The Bears are all about winning in 2023, but the most important result of this season will be how the team evaluates Justin Fields. As news broke Tuesday of the Chargers signing Justin Herbert to a monster five-year, $262.5 million extension that includes $218.7 million in guarantees, it’s become even more clear that the Bears need to figure out sooner or later whether Fields will be there quarterback for another decade, or just another year or two.
The price for quarterbacks goes up and up and 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 alone, the market has been reset three times. First, 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. Now we have Herbert at $52.5 million per year. Joe Burrow needs to get paid, too, and he could very well reset the market again.
It’s not just the monster deals for the elite playmakers either. Daniel Jones earned a four-year, $160 million deal from the Giants this offseason with $92 million guaranteed. 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, Jackson or Herbert.
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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 the decision on that fifth-year option 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.
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 Jones. Of course, the Bears could decide to offer Fields a new contract early, and avoid the option entirely. Or they can pick up the option, then extend him. That’s what the Chargers did with Herbert, which kept Herbert with the team for an extra season.
Whatever the Bears decide, it behooves them to make the decision after this season. The team was frank when they admitted the 2022 grade on Fields was incomplete. It was clear as the year went on that he simply didn’t have enough help. He was under immense pressure from opposing pass rushers and didn’t have the playmakers around him to lighten his load. The Bears have taken strides to put him in a position to succeed this year 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.