The Chicago Bears once again find themselves facing a franchise-altering decision. For the second straight season, the team holds the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Last year, the team opted to trade back from the position to acquire additional assets, including wide receiver D.J. Moore and the eventual top pick in this spring’s draft.
A year later, the franchise finds itself in a similar predicament. Quarterback Justin Fields showed growth and has proven to be a solid starter, but he’s entering the end of his rookie contract and is still lacking in several areas. Further, this draft features several highly-touted prospects, including USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. It was one thing for the Bears to pass on last year’s quarterback class, but it’s a harder sell this time around.
The Bears had no shortage of holes following the 2022 season. The argument against selecting Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud was simple: The Bears would be setting themselves up for failure just like they had with Fields. The team had far bigger needs to address and neglecting them in favor of drafting a quarterback would’ve been counterproductive. The outlook on the Bears roster has shifted since last spring. The team wrapped up the season 7-10 and has the infrastructure to support a young quarterback.
When factoring in both age and contract, there are only a handful of quarterbacks who the average team would take over the No. 1 overall pick. A quarterback on a rookie deal is the single greatest advantage an organization can have in the team-building process. Quarterback is by far the most valuable position in the league, and that value is reflected in their salaries. If a team can get high-end play out of their quarterback before they reach their second contract, building a championship-caliber team becomes significantly easier.
Of course, this scenario is contingent on hitting on the top pick, but if a fanbase doesn’t trust its front office to select a good player first overall in such a strong quarterback class, that’s a completely different discussion. Drafting the likes of Williams or Maye gives the Bears a chance at this and finding the franchise quarterback that has eluded them for so long. The further into Fields’ career we get, the less of an unknown he becomes. As of now, it’s unlikely he’ll be an elite quarterback in Chicago, much less one that can justify the hefty price the Bears will be forced to play to extend him.
Chicago has a chance to get younger, cheaper, and quite possibly better at the most important position. Trading back will always be enticing, but quarterback isn’t a position that can be neglected. Who knows the next time the Bears will be drafting first overall again and what that quarterback class will look like? Moving out of the top pick again leaves a lot up to chance.
Fields is a talented player, and it’s difficult not to sympathize with him. He was put into a disastrous situation that few young quarterbacks would’ve overcome. However, Fields can’t get another year out of pity; it must be earned. Any option that includes keeping Fields feels short-sighted. What happens if Fields performs at a similar level in 2024 as he did in 2022 and 2023? Barring an unforeseen disaster, the Bears won’t have the No. 1 pick at their disposal.
Will they then be forced to give Fields a Daniel Jones-level contract? Will they find a bridge quarterback in free agency instead? For decades, the Bears have been tormented by their inability to nail the quarterback position. Retaining Fields feels like a move more likely to entrench them in quarterback purgatory than help them escape it.
With the draft only a few months away, fans must come to terms with the reality that Fields’ days in Chicago are likely coming to an end. While the move may not be popular with everyone, it’s the right decision. There’s simply too much on the line in this year’s draft, and the Bears can’t justify giving it all up for someone who hasn’t been anything more than an average starter.