LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Justin Fields was dealt a bad hand when the Bears selected him in the 2021 NFL Draft. Like many promising signal-callers, Fields entered the NFL in a losing situation without the necessary support, infrastructure, and clear plan to develop and reach the star potential his talent suggests.
The 24-year-old has shown flashes during a three-year stretch that would have chewed up most young quarterbacks and spit them out. He has had two head coaches and two offensive systems. He has had his mechanics altered. He's played behind an offensive line that has been under construction and, until DJ Moore arrived, had limited weapons.
The Bears asked Fields to prove he was a franchise quarterback while swimming uphill during a rebuild.
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Fields' third season has had ups and downs. There was the slow start followed by eight touchdown passes in two games against the Broncos and Commanders. A dislocated thumb and a four-week absence followed. Fields returned in Week 11 and has played well since getting back on the grass.
As Fields' season speeds toward a crescendo, the Bears quarterback is aware of the chatter surrounding his uncertain future at the helm of the franchise. The Bears currently are in line to own the No. 1 overall pick via the Carolina Panthers. With Caleb Williams and Drake Maye expected to declare for the draft, many expect the Bears to move on from Fields this offseason and reset the quarterback contract clock with a guy of Poles' choosing.
Fields is facing that uncertainty with humility. It's a perspective that's rooted in his faith, shows his maturity, and might point to the end being near.
"I mean, life isn’t fair," Fields said Wednesday at Halas Hall when asked if it's fair for people to say his future is riding on the final five games. "So me personally, I’m just focused on what I can control, and the rest is in God’s hands.
"Wherever, if I’m here next year, if I’m not, football doesn’t define who I am as a person. My happiness will still be in the same place, will still be in God. And really, just football wise, life stuff in general, I think my faith in God, my hope in God, is just so much more than anything that can be thrown at me on this earth. Yeah, I mean, that’s why I don’t really stress over stuff like that, over stuff that I can’t control. I know that God’s got me, and I’m going to be good. I’m very blessed in the position I am in, and I think a million people would love to be in the position I am right now. So really just, I’m not taking that for granted and just taking each and every moment I have every day up here to the fullest."
This isn't the first time Fields has signaled that his success in Chicago, or the NFL in general, won't dictate his happiness.
After the Bears' Week 3 loss in Kansas City, Fields said that falling into a 31-point hole wasn't a death blow to what many assumed might be dwindling confidence in a critical season—zooming out allowed Fields to shield himself from the pressure of a potential make-or-break season.
"I'm looking at it like the big picture, life in general, to be honest with you," Fields said after the loss in Kansas City. "I think this past week has had me kind of look at it like what are the important things in life? Because you know when things are going good, you feel me, not say whatever. I think these past couple of weeks have made me appreciate the little things in life, like being able to play this game. Every opportunity I get to go out there and play, I'm going to have fun. I'm going to play my hardest and, you know, just thank God for giving me the ability to play. So, no matter what the scoreboard is, I'm going to keep having the same mindset and just pushing to keep moving forward."
Perhaps it's unfair to judge Fields based on these final five games. If you take everything into account -- from a lame-duck Matt Nagy season to a rebuild with no line and no weapons and the issues with the current offensive structure -- what he has done in 35 career games is impressive.
We've seen Mac Jones devolve, Zach Wilson crumble, Trey Lance get shipped out of San Francisco, and Kenny Pickett flop.
Fields has had bad moments. There's no doubt. He's also risen above the dysfunction and relative organizational incompetence that has suffocated many quarterbacks.
Fields understands the business. He understands he might not do enough to be the starter next year. He might not be in Chicago at all.
That doesn't have to mean the end of the world. That doesn't have to be the end of his story. There will be another chapter. Chances are it'll come in a better situation than he found himself trying to survive for the past three.
“Shoot, since I got to Chicago, y’all don’t hold back," Fields said with a smile Wednesday. "Shoot, I hear it from y’all, I hear it from fans and stuff like that. I don’t take any of it personal because I know everybody’s entitled to their opinion on certain things and stuff like that. That’s one thing I try to do is not take anything personal, and just go about it that way.
"I’ve had moments in my life to where I’ve wanted things to happen that didn’t go that way and it ended up going another way and it worked out better than I ever could have imagined. That’s really why I just don’t stress about stuff that happens and just controlling what I control and like I said earlier just being the best person I can be and striving to be the best player I can be.”
Franchises swap out quarterbacks like shoes in the NFL. They bounce from signal-caller to signal-caller without second thought -- searching, hoping, and praying that they find a difference-maker to deliver stability, respect, and wins for a decade plus.
Fields had everything needed to be that for the Bears. A blue-chip recruit who was billed as a generational prospect since the age of 17, Fields fell right into the Bears' lap in the 2021 draft. Armed with a big arm, rare athleticism, a winning pedigree, and an unmatched work ethic, Fields was what the Bears had been searching for.
He still might be.
The Bears undoubtedly already have a good idea of who Fields is and what he might become. Or, better put, what they have allowed him to be and whether or not he can still reach a sky-high ceiling as their franchise quarterback.
Five games is unlikely to dwarf the Bears' evaluation of the totality of Fields' early tenure. They likely already have a preference, and how the draft chips fall will determine their course of action.
Fields is a talented quarterback with room to grow. He also has some bad habits he and the Bears' staff are working to eliminate.
It's easy to look at the potential of Williams or Maye and think of what might be. But patience and continuity are often the elixirs that deliver quarterback-needy franchises the signal-callers they crave. It served the Buffalo Bills well with Josh Allen. It has done wonders for the Green Bay Packers and Jordan Love.
Perhaps that's what Fields needs. That's undoubtedly what he deserved coming out of Ohio State.
What comes next might not be up to Fields. He'll do what he can for the final five games and head into the offseason unsure of what the future holds.
Fields seems to understand the situation with five games left in the season. The inertia of organizational ineptitude is hard for one man to overcome.
The NFL pressure cooker has crumpled countless quarterbacks who have come before Fields. Whether real or perceived, Fields seems at peace with the path ahead, even if the destination is unknown.
He should be commended for his perspective. It's healthy and will serve him well in Chicago or at his next stop.
It also might signal which way the wind is blowing as it pertains to the Bears' quarterback future -- one that might not involve Justin Fields.