Justin Fields

Sam Howell trade perfectly illustrates Bears' growing Justin Fields predicament

The Bears will have to be patient if they want to trade Justin Fields

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The most likely landing spot for current Bears starting quarterback Justin Fields disappeared Thursday when the Seattle Seahawks acquired 23-year-old quarterback Sam Howell from the Washington Commanders for two pick swaps.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Howell is expected to compete with Geno Smith for the Seahawks' starting job in 2024.

The Seahawks' deal for Howell highlights the issues the Bears face, assuming they still plan to trade Fields and select Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. There's no reason to believe the Bears' plans have changed. They haven't cemented their plans to draft Williams, but all indications are that once the medicals are received and the top-30 visit is made, the Bears will be headed for draft marriage with Williams. Things could change, but that's where we stand now, with 42 days until the draft.

On the surface, you could argue that a team looking to take a flier on a young quarterback would be better off taking a swing on Fields than Howell. That would at least be my stance, given Fields' rare playmaking ability with his legs. If we're being honest, I think several teams who have filled their starting or backup quarterback roles would be better off with Fields than those they selected.

But there are clearly a few sticking points in a potential Fields trade that the deal for Howell reveals.

The first is that Fields' contract is probably somewhat of an issue. Howell was a fourth-round pick and has two years left on his contract. The Seahawks will pay $2.085 million over the next two seasons. Fields, on the other hand, is in the final year of his rookie contract, and any team acquiring him will have to decide on his fifth-year option ($25.6 million) before he takes a snap. A team acquiring Fields could try to work out a bridge extension -- like the one the Packers did with Jordan Love last offseason. But even that might be hard for some teams to stomach before they see Fields play in their system and have clarity about his potential to be a franchise quarterback.

Howell threw a league-leading 21 interceptions last season for the Commanders. A big knock on him is that he holds onto the ball too long, which led to a league-high 65 sacks. Fields has dealt with those issues and started to curtail them in 2023. But Howell is cheaper and has more contract runway for Seattle to try and develop him before a payday might be needed.

There's also the issue of fit.

Fields can succeed if a team tailors an offense around his strengths. Former Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy struggled to do that over the past two seasons.

A franchise won't have a problem changing and molding what it does to fit a quarterback it drafted. It's a harder sell when it's a buy-low dice roll.

That's especially the case for first-year head coaches and offensive coordinators like the ones in Seattle and Atlanta. I imagine it will also be true of the Tennessee Titans, who loom as one of the few remaining destinations for Fields.

Howell's skill set likely fits what Seahawks head coach Mike Macdonald and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb want in a quarterback. The same is true for Kirk Cousins in Atlanta and Sam Darnold in Minnesota.

Teams are also aware of which direction the Bears are leaning with their quarterback plans and will want to wait to get Fields at the lowest possible price when they run out of options.

All of that -- the contract, the scheme fit, and the shrinking destinations -- leads us back to the Bears and general manager Ryan Poles' pledge to "do right by" Fields once the Bears' decision was made.

Doing right by Fields would be sending him to a team where he'd have an opportunity to hit the ground running and, at the very least, compete for a starting job. That's pretty much out the window.

The next best thing to do for Fields is to send him to a team that can help further his development, even as a backup. The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers come to mind. The Philadelphia Eagles could also be an option, but Kellen Moore and Nick Sirianni don't have the defined track record that Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan do.

Doing right by Fields will be difficult, and it might even get tougher, depending on how the rest of free agency and the first few rounds of the draft go.

The Bears could consider bringing Fields back and having him compete with Williams, but that would create a whole list of potential problems.

The options are thin, and the Bears' best course is patience. They haven't been openly shopping Fields but have had conversations about the young quarterback. They know what his market is and understand how it might change.

The draft is a good time to find a taker, and there should be a few teams that miss out on J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix, who could re-enter the quarterback market after the top of the draft is settled.

The quarterback carousel movement from Cousins to Darnold to Drew Lock and Howell shows the hurdles in the way of any potential Fields deal.

The Bears can clear them, but it will take time.

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