Justin Fields

Meager Justin Fields trade return shouldn't dim excitement over Caleb Williams' arrival

The future is bright for the Bears, but it couldn't start until they did right by Justin Fields

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The Bears didn't get what many in the public thought was an appropriate trade return for quarterback Justin Fields when they traded him to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night for a 2025 sixth-round pick that can become a fourth-rounder if playing time incentives are reached.

It wasn't the pie-in-the-sky first-round pick many trumpeted over the past few months. It wasn't a high Day 2 pick that seemed plausible for an athletic quarterback with upside. The NFL knew the Bears wanted to move off Fields. They also watched the film and saw the warts that, at the moment, outweigh the potential. All the finger-pointing that started early last season around the Bears' offensive struggles was vaporized this offseason when offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and wide receiver Darnell Mooney both quickly found new homes. The NFL didn't see them as the issue.

A good return was never coming. The Bears knew that. They had discussions with multiple teams over the past few weeks, but all of those perceived suitors viewed Fields as a backup and were only willing to pay backup-level compensation for Fields, league sources told NBC Sports Chicago.

The Bears could have held onto Fields and hoped for a desperate team to emerge after an injury in camp or early in the season.

But that was never going to be a tenable situation for either Fields, presumptive No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams, or the locker room.

The Bears wanted to "do right" by Fields and whichever quarterback they eventually select as his successor in the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Bears gave Fields a fresh start with a winning organization. Fields will arrive in Pittsburgh as Russell Wilson's backup, but given Wilson's struggles the past two seasons, it wouldn't be a surprise if Fields ultimately wins the job.

A conditional 2025 sixth-round pick is much less than what Bears general manager Ryan Pace paid to move up and grab a sliding Field in the 2021 NFL Draft. It also doesn't come close to encapsulating the hope Fields came to personify in a city desperately craving a franchise quarterback.

What Fields gave the Bears and their fans over the past three seasons in which the team went from hopeful contenders in 2021 to rebuilding bottom feeders in 2022, can't be distilled down to a meager trade return. You can't put a price on hope. It's an elixir that gives life when there's little else to cling to. Fields did that for the Bears and Chicago for three years.

But hope can only take you so far in the NFL. Eventually, what could be or what might give way to what is and what has been. Concrete evidence wins out. It has to be a results-based business in which jobs are on the line.

Fields' legacy in Chicago will ultimately be determined by what comes after him -- by what Williams (or Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels) does as a Bear. The five years that come for the Bears AF (After Fields) will write the final chapter of his era—an epilogue bound to be written in 20/20 hindsight, no matter how it pans out.

The Bears did right by Fields and their next quarterback by clearing the way and removing any chance of unnecessary awkward drama.

Williams is seen as a special prospect—a rare quarterback talent who can oscillate between artist and surgeon.

For many Bears fans, the Fields trade is a time for closure. The feeling of hope lost and promise not realized can be deflating. Compound it with a poor trade return, and it's a gut punch that will undoubtedly knock the wind out of many.

But Fields' exit and the price to do right by him shouldn't dim the light around what is becoming an increasingly brighter Bears future, with Williams likely at the forefront.

Perhaps the Bears could have won a Super Bowl with Fields. They could have tailored everything around what he does, patched over the deficiencies, and maybe, maybe, found a way. But they believe that they can win because of Williams. That's an important distinction when it comes to quarterback tiers in the NFL.

The Bears are on the cusp of something big. General manager Ryan Poles quickly turned over the roster and stocked it with talent at critical positions. The Fields flashes in 2022 allowed Poles to trade the No. 1 pick, add DJ Moore, and the pick that could eventually become Williams. None of this likely happens without Fields, even if he isn't a part of the Bears' grand plan.

Saturday's trade was a sad end to a story that was once overflowing with grand expectations. But Fields' NFL story is still in its infancy. There's a chance for success. It just won't come in Chicago.

But while the trade closes another dismal chapter in Bears quarterback history, it also signals the beginning of something new and exciting. The start of something the Bears and their fans have spent decades searching to find—the same kind of success they dreamed Fields would bring.

Hope lost can be akin to having joy turn to ash in the mouth. Saturday's trade will leave scars -- scars that the next quarterback will be asked to heal. But the despair of Fields' promise in Chicago dissolving shouldn't last long.

A bright Bears future is on the horizon -- one that couldn't truly start until the Bears did right by both Fields and the quarterback selected to be the next quarterback that was promised.

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