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Is Justin Fields Making it Hard for the Bears to Decide? Team Demanding Higher Trade Price for 2024 No. 1 Pick

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Barring an unexpected development, Ryan Poles will have the opportunity to consider another trade involving a No. 1 overall pick. The second-year Bears GM is unlikely to be fired, per ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler and Courtney Cronin. But a similar decision awaits him once the season ends.

Poles’ 2023 choice equipped the Bears with a haul of draft choices, including a Panthers pick now guaranteed to check in at No. 1 overall, but the young GM has not seen Justin Fields submit an open-and-shut case to stay on for a fourth season. Recommitting to Fields would now require the Bears to trade a No. 1 overall pick for a second straight year. Considering Poles was not with the team when it traded up for Fields in 2021, the stakes attached to the GM’s next decision are even higher.

Since coming back from an early-season injury, Fields has impressed in spurts. The third-year QB is believed to have made the Bears’ decision more difficult, Fowler and Cronin note, but two anonymous GMs said (via the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora) Chicago should still be expected to draft Caleb Williams — who has not yet officially declared — first overall and trade Fields. A panel of NFL staffers said the same last month, indicating the Ohio State alum would be highly unlikely to fetch the Bears a first-round pick in a 2024 trade.

Fields’ recent spurt aside, his overall body of work would make passing on a prospect like Williams difficult. Chicago’s dual-threat passer is 8-19 as a starter and has struggled in fourth quarters this season. Per ESPN, Fields ranks last out of qualified passers with a 51.8% fourth-stanza completion rate while sitting 30th in QBR in final periods. Since 2021, Fields’ 16 fourth-quarter INTs lead the league. Fields’ run-game brilliance and superior work earlier in games (No. 4 in TD-INT ratio through games’ first three quarters this season) works in his favor, but thus far, more expect the Bears to start over rather than stick here.

If Fields can win what was previously described as an uphill battle and keep his job for 2024 — something that would require the Bears to pick up his fifth-year option by May — Poles will likely view this as a hotter ticket compared to the 2023 top pick. It cost the Panthers D.J. Moore, their Nos. 9 and 61 picks last year, their 2024 first and a 2025 second to move up for Young. Williams’ prospect status topping those of Young or C.J. Stroud points to the Bears setting a higher price, with ESPN.com adding several execs view the USC talent as being worth two future first-rounders and either a Day 2 pick or a veteran on a reasonable contract.

It cost the 49ers two future first-rounders and a third to climb nine spots for Trey Lance. The Eagles gave up a first-rounder, two seconds and two thirds for Jared Goff in 2016. Washington’s price to climb from No. 6 to No. 2 for Robert Griffin III was two future firsts and a second in 2012. It will, then, be worth debating if the Bears are better off continuing to build around Fields and the haul they could receive for the presumptive Williams draft slot or starting over with the 2022 Heisman winner (on rookie-deal money through at least 2026) and whatever they receive in a trade for Fields. Chicago’s incumbent QB would be worth a second- or third-rounder in a pre-draft swap, per Fowler.

The Bears giving up on Fields after three years would match the timeline Mitch Trubisky received. A three-and-done Fields stay would also show how the league has changed since the 2011 CBA reshaped rookie contracts. Rex Grossman was in Chicago for six years, though he did not finish out his tenure as the team’s starter. Despite leading the Bears to just one playoff berth, Jay Cutler stayed as the Bears’ QB1 for eight seasons. With Cutler checking in perhaps just south of the franchise-QB bar, Chicago has been in search of its next such piece since at least Jim McMahon, whose injury troubles shortened his Windy City stay.

These factors complicate Poles’ decision, but he is expected to be the one making it. Fowler and Cronin add Poles has cultivated a good relationship with new president Kevin Warren. A Sunday report indicated Matt Eberflus was more likely than not to stay on, but La Canfora notes the prospect of Warren — who arrived in Chicago after both Eberflus and Poles — firing the two-year HC and starting with a more offensively oriented leader (in the event Williams is drafted) should not be dismissed.

This would represent a tough ending for Eberflus, who has the Bears at 7-5 over their past 12 games. With complications surrounding their front office, coaching staff and quarterback, the upcoming offseason promises to be a seminal stretch for the Bears. Should they give Fields a fourth season or turn to Williams? Is Eberflus capable of becoming a long-term HC answer?

 

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