With trade came 'relief' for Steelers QB Justin Fields

ByBrooke Pryor ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- Justin Fields received the long-awaited call as he ate a late dinner in Italy on March 16.

Weeks earlier, the Chicago Bears informed their former first-round quarterback at his exit meeting that they planned to move on from him and draft a quarterback with their No. 1 overall pick. Finally, after a lengthy limbo dating to the 2023 offseason, Fields learned he was a Pittsburgh Steeler in exchange for a conditional sixth-round pick at 10 p.m. in Milan, Italy.

"We were in the same situation last year with having the No. 1 pick, and it was just a little bit different this year," Fields said Tuesday, speaking for the first time since the trade. "I'm not naive to the fact that -- I can read body language and stuff like that. It wasn't really just a shock to where it's like, 'Oh, I got traded.' I knew what was going to happen beforehand. So I'm just glad I got traded to the spot that I wanted to be at."

He also added it was a "relief" to know his destination.

Prior to consummating the trade with Pittsburgh, Bears general manager Ryan Poles said he wanted to "do right" by the No. 11 overall pick in 2021. After his first OTA practice in Pittsburgh, Fields expressed gratitude for the Bears' brass.

"Shoutout to Poles, we communicated to him through my agent, and I told him where I wanted to be and this was a place I wanted to be," Fields said. "He honored that, and I appreciate him for that and glad he was able to put me in a spot where I wanted to be at."

Fields added that he looked back on his time with the Bears with appreciation: "There was a lot of ups and downs, but all in all, I appreciate every relationship that I built, all my teammates. They know that nothing but love for the city, for the fans and for my old teammates and coaches."

Fields initially thought his dream of playing in Pittsburgh was over when the Steelers signed Russell Wilson on the eve of the NFL's legal tampering period. Not so fast, his agent told him.

"With Kenny [Pickett] still here and then Russell here, I definitely thought the door was shut, so I didn't know where I was going to end up at that point," Fields said. "But my agent kind gave me a heads up a couple of days before that Kenny even might be getting traded. So when I heard that, and then I actually saw it happen in real time, then I kind of knew kind where I was going at that point."

At the time of the trade, the Steelers made it clear to Fields that Wilson was in "pole position" entering the offseason, but the 25-year-old Fields isn't shying away from competing with a nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion.

"I'm definitely competing," Fields said. "I think Russ knows that we're competing against each other every day. Him being out there for me, that helps me getting better, especially each other.

"I definitely don't have the mindset of me just sitting all year. I'm coming in every day giving it all I got and pushing him to be his best, and he's pushing me to be my best each and every day."

Wilson echoed Fields after Tuesday's voluntary practice in Pittsburgh, where the pair worked with the likes of wide receiver George Pickens and tight end Pat Freiermuth to establish chemistry and familiarity in Arthur Smith's new offense. As they practiced, a handful of former Steelers, including safety Troy Polamalu, watched on.

"Every day, you know, trying to be my best so I can also show him and vice versa, and we're just continuing to challenge one another," Wilson said. "Be the best version we can be for this football team. And that's the great part about it."

Like Fields, Wilson arrived in Pittsburgh after a tumultuous experience with his former team. And though his tenure in Denver ended on the bench, Wilson said he doesn't feel like he has something to prove in Pittsburgh.

"I wouldn't say I'm scalded," Wilson said. "I would say that if anything, I've just learned a lot and I think that internally you get better, you get tougher. You use your experiences, use the challenges that you've gone through to be the best version of you. And so I don't blink, and I'm looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity."

Despite different levels of playing experience in the NFL, both Fields and Wilson arrive in Pittsburgh with plenty of leadership experience, something that coach Mike Tomlin noted after his first extended workday with the pair of quarterbacks.

"They're professionals, and so I'm excited about that but I'm not surprised by it," Tomlin said. "There's an expectation there. Both guys have been franchise-like guys if you will. They've gotten out of their cars in the morning and worn the responsibility of being that guy for a franchise, and so there's residual benefit from that and so I'm excited about us receiving it."

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