s arrival in Denver was met with fanfare and high expectations. The former Super Bowl champion was seen as the final piece needed to propel the Broncos back into championship contention. Yet, his tenure has been anything but smooth.

Under the leadership of new head coach Sean Payton, Wilson was tasked with adapting to a new offensive scheme and overcoming personnel issues during the 2023 NFL season. Wilson's performance was a far cry from his best years in Seattle, where he appeared to be on a Hall of Fame trajectory. As he has aged, Wilson has shown less mobility and deteriorating decision-making skills, which has put a spotlight on his poor pocket presence.

The disappointing results have led to widespread speculation about Wilson's future in Denver, and Wilson recently put his Colorado mansion up for sale.

Wilson will most likely be cut before March 17, when his $22 million option bonus for 2024 is due and his 2025 base salary of $37 million becomes fully guaranteed. His $39 million compensation for 2024 is already fully guaranteed. For Denver, releasing Wilson would result in a dead cap charge of $85 million. There are ways the team can maneuver the separation that would reduce that figure, such as designating Wilson to a post-June 1 release. The dead cap hit would still likely be one of the largest in NFL history, but that's the price of parting ways with a quarterback just two years after handing him a monster contract.

It's hard to imagine that Wilson wouldn't be an upgrade for the Steelers, whose best quarterback in 2023 was Mason Rudolph. Wilson also wouldn't break the bank as a free agent, considering how poorly he has played.

"I want us to be versatile and dynamic," Tomlin said at his year-end news conference. "Obviously, we've got to score more points. I want to be able to keep defenses off balance. I want to utilize all the talent that we have at our disposal. I'm excited about this process, and in the talent pool out there, and based on what I've seen thus far."

Wilson might not be the perfect fit, but he'd arguably be better than any quarterback Pittsburgh fielded in 2023.

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