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One way or another, the Steelers need to involve Justin Fields in the offense

It was Saturday night around 7:00 pm and my wife and I were out to dinner with some friends. Suddenly, my phone started buzzing out of control. Five messages, then ten. Twenty. Thirty. I pulled the phone from my pocket and took a quick peek. 53 messages from our Steel Curtain Network Slack channel. Something big was going down with the Steelers.

I turned to my wife, but before I could open my mouth she said, through gritted teeth, “Don’t you dare.”

Message received. Between my work as a high school coach, as the coach for my son’s youth team, and my duties at both SCN and FFSN, there’s more than enough football talk in our house. “A couple of hours without football won’t kill you,” she told me. “Besides, nothing big goes down on a Saturday night anyway.”

She was right on the first account. Though I suffered through the anticipation of wondering what all of those messages were about, it did not literally kill me to leave the phone unattended at that restaurant. The meal was good (I had linguini and clams, if you’re curious), the company was lovely and I did not literally die.

As for the second point, that nothing big happens on a Saturday night, my wife missed one key detail. This is the Omar Khan era in Pittsburgh, and when the Khan Man is on the job, you can never let your guard down. You never know when he’ll strike, or in what capacity, and you always need to be at the ready.

This past weekend was perhaps the most stunning in that respect in Khan’s whirlwind tenure as the team’s general manager. On Friday afternoon, in what is generally regarded as the “Friday News Dump” period, Khan shocked Steeler Nation by trading Kenny Pickett, the team’s 1st Round draft pick in 2021 and their starter at quarterback for 24 games over the past two seasons, to the Philadelphia Eagles for a couple of kicking tees. Pickett had reportedly asked for a trade, and the Steelers were unhappy with how he’d handled the signing of Russell Wilson. Still, the deal seemed strange. The compensation was extremely low — Pittsburgh moved up 22 picks in this year’s draft from the mid-fourth to late-third round, and exchanged late-round picks in 2025 — and by jettisoning Pickett, they were left with only the 35-year-old Wilson at quarterback. Another move seemed imminent, but what would it be?

Approximately 24 hours later, we had our answer. Those kicking tees were being re-routed to Chicago in exchange for Fields, a marvelously talented but flawed player who, like Pickett, had fallen out of favor with the team that had drafted him to be their franchise quarterback. The Steelers acquired Fields for a sixth-round pick in 2025 that could become a fourth-rounder based on playing time, which seems unlikely given the fact Pittsburgh quickly announced that Fields would serve as Wilson’s backup and that a competition between the two was not forthcoming. This made sense, given the fact Wilson is the more accomplished player, is coming off of a year where, despite a divorce in Denver, he threw 26 touchdowns and led the NFL in fourth quarter comeback victories, and was openly recruited to Pittsburgh by some of its veteran players, including Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fields is just 25 years old, and could probably benefit by sitting for a year and learning from the wily Wilson. What the Steelers do with him beyond 2024 is hard to know — they likely will not pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which would cost them around $25 million — but they could negotiate a deal to bring him back to Pittsburgh, depending on how the season transpires. In any event, adding him to their quarterback room was another coup for Khan, who has now fleeced the Bears twice since becoming GM in order to acquire Fields and to dump receiver Chase Claypool for the draft pick that landed the Steelers Joey Porter Jr.

Despite the fact Fields will serve as the backup to Wilson this season does not mean the Steelers can’t — or shouldn’t — use him. In order to elevate the draft compensation for Fields to a 4th round pick, he would have to play 51% of the snaps at quarterback. Barring an injury to Wilson, or horrendous play by the veteran, that won’t happen. But it would be a huge missed opportunity on the part of the Steelers to simply ask Fields to hold a clipboard. Fields is an electric runner with the football in his hands who has amassed 2,220 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns over three seasons. He is a deadly red zone and short yardage runner and his speed makes him capable of scoring from anywhere on the field:

You probably see where I’m going with this. Bring Fields in a few times each game and let him run the football. His legs are a valuable commodity and he could create explosive plays in an Arthur Smith-led offense. That’s all well and good. Unfortunately, opposing teams have coaches too, and if Fields enters each game a handful of times as a de facto “Wildcat” quarterback, defenses will react accordingly by stacking the box and anticipating a run.

Fortunately, Fields isn’t a de facto quarterback. He’s a real quarterback who has thrown 40 NFL touchdown passes. He may not be a finished product at the position, or someone the Steelers are ready to anoint their starter. But he is certainly capable of throwing the ball well enough to give defenses pause if they treat him like a glorified running back. While Fields throws too many interceptions, struggles to read defenses in the middle of the field and takes too many sacks, he also throws a great deep ball, which is pretty useful against defenses that want to gang up against the run:

In short, it would behoove the Steelers to prepare a five-to-ten play package each week for Fields consisting of read-options, RPOs, bootlegs and play-action passes that can be used situationally to provide the offense a spark. This would make use of the fact that Fields is an elite athlete while keeping him involved in the game plan each week. Wilson, who went out of his way to welcome Fields to Pittsburgh on Saturday, shouldn’t be too threatened by yielding a few snaps per game to his younger counterpart. If he’s as committed to winning as he appears to be, he’ll recognize the benefit of getting Fields involved. Besides, Khan and Company have demonstrated in their handling of Pickett and Dionate Johnson the past few weeks that they’re not too concerned with players being in their feelings. Whatever is best for the team, that’s what goes. Utilizing Fields in a limited capacity that takes advantage of his best skills fits that bill, no matter what Wilson thinks.

For a more complete analysis on how the Steelers can incorporate Fields into the offense, check out my video breakdown on the SCN YouTube channel below. And try not to blink. Week two of free agency is here, the Steelers still have pressing needs to fill, and the Khan Man is on the prowl…


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