Justin Fields

Bears had ‘deep conversations' about keeping Justin Fields, drafting QB at No. 1

The Bears looked at every avenue as they charted their QB course going forward

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ORLANDO -- Bears general manager Ryan Poles meant it when he said he and his staff would look under every rock to find the answer the franchise needs at quarterback.

The Bears wound up trading quarterback Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick, clearing the way for USC star Caleb Williams to be the likely selection with the No. 1 overall pick.

But before the Bears made the expected decision to trade Fields and start over under center, Poles and his staff discussed bringing Fields back and drafting a rookie at No. 1 overall. In the end, the Bears decided it was best for all parties if they didn't cross that bridge.

"I know there was a lot of talk about having Justin there and drafting a quarterback as well," Poles said Monday at the annual NFL league meetings. "We had a lot of deep conversations and I got some really good guys on my staff to really dig into how that would play out in terms of the locker room, how would that play out with a young guy that needs a lot of reps, how would that play out with just the command and leadership that you need in that position and we felt like it was best to probably move on and allow a young quarterback to come in and work into that role.”

The decision to trade Fields was hard for Poles. He and head coach Matt Eberflus called the 25-year-old to inform him of the trade and thank him for his contributions to the franchise.

As Poles and the Bears evaluated what Fields had done, what he still must improve on, and the overall state of their rebuild, it was clear that moving on from him and resetting the quarterback contract clock was the right move for the franchise.

"There’s a lot to unpack there," Poles said when asked why it didn't work with Fields. "If you go through the whole deal, at the very beginning, I think there was a choppy start his rookie year. When I came in, we had some cleaning up to do, which then delayed another year of adding talent and supporting. And then, just in terms of the game, I feel like he was making strides and improving.

"The problem is, and that’s what I try to explain, it wasn’t Justin vs. one of these rookies. It’s really the timeline and how much runway you have. To get a guy up off the ground, you need to support them with as much talent as possible. Then that fits. It takes so much cap space, which is a good thing if you get to that point. But they have to be the reason you start winning. Then it’s harder to add the talent around them. You can look around the league, and it happens a lot. The teams that can sustain success through that period I think do a really special job."

With Fields getting a fresh start in Pittsburgh, the Bears plan to hand the franchise keys over to Williams, who has checked every box during the pre-draft evaluation. Yes, the tape is tremendous. Williams wowed the Bears in person at USC's Pro Day.

While on-field talent is vital, Williams has shown he has the qualities the Bears want and need in a person and leader to be the face of their franchise.

"When you talk to his teammates, they don't like him, they love him," Poles said of Williams. "His leadership, how he brings people together. He's intentional with his leadership. Same goes with the staff. I'm having a hard time finding a person that doesn't like him or even love him and thinks that he can reach the highest limits. The feedback's been good."

With one month to go until the draft, the Bears still have a few I's to cross and T's to dot before they make Williams the selection at No. 1.

Drafting Williams and bringing him into a locker room with Fields would never be a tenable situation. It would put a vocal pro-Fields locker room in a tough position, potentially cost Williams valuable developmental reps and time during OTAs and training camp, and create a massive distraction for the 2024 team to wade through before the season even starts. Fields and his representation also would undoubtedly prefer a fresh start as opposed to one more year in Chicago, where he would either be backing up Williams or just serving as a placeholder for the guy drafted to replace him.

The Bears' decision was billed as a "dilemma" by many. But it was never that hard of a choice. Williams fits the Bears' timeline, and his talent gives the Bears a ceiling they likely would not have reached, with Fields entering Year 4 and a new contract approaching.

Poles looked at every possible scenario, including the most combustible option. But those "deep" conversations led the Bears to the only possible end game: moving on from Fields and drafting a rookie quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick.

There was no other choice.

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