The playoffs are not yet set, and we still have a week left to play in the 2023 regular season, but today it was determined that the Chicago Bears will own the No. 1 overall pick of the 2024 NFL Draft this coming April. The Bears’ claim to the top overall selection is a result of two games that they had no part in today. It was a Panthers loss and a Cardinals win that ultimately determined the fate of the No. 1 pick.
The reason these two games affected Chicago comes from last year’s trade that enabled Carolina to draft rookie quarterback Bryce Young with the first overall pick in 2023. Chicago had possession of the draft’s top pick last year, as well. Having just selected quarterback Justin Fields with the 11th pick in 2021, the Bears didn’t feel the need to stay at No. 1, where Young was the heavy favorite to be selected, deciding instead to shop the pick for additional assets.
They found buyers in Carolina who sent a haul of draft assets to the Bears. In addition to shipping wide receiver D.J. Moore, who has quietly been one of the NFL’s more consistent receivers, the Panthers sent Chicago the Nos. 9 and 61 picks of the 2023 draft, their first-round pick in 2024, and their second-round pick in 2025. The Bears flipped the No. 9 pick for the No. 10 pick from Philadelphia, which they used to draft their starting right tackle Darnell Wright, as well as a 2024 fourth-rounder. They paired the No. 61 pick with a 2023 fifth-round pick in order to move up to No. 56 and draft University of Miami cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, who has started every game but one this year and recorded his third and fourth career interceptions today.
The key part of that trade now, though, appears to be the 2024 first-round pick that, thanks to the Panthers league-worst 2-14 record, will end up being the top overall pick in the draft. The Patriots, Commanders, and Cardinals held some hope of securing that draft slot coming into the week, with New England and Washington needing the Panthers to win out in order to have any chance, but today’s loss put Carolina out of reach of both teams. The Cardinals could’ve still had a chance next week if they hadn’t shockingly beaten the Eagles today, moving them out of range, as well.
What’s interesting is that the Bears will find themselves in a very similar position to last year. Once again, a quarterback, USC’s Caleb Williams, is the consensus favorite to be the first player selected in the draft. There were some questions about Fields throughout the team’s 14-game losing streak dating back to last year, but since ending the streak, the Bears have gone an impressive 7-5 with Fields going 5-2 as a starter. The Bears may once again decide that they believe in Fields as their quarterback of the future and decide they don’t want Williams at No. 1. Now, they could simply decide to pivot and not select a quarterback, opting to bring in Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. or shocking the world by selecting Georgia tight end Brock Bowers at No. 1. Much more likely, Chicago may, once again, put the pick up for grabs to the highest bidder.
There are going to be a number of quarterback-needy teams heading into the draft this year. The Patriots have effectively moved on from former first-round pick Mac Jones in favor of Bailey Zappe. The Raiders are starting fourth-round rookie Aidan O’Connell over free agent acquisition Jimmy Garoppolo. Kirk Cousins is currently on the road towards free agency in Minnesota. The Falcons and Buccaneers have options that may not inspire much confidence moving forward. And the Commanders and Giants entered the year thinking they had answers at quarterback that they may be questioning now.
Regardless, the No. 1 overall pick is the Bears to decide what to do with. They may decide to add to their offensive line or bring in a weapon for Fields, they could decide to bring in some competition for Fields, or for the second straight year, general manager Ryan Poles may flex once again and flip the pick for a massively improving haul. Time will tell, but Chicago’s fate is currently in its own hands, thanks to Carolina.