Steelers need to get Justin Fields extended no matter the cost

The Steelers quarterback situation is improved, but the long-term outlook is as murky as ever and a Justin Fields deal would help alleviate that.
Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Offseason Workout
Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Offseason Workout / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

While a vastly improved group, the Steelers quarterback room is still a messy situation without a lot of clarity. While Russell Wilson is slated to start, Justin Fields is also a viable option if Wilson continues to regress. And if you think this year is messy, it gets even worse past 2024.

The issue at hand is that there is no viable quarterback under contract passed this season (sorry to any John Rhys Plumlee fans out there). Having a completely new quarterback room is rare for most teams, as some sort of stability at the most important position on the field is vital. Having to completely refill the room in back-to-back seasons is not a desirable place to be for a franchise.

This leaves two realistic extension candidates for the team. That said, I think it would be a poor move to extend Wilson right now. You got him on a minimum deal due to the money he was owed in Denver, but he won’t want to remain on such a deal on a long-term contract. Given his struggles, paying him anything more right now seems like a mistake.

Fields is the far bigger question mark, but he should be the one to see a new deal this offseason. This gives you insurance for next year in the quarterback room. It won’t be cheap by any means, but inking Fields to an extension is the move that needs to be made this summer.

Why the Steelers need to make this move

As stated before, having some stability in the quarterback room is a wise idea. Having back-to-back seasons of completely rebuilt signal callers is asking for trouble. Fields is also a high-risk, high-reward player. That said, he has elite traits that could make him a dynamic starter in this league.

While the sixth-round pick to acquire him isn’t much, you don’t want to just throw in the towel after one season. If he can hone in his talent, he has the makings of a franchise passer. He needs time to prove that though.

It also doesn’t help that next year's draft class looks light at quarterback. While that narrative can quickly change, you don’t want to have to be in a position where you have to draft a quarterback, especially if you finish outside of the bottom five. That is how you get stuck with middling quarterback prospects.

If Wilson turns back the clock, you will want to extend him. That is where the majority of the risk comes in extending Fields now. It wouldn’t be ideal to have two well-paid quarterbacks around, but I’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. With the cap constantly going up and a healthy amount of anticipated space in 2025, I’ll risk that scenario playing out.

What would a deal look like? It wouldn’t be cheap. Top-end backups get close to 10 million a season, and Fields is above that as a player. Jordan Love signed a similar “prove-it” deal with the Packers a year ago, but he was completely unproven at that point. Fields will likely want more. I would say his floor is at 15 million in new money with his ceiling being 25 million a season (what Geno Smith makes). You can also use some play incentives to keep that initial contract cost lower and have room for Fields to prove his worth.

I have the following mocked as what I think a realistic extension should look like. You add one extra year onto Field’s deal, locking him up through the 2025 season. In 2025, he gets a base salary of 6 million dollars with a 5 million dollar roster bonus due to him after the new league year (11 million total). Add in an 18 million dollar signing bonus this year (to put some extra money in his pocket this year and incentivize him to sign) and you are looking at 20 million as his cap hit next season.

From there, I am adding various different incentives, such as starter bonuses, team wins, and statistical bonuses. Fields can earn an additional 2.5 million if he starts 14 games, throws for over 3,500 yards if the team gets to the playoffs, and is elected to the Pro Bowl. In total, he can earn 30 million, although he would only be guaranteed 20 if the team carried him.

That seems like a lot for an unknown who may only end up being a backup if Wilson shines, but this deal is easy to get out of if Fields struggles. If you determine he isn’t the solution or that Wilson is the real deal, you could cut or trade Fields before that roster bonus kicked in and only be on the hook for 9 million in dead money (half of his signing bonus).

This deal gives you a viable quarterback in the room for 2025 but doesn’t force you to commit to them long-term. Assuming Wilson isn’t around, Fields can play out that year and either earn a long-term deal, earn the franchise tag, or be allowed to walk if things don’t go well. This also means you aren’t forced into drafting a quarterback next offseason.

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A deal like this seems fair on all sides. Fields gets a small sum of money this offseason and is set to play on a respectable deal next year with the chance of earning even more. If he falters or you want a different quarterback in the room, you can get out of his deal with limited damage. It’s a win-win and a deal the Steelers need to try and get done.