There have been unsubstantiated rumors that presumptive No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams would prefer not to be drafted by the Bears dating back to November.
Those rumors only heated up last week when FOX Sports' Colin Cowherd said he heard that Williams' camp would prefer the USC quarterback to be drafted by the Washington Commanders, who own the No. 2 overall pick. Cowherd walked that back a day later when he said Williams camp called him to set the record straight and that they are not "anit-Bear."
The noise around Williams and the idea that he will try to maneuver away from Chicago will only get louder as the 2024 NFL Draft nears. Such is life in the 24/7 content age.
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But USC head coach Lincoln Riley, who recruited Williams to Oklahoma out of the Washington D.C. area and brought him to USC when he switched jobs in 2022, believes there's nothing to the grumbles about Williams trying to avoid the Bears.
"I think it's a total smokescreen," Riley told "The Pat McAfee Show" on Monday. "I think it's people playing the game. Like knowing Caleb, location-wise, I don't think he cares one bit about where he's at. All of these franchises are in really good cities. There's advantages to anywhere that you could go. He wants to win. He wants to be a guy that's playing [in the Super Bowl]. I think for him, it's less about location and it's more about getting in the right situation where he can continue to develop and do the things that he needs to do to help a franchise be successful.
"That's it. He's got a one-track mind that way. No, I don't think there's any truth to that all. The guy wants to win. He's a competitor. He'd love to go first overall. Who wouldn't? But at the end of the day, it's about winning for him and nothing else."
Historically, the Bears have been a place where quarterback careers go to die.
But general manager Ryan Poles has built a roster with young, ascending talent that includes an elite wide receiver in DJ Moore and a blossoming tight end in Cole Kmet. The Bears also own the No. 9 overall pick and could use that to add another elite weapon to aid Williams in his development.
First-overall picks normally land in moribund situations and are tasked with elevating the dregs of the league with one hand tied behind their back. That won't be the case for Williams in Chicago. He'll have weapons, an improving offensive line, and a defense that came on strong at the end of the 2023 season.
Conversations with people in league circles back up what Riley has said. As of now, there's no sense that Williams won't want to play in Chicago or that he wants to pull an Eli Manning/John Elway and force his way elsewhere.
The Bears' decision to hire Shane Waldron as their offensive coordinator likely aided in assuaging some concerns the Williams camp might have about the Bears. Waldron has worked with the QB Collective, a group that Williams is training with in the lead-up to the draft. Waldron also runs an offense that Williams is comfortable with and is tailored to make life easy on a young quarterback.
As of Feb. 6, the Bears selecting Williams with the No. 1 pick should be viewed as the most likely scenario come draft day.
But that won't stop the pre-draft rumor mill, which got ramped up when the Washington Commanders hired Kliff Kingsbury as their offensive coordinator over the weekend. Kingsbury spent the last year as USC's senior offensive analyst and quarterbacks coach. He has a good relationship with Williams, and Williams' camp trusts Kingsbury to develop Williams into the star quarterback his talent suggests.
"They have a great relationship," Riley told "Good Morning Football" about Kingsbury and Williams. "It was awesome for Caleb to have Kliff.
"In a perfect world would I love a reunion for them? That would be great. But we all know a lot would transpire between now and the draft."
The Bears hold all the cards in this scenario. Poles will get whichever quarterback he wants to lead his rebuild going forward, be it Williams, Justin Fields, or North Carolina's Drake Maye.
Teams can try to flood the pre-draft space about Williams being anti-Bear to make him fall, but there's no substance behind those rumblings at the moment.
Riley, who knows Williams better than most, says the 2022 Heisman Trophy winner just wants to win.
The Bears have the best foundation of any team at the top of the draft. Williams won't be joining the 0-16 Detroit Lions or 0-16 Cleveland Browns. He'll be landing on a team that believes it can compete for an NFC North title in 2024.
One that should have all the pieces needed to give him a soft NFL landing and then supply his development with the rocket fuel needed to reach the stratospheric heights his talent suggests.