Arguments against the Steelers going after Justin Fields

If you’re like me there isn’t anywhere you can go to escape the talk about who the Steelers starting quarterback will be in 2024. Unfortunately, while the names have changed, the chatter has been the same for a long, long time.

I can go back as far as the 2017 NFL season when then-Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a terrible game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a five-interception performance, Big Ben quipped: “Maybe the old gunslinger doesn’t have it anymore.”

From at least that moment forward, fans have been rabid about Roethlisberger’s replacement, even when he wasn’t ready to be put six feet under. Ben would play four more seasons, missing the 2019 campaign after just six quarters of football. That gave fans a preview of 2018 third-round pick, Mason Rudolph, who had success and failures for a variety of reasons. Before and after Ben’s retirement, we also got to see Duck Hodges, Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, and once again, Rudolph, under center for Pittsburgh.

During that period every fan has put just about every imaginable quarterback that could be available in a Steelers uniform, from Marcus Mariota to Aaron Rodgers, and from Jalen Hurts to whoever is a bargain in the 2024 NFL Draft. Just this offseason alone we’ve heard names “linked” to the team such as Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Kirk Cousins, regardless of their availability via free agency or a trade.

Yet, one name has been so overbearing as of late, he requires his own column: Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields.

For this exercise, I will focus on Fields in this article over anyone else, including in-house options such as Kenny Pickett or Mason Rudolph (should he re-sign with the Steelers).

Let’s get started!

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Fields is NOT a free agent

This is first and foremost the biggest asterisks for anyone to acquire Justin Fields: he is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract and is not scheduled to be a free agent.

That means any team that would like to add his services must make a trade with the Chicago Bears. The main reason most of the media believes Fields could be available is that Chicago holds the first pick in the NFL Draft, and could take any quarterback of their choice. This would make Fields expendable, of course.

But there’s still other issues to hammer out…

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What will he cost?

If there’s anything that grates me more with fans its how delusional they are with the business side of football. If a Steelers player is bad, then they have to be cut: but wait a minute! They can also get draft picks for the poor performing player too.

While the saying goes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” that is rarely the case in the NFL. If a player is trash, a team will simply wait for their counterpart to release a player and then work the waiver wire or free agency to add them… if that player lands another chance at all.

Fans strongly believe the Steelers could get Fields for a lower round pick. However, do we honestly believe that the Chicago Bears will make another boneheaded trade such as the swap of their 2023 second round pick for WR Chase Claypool? I think not. In fact, they could be selling higher to Pittsburgh than anyone else, if only for a bit of payback.

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Is a trade a good idea?

That’s if Fields is available. But let’s operate under the assumption he will be. Is the trade a good idea?

With 38 NFL starts, Fields has experience to be a backup around the league, but most are seeing him as competing to start in the Steel City. Depending on what the trade compensation might be would determine if Fields is either QB1, competing for QB1, or firmly a QB2.

For example, would the Steelers front office be comfortable spending a first or second round pick on Fields, and then letting him compete with Kenny Pickett for the starting role? Most likely not, as that’s a rich price to pay.

Keep in mind, Fields is entering the last year of his rookie deal, which means he either has to have his fifth-year option exercised or his contract extended. That means more money and if we learned anything in 2023, players who make more money (Trubisky) play over those who do not (Rudolph).

A mid-round or late-round pick would also determine Fields’ fate. Simply, the more a team pays for him, the more likely he will be forced on the field.

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Is he an upgrade?

No. And I don’t care what anyone says, they are not paying attention.

I understand that Kenny Pickett has put up some deplorable numbers, but he at least has the benefit of the doubt as to not playing one complete NFL season, with only 24 starts in two seasons. Fields has 38 starts and 40 total appearances in three NFL seasons, giving us a better idea of what kind of player he is: unfortunately, it’s not a pretty picture.

Fields has thrown 40 touchdowns to 30 interceptions in those 40 games, while also fumbling a staggering 38 times. He has taken 135 sacks on 958 pass attempts, which places him worse off than a young Roethlisberger during his five-year span of being sacked constantly under OC Bruce Arians.

By comparison, Pickett has only taken 50 sacks with 713 attempts, keeping his TD:INT low (13:13) and only fumbling 6 times.

That’s if you want to compare Fields with Pickett outright, which, if you’re thinking Fields was on a bad Bears team and might have potential, then why not give the same leeway for Pickett too? It’s not as if Pickett had a good offensive coordinator, a great offensive line, or even stellar weapons at times. (Yes, he has George Pickens, but Diontae Johnson was on IR last season too.)

The argument that Fields is an athlete is negated by Pickett’s athleticism, and while its a neck-and-neck race as to who’s better or worse, is it worth what it could cost to find out the same hard lesson Steelers Nation learned when the team signed Trubisky? No.

While Fields also runs the football, his legs haven’t generated all that much excitement after rushing for 1,143 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2022. Teams quickly figured out his lack of vision and relying on his feet, holding him to 657 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2023. Pickett has 4 touchdowns of his own during his career on fewer than 100 carries, making Fields’ figures less special when you add his propensity for negative plays.

Adding that Fields has only a single 300-yard game in his entire career, it’s difficult to say he’s much of an upgrade.

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Final thoughts

If anything, the Steelers should keep their picks in their back pocket, especially if they able to bring back Mason Rudolph. There will be many fans frothing at the mouth to do something at the quarterback position, but these are the same folks that want Mike Tomlin fired and then believe he can toss a Steelers jersey over a player discarded by another team and instantly turn their career around.

It makes no sense. (A Steelers jersey is not Superman’s cape, no matter how badly we may want to believe it!)

Sticking with the status quo isn’t as bad as it seems. Pickett and Rudolph are not as turnover prone and will not cost the team as much financially or by losing draft picks, making them less riskier than acquiring a player such as Fields.

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