National Football League
Mike Tomlin confirms Steelers plan to start Russell Wilson over Justin Fields at QB
National Football League

Mike Tomlin confirms Steelers plan to start Russell Wilson over Justin Fields at QB

Published Mar. 24, 2024 8:31 p.m. ET

Russell Wilson will indeed be the Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback entering the team's offseason workouts. 

Mike Tomlin confirmed that Wilson has the "pole position" in the quarterback battle with Justin Fields, whom the team also acquired this offseason.

"We've been very transparent about the pecking order, at least to start," Tomlin told reporters at the NFL's league meetings on Sunday. "I just think that provides clarity for all parties involved. Russell is a veteran, man. 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."

The Steelers agreed to a deal with Wilson less than a week after he was released by the Denver Broncos, giving the 35-year-old a one-year, veteran minimum deal as he looks to revitalize his career in Pittsburgh. It was reportedly messaged privately that Wilson would be the starting quarterback following his signing, prompting Kenny Pickett to want a trade.


Pickett's wish was granted as the Steelers agreed to move the quarterback to the Philadelphia Eagles on March 15. The Steelers' search for a backup quarterback didn't last long as they acquired Fields in a trade from the Chicago Bears a day later, moving a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick to get him.

Will Fields or Russell Wilson start for the Steelers?

It was reported shortly after the Steelers' trade for Fields that the team still planned on Wilson being their starting quarterback ahead of the 2024 season. Tomlin explained that it was important for the quarterbacks to at least have an understanding of which way the team's leaning on who'd be the starting quarterback during the offseason, but he left the door ajar for Fields to possibly become the starter.

"It provides clarity for all parties involved as they do some of the informal things that collectors do this time of year, whether it's coming together to work out and destinations and things of that nature," Tomlin said. "Rest assured when it's time to compete, Justin will be given an opportunity to compete, and we'll allow those guys to sort themselves out."

The Steelers' decision to hit the reset button on their quarterback room followed a season where they made the playoffs despite receiving lackluster production at the position. Pickett threw for just 2,070 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions in the first 12 games of the season before an ankle sprain sidelined him. Mitch Trubisky was benched after two starts, which were both losses for the Steelers. Mason Rudolph led the Steelers to victory in all three of his starts. However, Rudolph was a free agent at the end of the season and opted to sign with the Tennessee Titans.

In his first comments since the Steelers played musical chairs with their quarterbacks, Tomlin acknowledged that things had to change at the position this offseason. Wilson and Fields were atop their quarterback wishlist.

"We knew obviously we had to acquire some talent at the position, and so we just studied the field and levels of availability among some of the candidates in the field," Tomlin said. "We got zeroed in on Russell and Justin among them, obviously. Probably the goal was to get one guy initially, but through conversation and work — and can't give [Steelers general manager] Omar [Khan] enough credit — we were able to acquire both guys."

Both quarterbacks were dumped by their previous teams under different circumstances. Wilson was released after he underperformed in his first two seasons in Denver, causing the Broncos to eat $85 million in dead salary. Wilson performed slightly better in Year 2 with the Broncos than he did in his first season, throwing for 3,070 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he was benched with two games left in the season in a precautionary move to avoid eating more salary if he was released.

Fields, meanwhile, was moved after the Bears secured the No. 1 overall pick as a result of a trade with the Carolina Panthers last offseason. In his third season, Fields started the year slowly but improved as the season went along, helping the Bears go 4-2 down the stretch. He ended the season throwing for 2,562 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions with 657 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in 13 games. 

But it wasn't good enough for the Bears to keep Fields around, as they're expected to draft highly-touted quarterback prospect Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick. 


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