Justin Fields

Mac Jones trade return shows Bears might only have two bad options with Justin Fields

The Bears might find themselves in a tough place when trying to trade Justin Fields

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A second member of the vaunted 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class was traded Sunday, while another waits in purgatory for a team interested in paying the price to acquire him.

The New England Patriots cut bait with Mac Jones on Sunday, sending him to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a sixth-round pick, according to multiple media reports. The sixth-round cost for Jones, who will be a backup in Jacksonville, sheds some light on the issue facing the Bears as they try to deal quarterback Justin Fields.

Jones earned Pro Bowl honors during his rookie season, throwing for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns while finishing second in the Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. What happened next in New England was a case of how not to develop a young quarterback. Bill Belichick hired Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to run the Patriots' offense after Josh McDaniels left following the 2021 season, and Jones cratered without the proper coaching, skill talent, or protection.

While the Patriots, who plan to draft at quarterback with the third overall pick, jettisoned Jones for whatever they could find, the Bears remain in a holding pattern, hoping to get value for Fields that doesn't appear to be there.

Fields has shown flashes during his three seasons as a Bear. The explosive running ability is rare, but the consistency as a passer never materialized. Couple that with durability concerns and his contract (Fields only has one year left on his rookie deal), and no team is banging down the door to give the Bears a Day 2 pick for the 25-year-old quarterback.

It's unlikely they will.

There's no question that Fields was a better quarterback than Jones over the past two seasons. He should fetch more than a sixth-round pick. But from a passing standpoint, Jones' rookie season is better than anything Fields has put on tape from the pocket. Jones completed almost 68 percent of his passes while helping lead the Patriots to the playoffs.

Even in a horrible 2023 season, Jones performed better in the fourth quarter than Fields.

Among 44 quarterbacks who threw at least 40 passes in the final frame, Jones ranked 18th in passer rating at 92.5, and Fields ranked 41st at 53.4. In the fourth quarter, Fields completed 51.1 percent of his passes for 552 yards, three touchdowns, and six interceptions, while Jones completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 654 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Thirty-one quarterbacks threw at least 20 passes while trailing with four minutes or less in the game. Fields ranked 29th in rating at 22.1. Jones ranked 11th at 85.3.

These numbers aren't everything. Fields has a higher ceiling than Jones and has proven to be a capable starting quarterback, while Jones will need to be completely rebuilt after his implosion in New England.

Fields should fetch a higher return than Jones did, but the market right now suggests it might not be much higher. It's certainly not as high as the second-round pick hopes that were floated early in the offseason.

The NFL's legal tampering window opens Monday, with Kirk Cousins expected to be the first domino to fall to start the quarterback carousel.

The Bears must wait for the dust to settle before dealing Fields. Cousins, Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and perhaps Drew Lock will all have to come off the board before his trade market comes into view.

Even when it does, the NFL has made its views on Fields clear. His inconsistency as a passer, durability concerns, and contract have led even teams with an open starting quarterback spot to look elsewhere instead of jumping at the chance to acquire Fields.

What the return for Jones and the overall soft market highlight is that the Bears will likely have to take much less for Fields than they desire, or they can hold onto him past the draft and into training camp in hopes that an injury makes a team more willing to pay a higher price to acquire him.

The Bears will be patient but find themselves in a tough spot. The demand for Fields is low, and the league knows the Bears want to move on from him as they prepare to draft Caleb Williams at No. 1 overall.

The twists and turns of free agency could shake the Fields market out of its stagnation. But the Bears are quickly learning Fields' value around the league isn't what they hoped, and they might be left to choose between two unfavorable options.

The Patriots got what amounts to a bag of chips back for Jones. That doesn't bode well for the Bears' hopes of getting a significant return back for another heralded member for the 2021 class.

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