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Why Justin Fields (Not Russell Wilson) Gives Steelers Best Chance To Win

Pittsburgh should think carefully before Week 1

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has a critical decision to make before embarking on their 2024 campaign: start Russell Wilson or Justin Fields at quarterback?

Presumably, that decision’s already been made internally by Tomlin, who has vocalized his support for Wilson, a proven Super Bowl champion and a nine-time Pro Bowler. However, there are still 18 weeks in Pittsburgh’s upcoming clean slate, opening the door for a plethora of possibilities for both Wilson and Fields.

“Russell is a veteran, man,” Tomlin told reporters during league meetings in March, per “He’s got a proven process of readiness. He’s been in this league a long time. He’s capable of rallying troops, receivers, tight ends, running backs, etc. He’s just got a lot of experience in terms of what it takes to be the guy over the course of a 12-month calendar and I just think that that’s something that a younger guy like Justin could learn from.”

In terms of experience and track record, Wilson certainly has the upper hand. But the past is the past. Wilson, now 35 years old, logged a (slight) bounce-back year last season with the Denver Broncos, notching a 66.4% completion percentage with 3,070 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, although the team finished a mediocre 7-8 in his starts and missed the postseason for the eighth consecutive season — the second straight under Wilson’s leadership.

So, the decision isn’t as clear-cut as laying out Wilson and Fields’ résumés side-by-side and giving the stamp of approval to the more experienced veteran, in Pittsburgh’s case.

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In fact, Tomlin should strongly consider giving the 25-year-old Fields the green light instead.

Fields is 10 years younger than Wilson, which alone presents the opportunity for a stable future at quarterback for the Steelers. Wilson is playing under a one-year contract, and Fields basically is, too. Wilson will need to earn the starting role each week, even if it’s granted to him when the season opens up. Therefore, it would be in Fields’ best interest to stay locked in and ready for when Tomlin calls upon the 2021 first-rounder.

“Justin is exciting to have,” Steelers general manager Omar Kahn told 93.7 The Fan in June. “If you would have told me that we’d be sitting here with Russell Wilson, Justin Fields and Kyle Allen, even five months ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Fields threw for a career-high 2,562 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. It’s important to take the context of Fields’ final season with the Chicago Bears into consideration: the organization was (and still is) a dumpster fire and it was just Fields’ third year in the league. That’s a sample size with significant room for improvement and growth.

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When it comes to athletic ability, Fields is far ahead of Wilson in that race. Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith typically favors utilizing a run-centric offense, which obviously favors Fields’ skill set over Wilson’s post-prime aging body. That’ll likely put Wilson in the spotlight for needing to significantly outperform Fields to earn role security — and maintain it.

Fields gets leniency because of the possibility of upside as the younger, much more athletic quarterback. Pittsburgh can mold and reinvent Fields to better suit its offense for years to come. However, the same can’t be said for Wilson, who’s playing at the tail end of his career.

The Steelers surrendered a conditional 2025 sixth-round draft pick to the Bears to acquire Fields this past offseason, which isn’t a risky wager by any stretch but is enough to incentivize Pittsburgh to tap into the full potential of what Fields could become.

Featured image via Jamie Sabau/USA TODAY Sports Images