Justin Fields

Justin Fields trade ultimate proof Bears are making right decision with Caleb Williams

The Bears cemented their QB future on Saturday night

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The Justin Fields era in Chicago ended Saturday at 5:40 local time when the Bears traded the 25-year-old quarterback to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Chicago. The pick will become a fourth-round pick if Fields plays 51 percent of the snaps in 2024, per source.

In trading Fields, the Bears officially clear the deck for presumptive No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams once the 2024 NFL Draft arrives on April 25.

The Bears always believed the Steelers and Atlanta Falcons were the most likely trade partners for Fields. NBC Sports Chicago reported that the Bears had conversations with both teams around Fields at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine.

General manager Ryan Poles and the Bears hoped for a better return for Fields. There's a portion of the Bears' front office that believes in Fields and his potential, but Fields never played well enough to force a regime that didn't draft him to pass on a potentially franchise-altering quarterback and stick with him.

The offers the Bears hoped would arrive for Fields never did. The Falcons went with Kirk Cousins, and several other teams passed on the opportunity to acquire Fields.

In the end, 31 other teams told the Bears they were making the right choice in resetting the quarterback contract clock and pushing their chips behind a rookie quarterback, presumably Williams, at No. 1.

The outcry from some, locally and nationally, for the Bears to trade the pick and keep Fields never made sense based on the evidence in 38 games at quarterback.

Fields was polarizing. He was a magician with his legs and authored some of the most remarkable plays I've ever seen with his legs. He was a captivating athlete who made enough plays to give you a hint of what he might one day become. But he was often maddening from the pocket. He held the ball too long, took too many sacks, and struggled to make marked improvement as a pocket passer. There was always an electric run or a pristine deep throw followed by a play in which Fields took a second too long to hit an open receiver or was stripped in the pocket while trying to make something out of nothing.

Fields was breathtaking at times and always did enough to inspire hope of what he could become but never consistent enough to make you believe it was finally here to stay. That the growing and fine-tuning was over, and the franchise quarterback so many believed he'd become had emerged.

It never did.

Fields has the ability—that was never the question. But he was dealt a poor hand by NFL fate, landing him with a franchise that did just about everything it could to stymie, stunt, and kill the development of a talented but raw quarterback. For the most part, he overcame it.

The NFL is a results business. Jobs are on the line every day, and no one, especially not a general manager, will risk his job on the imagined possibility that a quarterback might one day become good.

Two things can be true of Fields. The Bears completely and utterly failed him in his development. He landed in a bad situation with a lame-duck head coach and general manager, and it only got worse as Poles entered and rebuilt the roster. That Fields was able to survive a rookie season in which Matt Nagy basically threw him to the wolves with zero schematic help and then show growth during two rebuilding seasons with poor-to-mediocre line play and only one elite weapon speaks to his resilience, raw talent, and work ethic.

All that is true.

But the results were the results, and the results weren't even close to good enough for Poles and the Bears to pass on taking a quarterback with the first pick for the second straight season.

Fields was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL in the fourth quarter. For all his special ability, it never came together in winning time. When the true difference-making quarterbacks shine and will their teams to victories, Fields rarely delivers.

Out of 40 quarterbacks who threw at least 50 passes in the fourth quarter this season, Fields ranked 39th in passer rating at 53.4. Only Bailey Zappe was worse. He ranked 28th in yards, tied for 26th in touchdown passes, and was tied for the second most interceptions in the final quarter.

Thirty-one quarterbacks threw at least 20 passes this season while trailing with four minutes or less remaining in the game. Fields ranked 29th in passer rating and 28th in completion percentage and was tied with Jordan Love and Aidan O'Connell for the most interceptions.

The decision to move on from Fields or keep him was never the hand-ringing exercise sports talk radio and X made it out to be. In all reality, Fields' fate was sealed before the Bears landed the No. 1 pick.

That 31 other teams offered the Bears what amounts to almost nothing to acquire Fields only served as the ultimate proof that Poles is making the right decision.

It reinforces that the Bears are making the right decision.

The Bears failed Justin Fields in more ways than can be listed. He wasn't a bust. He was broken, or at least dented, by a franchise that trashes quarterbacks like a child smashes toys.

Fields' failure shouldn't fall at Poles' feet. He didn't draft him and had to tear down the roster when he arrived. Fields was collateral damage.

But Poles did have a front-row seat to see how a poor first season can impact a talented rookie and what is needed for a young quarterback to have the best chance to succeed.

Justin Fields can serve as many things: a cautionary tale, a Rorschach test, and an NFL "what if." He'll be remembered in Chicago for making Soldier Field shake during an era with little to cheer about. For inspiring hope when there was little reason to have any.

He was a quarterback who survived a situation that would break most, but one who never became what so many told themselves he already was. He was a quarterback who lived in the grey. Talented and full of potential but not good enough to vaporize the doubt that surrounded him.

Ultimately, he might end up being most remembered as the guy who came before "the guy."

That's the Bears' hope, at least, and the NFL told them they are making the right decision -- one they finally cemented Saturday at 5:40 p.m.

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