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Steelers busy in opening days of new league year

With the NFL new league year beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Steelers made a flurry of moves to open their offseason, the biggest being making big changes at quarterback.

The Steelers signed Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson, then sent incumbent starter, Kenny Pickett, to Philadelphia in a swap of draft picks on Saturday. Later Saturday, the Steelers acquired quarterback Justin Fields, a first-round pick of the Bears in 2021, for a conditional 2025 draft pick.

Wilson and Fields replace the trio of Pickett, Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph on the Steelers' roster.

"The reason I wanted to come here is because I wanted to win championships with Coach (Mike) Tomlin and the guys in the locker room," the 13-year veteran said Friday at a press conference announcing the move. "We've got some amazing players, guys like Cam Heyward, a guy who has been (Walter Payton) man of the year, a guy who has impacted so many opponents.

"And then obviously Mr. T.J. Watt himself. Really should be defensive player (of the year), I don't know how many times, maybe third, fourth time (he) could have won it. Just tremendous athlete, player, competitor. Guys like Minkah (Fitzpatrick), George Pickens, and just so many other great players along the way. Got to see some guys like (Pat) Freiermuth and (Isaac) Seumalo in there. Great place to be."

The Steelers signed Wilson, a nine-time Pro Bowl player who was released by Denver, to a one-year deal. That triggered sending Pickett, a 2022 first-round draft pick and their starter for the majority of the past two seasons, to the Eagles along with a fourth-round pick (120 overall) in exchange for a third-round pick (98 overall) in this year's draft and a pair of 2025 seventh-round selections.

Fields, who threw for 2,562 yards with 16 touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 13 starts in 2023, was acquired for a sixth-round pick in 2025 that could turn into a fourth-round selection next year if Fields meets play-time requirements.

Earlier in the week, the Steelers sent wide receiver Diontae Johnson to Carolina along with their seventh-round pick in the 2024 draft (240 overall) in exchange for veteran cornerback Donte Jackson and the Panthers' sixth-round selection (178 overall).

Jackson, a second-round pick of the Panthers in 2008, gives the Steelers a veteran presence at cornerback opposite Joey Porter Jr., a finalist for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2023.

"I can't even express the amount of respect and gratitude I have for this organization for not only taking the chance on me but making me a guy that they focus on getting, that they really showed they wanted for years and years now. I'm finally getting to be here," said Jackson, a former LSU star. "I feel like it happened at the time it was supposed to happen. I've been playing my best ball. I'm just happy to get out there with this great defense and shock the league. I just can't wait."

Jackson wasn't the only former LSU star acquired by the Steelers this week. The team dipped into the free agent market to sign second-team All-Pro linebacker Patrick Queen away from the Ravens on a three-year deal.

Queen, a first-round pick in 2020, was a four-year starter who did not miss a game over that time in Baltimore.

"You never think about switching to the biggest rival in your division," said Queen. "I think just now being here is going to be the same way now. So I'm just ready to get to work, get to the guys, and this organization, this team, the city, and just do everything I can to help win."

Queen will join the mix at inside linebacker for the Steelers that includes Elandon Roberts, Cole Holcomb and Mark Robinson.

He'll also be joined by another former Ravens player, as the Steelers signed safety DeShon Elliott, a sixth-round pick of Baltimore, to a two-year deal. Elliott spent the 2022 season with Detroit and 2023 with Miami after leaving Baltimore as a free agent following the 2021 season.

Elliott has played both free and strong safety and will enter the mix with Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee on the back end of the Steelers defense.

Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

"I think that with me being able to move around just gives them flexibility to put me where they want me at," Elliott said. "I'm open to playing wherever they want me and just be a part of this defense. Doesn't really matter to me. I just want to be productive in the defense in any way possible I can."

The Steelers also retained long-snapper Christian Kuntz.

More work remains to be done.

With the trade of Johnson, the Steelers are a little thin at the wide receiver position and could look to do something in the free agency market or via trade at that position.

They also could look to the NFL Draft in April to fill some of their holes. With the deals made with Carolina and Philadelphia, the Steelers now own picks No. 20, 51, 84, 98, 119, 178 and 195 in the draft, which will be held at the end of April.