The Steelers Aren’t Waiting for the Draft to Play the Quarterback Lottery

Betting on Russell Wilson and Justin Fields has huge potential to pay off

Russell Wilson and Justin Fields.
Russell Wilson and Justin Fields are now Steelers.
Michael Reaves/Getty

As NFL legend John Madden is credited with saying, “If you have two quarterbacks, you actually have none.” The Steelers, who used three quarterbacks last season (Mason Rudolph, Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky), may not agree with that assessment, but they’ll have an excellent opportunity to find out if it’s accurate during the 2024 season.

A playoff team in three of the last four seasons and never a sub-.500 team in head coach Mike Tomlin‘s 17 years as head coach, Pittsburgh did not re-sign Rudolph or Trubisky this offseason and picked up Russell Wilson off of the scrap heap for the veteran’s minimum after he was cut by the Denver Broncos. That move did not sit well with Pickett, who started 24 games for Pittsburgh over two seasons after being drafted out of Pitt, and he was traded to the Eagles late last week “because of his behavior and expressed unhappiness over the arrival” of Wilson.

Thin at quarterback to start the weekend with only the 35-year-old Wilson on the roster, the Steelers made a move that has the potential to be an all-timer — they traded a sixth-round pick in 2025 to the Chicago Bears for former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. The No. 11 overall pick in 2021, Fields played an uneven three seasons in Chicago but flashed major upside at times and became the third NFL quarterback to have a 1,000-yard rushing season in 2022. However, the league is very down on Fields and his 10-28 career record as a starter which is why the Steelers were able to acquire him for a song.

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It may not amount to anything and Fields, who just turned 25, may be a bust like all the other members of his draft class aside from Trevor Lawrence, but Pittsburgh’s gamble has the potential to have the rest of the NFL singing the blues as the Steelers now have multiple tickets at the most important position in sports.

They may not pay off, but the Steelers are not paying very much to find out, as Wilson is only getting $1.21 million from the team because the Broncos are footing the majority of the bill. Whether he plays a snap or not, Fields is also a bargain, as he’s still on his rookie contract and is making just $3.233 million. Thanks to that contract, the Steelers can exercise the fifth year of Fields’s deal to the tune of $25.664 million, but Pittsburgh has until May 2 to make that call.

Given that Wilson is only under contract for this season, the Steelers actually might pick up the option on Fields to give themselves some insurance in 2025. Even at approximately $25 million, Fields would be somewhat of a bargain if he can play at a reasonable level. And, there’s always the chance that he can fulfill the potential that made him a No. 11 overall pick and play much, much better than that. Even if he can’t, the Steelers haven’t invested very much to find out. Fields and Wilson are lottery tickets, but the Steelers can’t lose.

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