The Bears saw the flipside of the Tyson Bagent experience in a Week 8 thrashing at the hands of the Los Angeles Chargers. The undrafted rookie quarterback got behind early and looked overwhelmed by the Chargers' star-studded defense.
The result was a reality-check-inducing 30-13 loss.
That bled into the NFL trade deadline, which began with the Bears giving cornerback Jaylon Johnson permission to seek a trade. General manager Ryan Poles made one big swing by trading a 2024 second-round pick to the Washington Commanders for defensive end Montez Sweat. However, Poles' asking price to move Johnson was high,, and the deadline came and went without the 24-year-old corner changing addresses.
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The Bears will face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, with Bagent getting his third career start. Starting quarterback Justin Fields is "progressing" in his rehab from a dislocated thumb but is still considered week-to-week.
We begin this week's mailbag with the status of QB 1, or, more importantly, the status of his standing with the franchise:
I went back and listened to the commentary from the game, and I can agree that some of it was strange. Chris Collinsworth saying that the Fields needs to "study" Bagent is the comment that mainly rubbed people the wrong way.
I'm not sure this is some whisper campaign to soften the blow of moving on from Fields, though.
Last season, Fields said he studied Trevor Siemian when he started for him in Week 12 and admitted there were things he learned to try to incorporate into his game. We can all acknowledge that Fields is more talented than Siemian, just as he's more talented than Bagent. That doesn't mean Fields can't benefit from watching how the offense operates when someone else is running things. The best quarterbacks are always learning, and I'll bet Fields, when he talks again, will point to a few specific plays he liked that can help him. That's mainly getting the ball out quickly and taking the check-downs, which Fields has said he needs to get better at time and time again.
I don't think that Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus, or offensive coordinator Luke Getsy were whispering things to the Sunday Night Football crew to help them cut ties with Fields or cast blame on him. I think a lot of these things were probably off-hand comments in pre-production meetings that the crew noted and ran with, given how they wanted to sell Bagent's rare story to a mass audience.
What I won't disagree with is that this staff has struggled to coach Fields and find ways to construct the offense around what he does best. Fields made that pretty clear early on this season with his comments that he later walked back.
It has been a failure on a grand scale and will likely be why they finish the season without the necessary complete evaluation of Fields as a franchise quarterback. These people aren't spies. They just aren't adaptable coaches who get the best out of all their players if it's not a circle-peg-round-hole situation.
Which, to be clear, is suboptimal.
Overreaction? No and yes
There's no doubt Sweat is one of the few players on the Bears who could start on a true Super Bowl contender. I'd say DJ Moore, Jaylon Johnson, Tremaine Edmunds, TJ Edwards (he did last year) and Eddie Jackson are the others with the jury still out on Darnell Wright and Teven Jenkins.
But I don't think Sweat should alter the Bears' plan in the draft. There's still a good chance the Bears end up in positon to draft either Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. Although, I wonder if the acquisition of Sweat, combined with keeping Johnson and the expected return of Fields, will allow the Bears to win just enough games to have their own pick land in the 4-6 range. The Panthers finally got off the mat and have some winnable games down the stretch.
It's easy to see a world in which Fields and a defense with a pulse upfront allow the Bears to beat the Panthers, Cardinals, and/or Packers and Vikings to leave the Bears at 4-13 or 5-12.
If that's the case and the Bears end up with say the No. 4 and No. 6 pick, then they should go best player available and address the trenches of Williams, Maye, and Marvin Harrison Jr. are gone.
I don't think the Sweat trade has any impact on Fields' future with the franchise. The Bears desperately needed an elite edge rusher on their rebuild time frame and paid to get one instead of waiting for free agency or the draft.
Fields could still return from his injury and rip off a nice stretch that shows consistent improvement as a passer and leads the Bears to pick up his fifth-year option.
But give the way things have gone this season, it feels like they are headed toward an uncertain future where they either trade him or decline the fifth-year option and give him a contract season to show what he's got with real competition in camp.
Draft positioning and other variables will play into the plan for Fields beyond 2023, but I don't think Sweat is a factor.
I think outside of Darnell Wright and Jaquan Brisker, the draft picks have been pretty spotty so far.
In fairness, you can't fairly judge a draft class until at least three years down the road.
I still think Kyler Gordon is a good player and will continue to improve in the slot. Tyrique Stevenson has promise but has been picked on repeatedly this season. He'll learn and get better but it has been a tough season.
It's been a disappointing showing for Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens so far, and Tyler Scott hasn't factored into the offense the way I thought he would. Scott's issues I think have more to do with the fact that the Bears don't know who they are on offense. He has made some solid plays but he was picked with an eye toward 2024 and beyond.
This regime's drafting track record has been iffy. It's another reason I'm good with giving up a second-round pick for Sweat. He's a proven pass rusher. There's no reason to believe the Bears would nail that pick.
I think this is a good question to address at the end.
Poles has had no problem spending short-term cash on roster busts but wants to be cautious and disciplined with long-term money to maintain flexibility.
In general, it's a sound approach.
But where you get in trouble is when you always have a hard line you won't cross.
If we're just going to use the example of Jaylon Johnson, there is little reason the Bears shouldn't be able to find a suitable number to retain him for the next four years. Johnson has done everything they have asked since the new regime arrived. He has bought into the culture, improved on the field, been a leader in the locker room, and shown he is effective in the scheme.
His 37.3 passer rating allowed ranks third in the NFL among all corners with at least 140 coverage snaps. He is 24 years old.
If you aren't going to pay him, then what kind of message are you sending to other guys in the locker room that were here when you arrived? It's not apples to apples, but why are you OK paying Cole Kmet top-10 tight end money at four years, $50 million and not good with making Johnson a top-10 corner at four years, $65 million.
If Johnson wants to reset the market and wants $19-plus million then I can understand the stance. But that's not how I understand the situation.
Eventually, you have to reward your talented, young players. Otherwise, it's going to have an adverse effect in the locker room and your roster will be worse off by letting players like Johnson walk.
Like I said, in theory, I understand the approach. But it can't be a my-way-or-the-highway deal. Every situation should be different. You could sell some people on not paying Roquan Smith. It's going to be hard to do the same with Johnson.