Analysis: Despite low trade value, Justin Fields still has potential to be a special player

Tue, Mar 19, 2024
NFL News (AP)

Analysis: Despite low trade value, Justin Fields still has potential to be a special player

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Justin Fields went from being considered a franchise quarterback to disregarded by the Chicago Bears in just three seasons.

It's quite a fall for a former first-round pick who showed promise.

After more than a dozen QBs switched teams last week in the opening days of the NFL's free-agent frenzy, the Bears traded Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional sixth-round pick in 2025.

The pick becomes a fourth-rounder if Fields ends up playing more than expected. He's going to Pittsburgh to back up Russell Wilson, provide insurance and possibly have a shot to be a starter again in the future.

The Bears have an opportunity to take Caleb Williams with the first pick in next month's NFL draft, so trading Fields was no surprise. That they basically gave him away was the shocker.

Fields wasn't terrible in Chicago. He's only 25 and showed flashes of being a special talent. He even received a fifth-place vote for AP NFL MVP in 2022.

The Bears selected Fields with the 11th overall pick in 2021 after he had two outstanding seasons at Ohio State. But then they didn't give him much of a chance to succeed. Fields played for two coaches and two offensive coordinators in three seasons on lousy teams that went 10-28 with him as the starter.

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Still, he displayed his raw ability and made some big plays with his arm and legs. It wasn't enough to convince the Bears to stick with him, but the organization deserves more blame for Fields' lack of development.

Fields completed 60.3% of his passes and threw for 40 touchdown with 30 interceptions. Plus, he ran for 2,220 yards and 14 scores. Only Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton had at least 40 TD passes and 2,000 yards rushing in their first three seasons.

In 2022, Fields had 17 TD passes and ran for 1,143 yards and eight scores on a team that finished 3-14.

His talent is obvious. He needs better coaching and a better supporting cast. The Steelers could provide that.

For now, Fields takes a step back and has an opportunity to learn from a future Hall of Fame QB who has had his share of struggles recently. Wilson has plenty to prove in Pittsburgh after two rough years in Denver. If he underperforms, the Steelers could turn to Fields quickly.

They're only paying Wilson the veteran's minimum of $1.21 million, so coach Mike Tomlin doesn't have to be patient.

The Steelers were looking for a backup after trading Kenny Pickett, a 2022 first-round pick, to Philadelphia along with a fourth-rounder for a third and two sevenths. They got more for Pickett than they gave up for Fields, who has more upside.

Fields turned down potential trades to four teams that were interested in him, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because trade conversations are confidential.

Fields didn't have a no-trade clause, so the Bears still could've traded him to any team that gave the best offer, but his market was dry. His contract contributed to that. Fields is making $3.2 million this season but has a fifth-year option for 2025 at $25.7 million.

"We have engaged in multiple trade conversations in recent weeks and believe trading Justin at this time to Pittsburgh is what is best for both Justin and the Bears," Chicago general manager Ryan Poles said.

Several teams made deals for backup quarterbacks but it's unknown which clubs wanted Fields.

Fields would've been a good fit for the Eagles behind Jalen Hurts. The Seahawks acquired Sam Howell from Washington. The Jaguars traded for Mac Jones. The Cardinals got Desmond Ridder from Atlanta, which signed Kirk Cousins. The Giants made a deal for Drew Lock.

The Patriots (Jacoby Brissett), Raiders (Gardner Minshew), Colts (Joe Flacco), Browns (Jameis Winston and Tyler Huntley), Rams (Jimmy Garoppolo), Vikings (Sam Darnold), Jets (Tyrod Taylor) and 49ers (Josh Dobbs), Titans (Mason Rudolph), Bills (Mitchell Trubisky) and Commanders (Marcus Mariota) each signed quarterbacks.

Fields was the fourth QB selected in 2021 and one of five chosen in the first round. Only Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence (No. 1) remains a starter. Zach Wilson (No. 2) already lost his job to Aaron Rodgers last year and is awaiting a trade or release from the New York Jets. Trey Lance (No. 3) was traded from San Francisco to Dallas last year. Jones (No. 15) was traded from New England to the Jaguars for a sixth-round pick last week.

Fields still has a shot to be the best of the bunch. First, he needs another chance to prove it.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

ROB MAADDI Maaddi is senior NFL writer for The Associated Press. He's covered the league for 24 years, including the first two decades as the Eagles beat writer. mailto "
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