Chicago Bears

Falcons emerging as Bears' best Justin Fields trade partner at NFL combine

The first day of the combine saw a clear frontrunner take the lead in any Justin Fields trade sweepstakes

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Bears general manager Ryan Poles said he would "do right by" quarterback Justin Fields and trade him before free agency should Chicago decide it wanted to move on from the 24-year-old signal-caller.

That was the closest Poles has come to admitting what most believe is fait accompli at this point: The Bears will draft a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick while Fields will continue his NFL career elsewhere in 2024.

Should the Bears eventually land on that likely outcome, Poles' next task will be finding a suitor for the 2021 first-round selection.

A quick look at the quarterback situations and draft assets around the league quickly winnows the potential landing spots to less than a handful.

But one team that has always seemed like a logical next home for Fields might be positioning themselves as the leader of a small pack in the Fields trade sweepstakes -- the Atlanta Falcons.

"You want to go get the best fit for your people, you want to get the best fit for your coaches, you want to go get the best fit for our city, and you want to do all those things," Falcons head coach Raheem Morris told CBS Sports on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine about Atlanta's QB search. "There's nothing ruled out. I forgot to mention trades, because all of those things come into play. We’ve really been tedious, we’ve really been going through the process of how we are going to acquire the best fit for us."

Morris mentioning the "best fit" for the city made ears perk up everywhere, and people immediately started to connect the dots to Fields, who is from Kennesaw, Ga.

Morris knew that was going to make waves, but he doubled down on the importance of getting a leader for his football team that connects with the city and fanbase.

"People are going to read into those words or whatever – however they do those things," Morris said. "There are people that are from Atlanta. There are people from around Atlanta. You can name the milage of how close some of those people are. You got to do what’s best and what’s right for your team at the right time. We won’t rule out anything until we have to make those decisions at that date.”

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot spoke to the assembled media Tuesday and didn't shy away from the fact the Falcons are in the market -- be it draft, free agency, or trade -- for a new starting quarterback.

"Yeah, we’ve got to get it right, and that’s real clear. We haven’t shied away from that,” Fontenot said. “We know that’s critical to get that position right, but it doesn’t stop there. We have to get the right quarterback in, and we have to improve this entire roster and get ready to roll this season.

"We're going to keep all options open. Free agency, trade, draft - we're working through all those things simultaneous. We have a lot of really smart people in the building. We have a lot of really, really good people and we're spending a lot of time with them and working through that."

When asked about what he's looking for in a franchsie quarterback, Fontenot seemed to point to the things the Bears have praised Fields for during his time in Chicago -- resilience and leadership.

"It's the neck up and it's about it's about who you are as a person," Fontenot said. "There's a lot of different flavors, skill sets, physical attributes, but what never changes is, it's about the makeup and the character and the work ethic."

"These guys, there's no more pressure outside of the head coach ... and you can't predict how a person is going to handle that pressure. So, they have to have the right things inherently to handle that."

While Fields still has to improve as a passer, his teammates and coaches have raved about who he is as a person and the work he has poured into his craft to get beter and grab the Bears franchise quarterback job by the horns.

Fields did his best, but the unique situation of the Bears landing the No. 1 overall pick via the Carolina Panthers has likely spelled the end for him in Chicago and a fresh start in Atlanta.

But the Falcons can't talk about that possibility ... yet.

"Two players under contract,” Morris said Tuesday in response to a question about Fields and Russell Wilson. “I have so much respect for our fans that I won’t get myself in trouble or us in trouble talking about any particular person.

“But, it’s really exciting with the quarterback group that’s out there, that we have the ability to acquire. That is what our fan base, that’s what makes our front office, what makes our coaches all excited to be able to talk in our (meeting) rooms about those people.”

A league source told NBC Sports Chicago that the Falcons have checked in with the Bears about Fields. It's unclear how far those conversations went but there's reason to expect them to pick back up this week in Indianapolis.

For now, Fields reamins a Bear.

But Poles clearly signaled today that Chicago and Fields are likely headed for a breakup, while the Falcons lit up a sign to attract his attention that they might be very happy to take the young quarterback off his hands.

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