Despite Wilson and Fields signings, Steelers must draft a quarterback in 2024

The Steelers acquired two big-name signal callers this offseason, but their quarterback search must continue.

Capital One Orange Bowl - Georgia v Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl - Georgia v Florida State / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

With the Kenny Pickett era finally in the rearview mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers now carry two starting-caliber quarterbacks, with Russell Wilson expected to be the heir to the QB1 spot come training camp. The move was a commendable upgrade from General Manager Omar Khan, but his job is unfinished.

Two flashy names at the sport's most impactful position should be enough, no? In the famous words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!"

Justin Fields and Russell Wilson are currently the only two starting level quarterbacks on the roster, with Fields potentially being the only signal caller under contract beyond the 2024 season. Depending on Field's fifth-year option decision or an extension for either quarterback, the Pittsburgh Steelers could be looking at starting over at a problem they desperately need to solve.

Omar Khan cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes previous General Manager Kevin Colbert made before him by failing to have a valid post-Roethlisberger contingency plan.

The Steelers typically carry four quarterbacks into training camp, leaving them with one spot to fill after the signing of veteran quarterback Kyle Allen. A cheap free-agent veteran signing is likely on the way, but the glaring issue remains. The Steelers may find themselves with nobody to develop should Wilson and Fields not work out the way many fans think it will.

What's 'Plan B' for the Steelers at Quarterback?

The rumor circling is that the Steelers and Russell Wilson will engage in extension talks after this season to sign a "long-term contract." This report, in my opinion, feels premature and useless. Of course, Pittsburgh would love to bring Wilson back if he plays well, but that's the thing. The whole situation depends on whether he plays well.

In the event of an extension, The Steelers will re-sign Russell Wilson at a much higher premium than the bargain they currently have him at, making the production needed to make it worthwhile that much higher than it is at his current salary.

Russell Wilson is a massive upgrade over Kenny Pickett, even in the twilight of his career. But at age 35, turning 36 in November, how sensical is a long-term deal for an aging quarterback coming off two of his worst seasons? How long can you reasonably sign a player approaching his 40s?

Wilson would have to stiff-arm the narrative that he's washed up and be a big difference-maker for the Steelers in 2024 to warrant anything over an additional one-year deal, especially with a dynamic playmaker like Justin Fields waiting for another crack at being a franchise quarterback.

Don't get me wrong. I do not foresee nor want the Steelers to burn a day one or two pick on a quarterback, especially in a class that drastically falls off after the first three or four prospects. All of which will likely go in the top 32.

I do, however, envision them taking a swing on some of the developmental prospects in the back end of round three and later. While they may not be superstars, there is some potential in a few of these mid-round rookies to warrant a draft pick.

Now is the time for this team to cover their bases for the future should the Wilson and Fields experiments fail. The Steelers must attempt to develop an emergency backup plan for the future. Even if this hypothetical rookie never steals the starting spot, the value of having a trustworthy backup quarterback has never been higher. Plenty of injury-plagued teams from a year ago would tell you the same thing.

What realistic options do the Steelers have?

By the time it would make sense for the Steelers to realistically draft a quarterback, names like Penix Jr., Nix, and McCarthy will all be long gone barring a catastrophic blow to their draft stocks. There are still some valuable and desirable traits from the mid-round passers that may pique the Steelers' interest.

Jordan Travis (Florida State) is the first name that comes to mind. Travis put together an impressive final year at Florida State before a devastating leg injury ended his collegiate tenure and the Seminoles' national title hopes. The 2023 ACC player of the year is a bit undersized, which causes concern for his future durability. His athleticism and arm talent make him a fascinating choice for the Steelers to gamble on, likely between rounds four and six.

Another potential fit is Devin Leary (Kentucky). Leary reached colossal heights in 2021 at North Carolina State, where he tossed 35 touchdowns as a Sophomore before transferring to Kentucky two seasons later. Leary's first year in the SEC and final year of college was respectable and made him a worthy prospect in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. Devin Leary is another athletic quarterback who could fit well into the Steelers' new offense under Arthur Smith.

My final potential prospect seems to be a fan-favorite compared to many of the other day-three quarterbacks. Michael Pratt (Tulane) put together a solid four years of tape as the starter for one of the more successful groups of five programs of the last several years. Pratt has NFL arm talent and was a beloved leader of a Green Wave team that knocked off Caleb William's USC Trojans in the 2023 Cotton Bowl.