xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Column: The Chicago Bears had to take a shot at a QB — and they did, moving up to draft Justin Fields on what could prove to be a pivotal day in the NFC North

The combination of the Chicago Bears’ quarterback depth chart, the team’s dismal history at the position and pressure on general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy to boost the fortunes of the franchise made it overwhelmingly clear the team had to make a move in the first round of the NFL draft.

That happened Thursday night when the Bears maneuvered up to select Ohio State’s Justin Fields with the 11th pick. Pace is no stranger to aggressive moves, but his trade partner was an unexpected find. Dave Gettleman of the New York Giants traded down in Round 1 for the first time in nine drafts, a week after saying he didn’t do it because he wasn’t going to be fleeced.

Advertisement

The Bears paid a big price for Fields, sending the Giants their 20th pick and fifth-round pick at No. 164 this year and first- and fourth-round picks in 2022. The key for Pace was protecting his draft capital Friday — picks in the second and third rounds — because he has more holes to fill on the roster.

Now the Bears have a future at the position when you look beyond Andy Dalton, whom the team named the Week 1 starter after signing him in free agency. The presence of Dalton and former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles should provide Fields with a solid room to begin his career, and there will be two questions: When will Fields be ready, and when will the Bears perhaps have to turn to him for a spark with Pace and Nagy needing to deliver “progress,” as judged by Chairman George McCaskey?

Advertisement
Advertisement

It’s the 32nd time in the Super Bowl era the Bears have drafted a quarterback, and Fields becomes the sixth in that span to be a first-round selection, four years after the trade up to get Mitch Trubisky. Jim Harbaugh, selected in 1987, is the only quarterback drafted by the Bears since 1966 to make 100 regular-season starts in the NFL, although only 65 came with his original team.

The biggest development leaguewide Thursday doubled as potentially the best news the Bears have encountered in some time, and it’s positively nothing of their own doing. Aaron Rodgers’ relationship with the Green Bay Packers would best be described as fractured, with the quarterback choosing Day 1 of the draft — a year after the Packers traded up to draft quarterback Jordan Love — to release details of the level of his discontent. According to multiple reports, Rodgers does not want to return to the Packers, creating a storyline that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

It’s impossible to overstate what it would mean for the rest of the NFC North if Rodgers were to leave Green Bay after 16 years and three MVP seasons, including in 2020. The Bears would be so thrilled for Rodgers to exit, likely to an AFC team, they probably would offer to throw in draft picks to the team acquiring him to make it happen. He’s 21-5 in his career against the Bears, postseason included, and as long as he’s with the Packers, they’re the team to beat in the division.

Competing against Brett Favre and then Rodgers for three decades hasn’t been a no-win proposition for the Bears, but too often victories have been few and far between, which often has left the Bears playing for second place — or worse. That’s another reason why the Bears’ never-ending pursuit of their franchise quarterback has been so maddening with Fields the next man positioned to solve the riddle.

Advertisement

For only the third time in draft history, quarterbacks came off the board with the first three picks. Everyone knew the Jacksonville Jaguars would begin the draft choosing Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and the New York Jets would follow with BYU’s Zach Wilson. The San Francisco 49ers went next, using the pick they traded up to acquire from the Miami Dolphins last month to select North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. In all, the 49ers invested three first-round picks and a third-rounder for the 20-year-old who made only 17 starts at the FCS level. That comes 26 months after the team signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract with $74 million guaranteed.

But the 49ers decided to make a move for the future and didn’t wait, which is something the Bears did in sticking with Trubisky for a fourth season and keeping Jay Cutler for eight seasons.

That left Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones, eventually selected at No. 15 by the New England Patriots, on the board among the top-five quarterbacks in the class. Sources consistently said over the last week that the Bears were exploring trade-up possibilities, but the Detroit Lions stayed put at No. 7 and selected Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, and the Carolina Panthers picked the first defensive player in South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn.

When Fields moved outside the top 10, it made a trade up less costly for Pace and again allowed him to keep nearly all his draft assets in place this year to get help Friday, with wide receiver, offensive line, cornerback and inside linebacker looming as needs. The Bears currently pick 52nd overall in Round 2 and No. 83 in Round 3.

With Fields, the Bears get a winner from a big-time program, a passer with a big arm and the athletic ability to threaten defenses with his legs. He’s a more physical runner than Trubisky was and went 20-2 as a starter for the Buckeyes.

Naturally, Fields will be compared with his draft classmates at the position, the kind of scrutiny that overwhelmed the Bears shortly after choosing Trubisky. That Fields went fourth among quarterbacks didn’t bother him.

“I’ve gone through situations where I haven’t been chosen,” said Fields, who transferred from Georgia to Ohio State. “My goal now is not to worry about those teams (that picked other quarterbacks). Those teams have nothing to do with me. My goal is if we play that team to beat them. The draft is over for me. I am ready to get to work.”

Fields said he got a taste of Nagy as a teacher in pre-draft Zoom interviews, and he’s eager to jump into the process with the Bears now in a position to prepare him to play sooner rather than later.

With some luck and a supporting cast around him, perhaps Fields will be the quarterback to break through for the Bears. He sounds ready to bet on himself.

“Just the way I carry myself,” Fields said. “Just the way I care about the game, the grit I have, the determination I have to be great. Nobody has the kind of story I have. Just everything inside of me, wanting to be a great quarterback, a franchise quarterback. I’ve been dreaming for this moment my whole life, so I think all of those intangibles, my work ethic and all of that together will be different for me.”

Advertisement

The NFC North and the league will be different if Rodgers isn’t in Green Bay this season. Fields gives the Bears a legitimate prospect to reboot the position, someone who offers hope for the future.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement