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Khan didn't foresee getting both Wilson, Fields

ORLANDO, Fla. - A month ago in Indianapolis, Steelers general manager Omar Khan expressed confidence in the ability of quarterback Kenny Pickett while also saying the team intended on providing him with competition for the 2024 season.

Just a few weeks later, the Steelers had signed veteran Russell Wilson, traded Pickett to the Philadelphia Eagles and acquired Justin Fields from the Chicago Bears for a 2025 draft pick.

Khan wasn't stretching the truth when he said he still had faith in Pickett. But he also didn't feel the Steelers would be able to acquire two veteran quarterbacks at a low cost, or that Pickett would ask to be traded following the addition of Wilson.

"I'm excited about both of those players," Khan said Monday at the NFL's annual meeting here in Orlando. "They're both really good quarterbacks. If you would have told me a month ago in Indy that we'd be here and Russell Wilson and Justin Fields would be our quarterbacks, I'd say, I'd be a little bit surprised."

Khan had inquired about the availability of trading for Fields, who he knew was available. Fields was the 11th pick in the NFL Draft by the Bears a few years ago, but with Chicago holding the No. 1 pick this year, the expectation was that Chicago would take a quarterback again in this year's draft.

They had been in a holding pattern with that when Denver announced it would be releasing Wilson, a 12-year veteran who has played in two Super Bowls, winning one.

Even then, when he spoke to Wilson's agent and then Wilson, he wasn't sure that was the direction the team wanted to go.

"Once the announcement was made that he was going to be released and Russell and his agent had permission to talk to other clubs, we had a conversation and Russ came in and met with us," Khan said. "We had a great day, felt good about it. He'll probably tell you the same thing, it was a match for both of us. We made it work.

"When both sides meet, money aside, it's got to be a fit. It made sense for both of us."

For Khan, it's all about doing his due diligence to improve the Steelers' roster however he can do it with the goal of winning a championship.

Team president Art Rooney II expressed a growing urgency for the team to win playoff games and advance in the postseason when he met with the media earlier this year at the conclusion of the 2023 season. The Steelers have not won a playoff game since 2017.

"We all share that frustration that he has," Khan said. "We're sitting at home during the Super Bowl and that's not where we want to be. And I think we all share that frustration and we all know we have to be better organizationally in every department."

And if that meant completely revamping the quarterback room, that's what Khan was willing and able to do, even if it was not what he had anticipated a month ago.

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

"Nothing has changed. I still have a lot of faith in Kenny Pickett," Khan said. "Kenny's a good football player, a good quarterback. I think he's got a big future in the NFL. Things just kind of evolved. I couldn't really have foreseen that things would go the way they did."

• Khan said all options remain on the table for the Steelers to upgrade at the center position. The Steelers released Mason Cole, their starter at the position, at the end of the 2023 season. And while a number of free agent centers have signed deals across the league, the Steelers have remained patient on that front.

As things currently stand, veteran Nate Herbig is the team's top option at center, while right guard James Daniels also has played center in his career.

"All options are still on the table. There's some players out there still that are free agents. There's maybe some trade opportunities, and then that there's a draft," Khan said. "But you know, we have Herbig around and as I mentioned to you guys in Indy, we have some offensive lineman to have some versatility but it's a work in progress."

The key is having that patient approach to address the issue.

"You just have to be patient," Khan said. "I'm confident by the time we get to the start of the season, you will have the right 53 guys for us regardless of position, but you just have to be patient and understand that. When you lose one opportunity, it's not the last opportunity. There's going to be an opportunity to address it in other ways. So be patient, something's going to happen."

• The Steelers made a proposal to the NFL to move the trade deadline back seven days from Week 8 to Week 9. While there's another proposal out there to move it back to Week 10, those will be discussed here for vote Tuesday.

Khan said the Steelers made their proposal to acknowledge that the league has gone to an 18-week season when it shifted from 16 to 17 games.

"One thing for us is, making the adjustment to the trade deadlines to sort of reflect the 18-week season," Khan said. "Put it right smack dab in the middle of the season. We'll see where it goes."

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