Upon returning from a dislocated thumb, Justin Fields faced a seven-game audition that would likely determine his post-2023 future in Chicago. Thus far, the 2021 first-round pick has impressed. The Bears have won two straight against division rivals, and Fields put together a solid game in the team’s upset win over the Lions in Week 14.
Before Fields began this final audition of sorts, reports pointed the Bears in different directions regarding their QB future. Multiple mid-November reports indicated the team was more likely to trade Fields and go with a top prospect in the 2024 draft. With the Panthers continuing to struggle and now two games behind the NFL’s second-worst record with four to play, the Bears are closer to having another opportunity to make their choice atop a draft. While Ryan Poles passed on that chance this year, trading the top pick to Carolina, it would represent a bigger risk move another No. 1 choice.
Although a subsequent report pegged the Bears as needing to be “blown away” by a QB prospect to move on from Fields, Yahoo.com’s Charles Robinson spoke with a number of GMs who suggest the Bears’ decision should not be that difficult. Reasons ranging from Caleb Williams‘ prospect profile to cost certainty to the risk of trading No. 1 overall picks in back-to-back years to Poles not being in Chicago when Fields was drafted pointed to the anonymous GMs expecting the team to trade its current quarterback and prepare for the future.
This scenario would remind of the Jets’ 2021 call, which now doubles as a warning to other teams. While some in the Jets’ building advocated for keeping Sam Darnold and passing on drafting Zach Wilson at No. 2 overall two years ago, the Jets centered their future around Wilson by trading Darnold to the Panthers for a three-pick package.
The key difference here being that Williams is a former Heisman winner who has resided as a top-tier prospect for multiple seasons; Wilson, conversely, rocketed toward the top of the ’21 draft board because he impressed against lower-level competition. The COVID-19-altered 2020 season, featuring independent BYU needing to schedule lesser competition, created this scenario. No such variables exist with Williams, though he could not match his dominant 2022 Heisman campaign this year.
Should the Bears follow that Jets plan, the anonymous execs told Robinson that the team should not be expected to fetch a first-round pick in a Fields trade. None of the seven trade proposals featured a first-rounder, though a few included a second. This partially hinges on Fields finishing this season strong. That would undoubtedly increase the run-oriented QB’s trade value while also making Poles’ decision more difficult.
It is still not a lock the Bears have Poles and Matt Eberflus in place to make these decisions. President Kevin Warren, whom the Bears hired in January, represents a wild card. Even if the Panthers provide the Bears with the No. 1 pick, the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora notes Warren will be expected to seriously consider changes to the coaching staff and front office. We heard this in September, but the Bears have performed better as of late. They are now only one game out of another mediocre NFC pursuit for the No. 7 seed, and La Canfora offers the caveat of a surprise playoff surge taking 2024 HC-GM changes off the table.
Warren is primarily running the Bears’ efforts to secure a new stadium, but the former Big Ten commissioner is expected to weigh in on football matters — like how the team should proceed with the No. 1 pick. Formerly a Lions, Vikings and Rams staffer, Warren is set to evaluate Poles and Eberflus in the offseason. The subject of wanting his own HC will likely come up, according to ProFootballNetwork.com’s Adam Caplan. How that potential motivation would affect Poles remains to be seen, but Eberflus probably joins Fields in needing to prove himself to close out this season.
This is not especially uncommon. New Commanders owner Josh Harris is expected to fire Ron Rivera, while the Broncos both changed HCs a year after hiring a new GM (going from Vic Fangio to Nathaniel Hackett) and then a year after having new ownership (Hackett to Sean Payton). The Panthers fired Rivera during David Tepper‘s second year in charge. The Bears do not have a new owner, but it is clear Warren will be a key decision-maker when it comes time to make a call on staffers. While the Bears are a long shot to extend this late-season recovery to the playoffs, the 2023 squad’s homestretch will be important through a long-term lens.