Justin Fields says every year is important to him, and he’s more focused on wins than any potential contract extension. However, it’s undeniable that the 2023 season will be big as the Bears evaluate whether Fields will be their quarterback for another decade, or just for another year or two. That’s because next May the Bears will face another real crossroads with Fields, when they have to decide whether or not to pick up his fifth-year option.
All NFL rookies who are selected in the draft are signed to four-year contracts, but teams are given an option to tack on an extra year for their first-round picks. The deadline to make that decision is the offseason prior to the player’s fourth year. The Bears drafted Fields in 2021, so they’ll need to decide whether or not to pick up his option next spring. If they opt not to pick it up, he’ll become a free agent.
In a recent roundup of all the 2021 first-round draft picks, Sports Illustrated predicted that the Bears will pick up Fields’ option.
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“There’s a world where Fields flops this year, and then the Bears have a tough call on their hands,” wrote Matt Verderame. “However, considering all the progress Fields made in his second season, the more likely scenario is that general manager Ryan Poles has an easy decision in front of him.”
If the Bears decline Fields’ fifth-year option it doesn’t rule out a contract extension after year four. That’s what happened with the Giants and Daniel Jones. Of course, the Bears could decide to offer Fields a new contract early, and avoid the option entirely.
The price for quarterbacks goes up every year. Patrick Mahomes broke the bank in 2020 with a 10-year contract worth up to $503 million dollars. Two years later the Browns gave Deshaun Watson a five-year deal worth $230 million, entirely guaranteed. This year, Jalen Hurts reset the annual average value market with a contract worth $51 million per year. Lamar Jackson reset the market again shortly afterwards with a deal worth $52 million per year.
It’s not just the monster deals for the elite playmakers either. Jones earned a four-year, $160 million deal from the Giants this offseason with $92 million guaranteed, after his fifth-year option was declined. That puts him at $40 million in average annual value. Jones is far from the worst quarterback in the league, but he’s certainly not in the same tier as Mahomes, Hurts or Jackson.
With so much money being thrown at QBs, the Bears need to know if Fields is the guy as soon as possible. They’ve taken strides to put him in a position to succeed by injecting talent into their wide receiver room and reworking the offensive line. The question now is how far Fields can go with more talent around him.