Russell Wilson in ‘pole position’ to be Steelers starting QB despite Fields trade

Russell Wilson is leading the race to be Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback next season. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Monday that Wilson is considered the team’s starter, but recently acquired Justin Fields will get a chance to participate.

“We are not immune to competition, but as I have said several times recently, I think it is appropriate to establish a positioning… and the term I have used is that Russell has pole position” , Tomlin said. “And why do I use that term? Because in this day and age when we’re not working formally, I think it’s just helpful. His experience in the National Football League and his process have been honed and perfected.

“Speaking of a 12-month calendar, that’s not only good for him, it’s good for the teams, it’s good for the receivers, the tight ends, the running backs, etc. All the things that people really do to win , they do this time of year. Russell has those resources, that structure. And that’s why I say he has pole position. It just creates a synergy that I think is good for this time of year. When it comes time to compete and we get into a training camp type environment and go to stadiums and so on, Justin will obviously get a chance to show it to people.”

The Steelers revamped their quarterback room earlier this month, signing Wilson to the veteran’s minimum contract of $1.2 million after the nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback was released by Denver.

Kenny Pickett, the team’s 2022 first-round pick, requested a trade after Wilson’s arrival, Tomlin said. Pittsburgh sent him to Philadelphia and acquired Fields, a first-round pick in 2021, from Chicago for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2025.

The Steelers also let Mason Rudolph (Titans) and Mitch Trubisky (Bills) leave in free agency.

The 35-year-old Wilson was 11-19 in two seasons with the Broncos after being acquired in a trade from Seattle. He bounced back from a terrible 2022 season, throwing for 3,070 yards, 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, but still lost his job to Jarrett Stidham after going 7-8 in coach Sean Payton’s first season last year.

Wilson led Seattle to eight playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title in 10 seasons with the Seahawks.

“When the free agency process started, we only had one quarterback on our roster so we looked at every available person on the market,” Tomlin said. “It was just part of our process. Obviously when we got into it, and after (Wilson) got permission to talk. …the conversations flowed very smoothly and naturally. He did his due diligence on us, and I think from my perspective that’s probably one of the most impressive things about the process. His level of preparedness in terms of knowing us and who we are and how he could potentially fit really put us at ease during the process.

Fields was 10-28 against struggling teams in Chicago, but showed he was an electric playmaker. He completed 60% of his passes and threw for 40 touchdowns with 30 interceptions during his time with the Bears. He also ran for 2,220 yards and 14 scores.

“He radiates talent and potential,” Tomlin said. “He has shouldered the responsibility of being a franchise quarterback, yet he gets the opportunity to be in a community-type situation and learn from a guy who has been doing it for over a decade. Man, there’s still a lot of meat on that bone and I’m just excited.”