Steelers already have a Justin Fields problem on their roster

The Steelers added Justin Fields for pennies on the dollar, but what the team does with him past 2024 is a clear problem
Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1)
Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) / Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It is official: the Steelers have a Justin Fields problem on their hands. After shipping out former starter Kenny Pickett this offseason to the Eagles, Pittsburgh was quick to add Fields on a very advantageous trade, getting him for a 2025 sixth-round pick, a selection that could become a fourth-round pick if he plays more than half of the offensive snaps.

On the surface, this trade was a good move. Fields has flashed a lot of talent since entering the league but lacks consistency. The Bears were only so willing to move him because of them owning the first overall pick in this draft. Pittsburgh got Fields for less than what Mac Jones fetched, which is saying something.

The issue isn’t him as a player, it is his contract. He is set to enter the fourth year of his rookie deal, and while there are a lot of options in play here, as of now he is set to be a free agent a year from now. The Steelers have put their eggs in the Russell Wilson basket this year, and unless he falls apart, you aren’t going to see a lot of Fields this year. So, what are the Steelers options, and why is this a problem?

What can the Steelers do?

The easiest option for the Steelers to secure Fields past this season is to pick up his fifth-year option. Every first-round pick has this option in their contract, and it gives teams the flexibility to keep their early prospects for an extra year while they negotiate a new deal.

The issue with this option is once you pick it up, it is fully guaranteed. For Fields, that means he will be making nearly 26 million next year, and there is no promise that he will be the starter. With that money locked in, there would be no way to get out of that deal if things went sideways.

Given the fact that the Steelers only shipped out a conditional sixth-round pick, it seems more than likely that Fields doesn’t have his option picked up. This means, barring an extension, Fields will be a free agent in 2025.

You always have the franchise tag, but that opens a similar can of worms for the team in 2025. The projected franchise tag number for a quarterback is estimated to be roughly 42.5 million dollars next year. It is safe to say that if the franchise tag is in play, it is because Fields both started most of the season and was dynamic. A similar story could be said for the transition tag as that is estimated to cost 36 million in 2025.

I would say the most realistic option is to work out an extension with Fields this offseason that adds an extra year to his deal. The Packers did this with Jordan Love for similar reasons, as he made less than the fifth-year option but gave him an opportunity to prove himself before becoming a free agent.

This deal wouldn’t be cheap either though, but it would involve the least amount of financial investment right now. Love signed a fully guaranteed 13.5 million dollar deal, roughly two-thirds of what the option would have cost. That would parlay to Fields getting a deal worth roughly 17.5 million for the 2025 season.

Love also benefited from the unknown of his game. While Fields is still developing, he has been the primary starter since his rookie season. That could chip away at his price tag. No, he won’t sign for a huge discount, but my guess is a starting point for the deal is around 15 million with some potential incentives for his game to boost that salary.

That is still a risk, but far less of one than any option or tag. This could cause some strife in-house though, as giving Fields that deal essentially locks him into the starting role a year from now. Russell Wilson may not be thrilled with that, and it could cause some strife in the here and now.

On the flip side of all of this, you could let Fields play out his rookie deal and become a free agent in 2025. This would mean not retaining him, and you essentially threw away a sixth-round pick. Not ideal, but certainly a possibility given the other options for the team right now.

Next. Steelers should double-dip these positional groups in the 2024 NFL Draft. Steelers should double-dip these positional groups in the 2024 NFL Draft. dark

All of that said, Pittsburgh is in a bit of a pickle right now with Fields already. They added him for next to nothing, but his options past 2024 are murky. There isn’t a clear-cut path for this team right now, and one has to wonder just what the plans are for Fields in this offense.