After swirling rumors and rampant speculation for weeks, the Bears made good on their promise to address the quarterback position Thursday night.
Three consecutive quarterbacks were selected to open the first round of the NFL Draft. Then the Bears watched and waited as the price tag to make a trade up slowly got cheaper. Then, as the New York Giants came on the clock at Pick 11, the Bears pounced.
The Bears traded their first- and fifth-round picks this year, plus their first- and fourth-round picks next year in order to trade up with the Giants. At Pick 11, the Bears selected Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, whom they hope can be their long-awaited answer at the position.
Surely, every Bears fan — including, and especially, Ryan Pace haters — channeled their inner Bill Pullman from Independence Day, and all declared in one voice: “He did it! The son-of-a-bitch did it!”
Not all Bears fans were optimistic when the team came on the clock, though. Some Negative Nancies were still wondering if they’d choose Alabama quarterback Mac Jones over Fields. I hope they enjoyed that short-lived drama in unnecessary pessimism.
The fact is, Pace and Matt Nagy fell in love with Fields as a prospect and they knew they wanted him badly. Now, with their backs to the wall and fighting for their jobs, they just might have drawn the Get Out of Jail Free card that extends their tenures.
Bears gave up about what I had hoped in the trade for Fields
A few days ago, I wrote a post explaining how I didn’t want the Bears to mortgage the future to trade up into the Top 10 to take a chance on a quarterback prospect. Given the bust factor and the historic hit-or-miss nature of first-round quarterbacks — with emphasis on “miss” — I didn’t think it was worth the ransom they’d have to pay to acquire one.
When I saw what the 49ers gave up to move up to Pick 3 — which included three first-round picks — it scared me off. I had no interest in the Bears giving up that kind of draft capital to take a chance on an unknown, unproven prospect.
I did, however, say that if one of those quarterbacks slid into the teens, I’d be comfortable with them giving up Pick 20 and a few mid-round picks to move up and get him. As it turned out, the Bears did give up exactly what I had hoped for, but they threw in an extra first-round pick, too.
If Fields pans out, though, no one will remember — or care — what the Bears gave up to get him.
Fields is a dynamic playmaker who should be able to run the offense the way Nagy envisions
Fields was an interesting prospect in the months and weeks leading up to the draft. Many scouts and analysts ranked him as the No. 2 quarterback in the draft. But for one reason or another, his stock began to decline over time.
Is it because of the long-running stigma of Ohio State quarterbacks failing in the NFL? Or because of a perceived lack of consistency and questionable decision-making? Could it be because he has epilepsy?
Without actually getting answers from the various organizations that passed on him, we’ll never quite know the truth. Regardless, Fields has a skillset with a big-time arm and incredible speed and mobility to be a game-changer.
Or, to put it another way: Fields can be a quarterback that the Bears win “because of,” not just “with.”
As Pace told the media after the selection: “That speed is real and we’d be doing a disservice if we didn’t utilize all areas of his game, and one of those is his mobility.”
Surely, the mad scientist that Nagy is has all sorts of ideas on how to use Fields if he is called into action sooner rather than later this coming season.
“Andy is our starter”
Despite the excitement that comes with selecting a quarterback in the first round of the draft, Bears fans will have to temper their enthusiasm for the time being. Because after the selection of Fields, Pace told the media that veteran Andy Dalton, whom the Bears signed to a one-year deal in free agency, will remain the Bears starter for now.
The Bears will roll into the season with Dalton — tenuously? — listed as their starter. But I can’t imagine that holds firm for too long. The situation reeks of 2017 when the Bears signed Mike Glennon in free agency and then drafted Mitch Trubisky a month later. (I actually feel that both veteran and rookie are better this year than back then, but that’s another story.)
Dalton clearly has been placed in an unfortunate situation. There’s a long-running adage that “the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town.” That’s even more true when the backup happens to be a highly-drafted rookie. As such, Dalton will be under far more scrutiny than he might otherwise have been if the Bears did not select Fields. Every stalled drive, every interception, heck, every incomplete pass will heighten the calls from the fans to put Fields into the game. Whether or not the coaching staff obliges will remain to be seen.
The way I see it is that this is actually a good thing. I don’t know if the Bears keep Nick Foles or try to trade him, but there is a whole lot of veteran wisdom in that quarterback room right now. Fields will certainly learn a lot and hopefully develop quickly. Competition also brings out the best in players, so you’d have to think that Dalton will elevate his game feeling the pressure of a hungry rookie breathing down his neck.
If the Bears keep Foles, I’m curious to see if he’s their No. 2 or if Fields leapfrogs him. At the moment, he’ll begin the offseason ahead of the rookie. But a good training camp from Fields could certainly change that.
Even if Fields doesn’t unseat Dalton, I think it’d be wise for the Bears to take a page out of the New Orleans Saints’ playbook over the last several years. Veteran Drew Brees was the entrenched starter while the versatile Taysom Hill had designed packages for him. The Bears could even put Fields in for a few series per game without disrupting the flow of the game plan.
The Bears improved on night one of the 2021 NFL Draft
The most important takeaway from the first night of the 2021 NFL Draft is that the Bears got better. How much better will be determined on the field over the next few seasons. But considering they haven’t had a stable quarterback situation in more years than I care to remember, a top quarterback prospect brings fresh hope.
Giving up four picks, including two first-rounders, makes you a little uneasy. But like I always say in regards to trades: if the player that you target succeeds, you won’t even remember what you gave up for him down the road.
The Bears managed to keep their two Day 2 picks and will have selections at Picks 52 and 83. They have needs to fill at offensive tackle, wide receiver and cornerback. Considering they don’t pick again until the sixth round — when they have four selections — I’d actually be okay with them trading down and acquiring more selections. Pace has proven to be adept at getting talent in the mid rounds.
There’s a lot for Bears fans to be excited about after one day. Let’s see what Pace and the Bears can do on Day 2 Friday night.