Schrock: Fields trade whispers only mean one thing for Bears

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From the moment the Bears landed the No. 1 pick, this was always going to happen.

The words "Justin Fields" and "trade" would find their way out into the rumor mill. It was expected. Honestly, it would be a disappointment if they didn't. 

Not because the Bears should trade Fields, but because general manager Ryan Poles wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't give off the impression that such a move was on the table.

During his state-of-the-franchise address at the end of the season, Poles committed to Fields as the 2023 starter. But he left himself a sliver of wiggle room to be "blown away" to draft a quarterback at the top of the draft.

Translation: If you want Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud, you better call and make us an offer because we might take one of them.

So when veteran football reporter Jason La Canfora tweeted Wednesday that multiple general managers left the Senior Bowl "fairly convinced that Justin Fields will be traded," there shouldn't have been many shockwaves.

Talking to people around the NFL, it's clear the only shocking thing would be if Poles did wind up trading Fields.

"I know he didn't draft him, but I don't think now is the time to sell on Fields," a front office member for a team not expected to be in trade talks for the No. 1 pick told NBC Sports Chicago. "He showed enough last season with not a lot around him that trading him is a gamble. If he becomes a star elsewhere, that's going to be your legacy unless the guy you draft is better. I'd be shocked if they traded him."

Former NFL general manager Thomas Dimitroff echoed this belief. If he were in Poles' shoes, he wouldn't trade Fields this offseason. He understands the idea of resetting the clock, but there should be more to the decision.

"To think about starting over again, in my mind Ryan Poles, coming into that second year, usually in that first year you are given a little bit of leeway," Dimitroff told NBC Sports Chicago at Super Bowl LVII's Radio Row. "It's really important. The clock is ticking. The clock is ticking now faster than ever. I don't care where you are. I know [Fields] wasn't his draft pick, but the decision to move on or keep is his. He will be judged on that up and down, left, right, and center, no question about it. So it's easy to say, let's just move on. But who are the loyalists in the locker room and around the building? There's other little funky things. Your owners are telling you, 'Look, he's selling a lot of tickets, and he's also selling jerseys.' There are other elements that come into play that make it a little more complicated.

"The idea of having the No. 1 pick where they are and with a quarterback that I think they can grow with, this would be my opportunity to trade back [and not draft a new quarterback]."

The "funky things" Dimitroff alluded to are important here.

This current Bears regime didn't draft Fields. There are those in Halas Hall who have great belief in his ability to grow as a passer and develop into a franchise quarterback. There are likely those who have doubts. That's to be expected.

But the players, especially those the Bears are counting on to be franchise building blocks, have no doubts about Fields.

"I'm a believer," cornerback Jaylon Johnson told NBC Sports Chicago before saying he wants the front office to get Fields some playmakers on offense.

"He’s a winner, fighter," safety Eddie Jackson told NBC Sports Chicago of Fields during the season. "He’ll go out there and leave everything on the line. ... Justin’s a fighter, a winner, a leader. He really takes this thing serious in how he prepares, how he works, and how he plays the game. He takes it serious. That’s just things we already knew about him though.”

The No. 1 pick is a huge asset for Poles. It could wind up changing the franchise's direction depending on the return the Bears receive for it.

But in order for the Bears to get maximum return for their greatest asset, Poles has to give off the impression that everything is on the table. Otherwise, why would the Texans, Colts, or anyone else overpay to trade up to No. 1 when they know the Bears won't select a quarterback?

The Bears are expected to meet with all the top quarterbacks at the NFL Scouting Combine. Thing will only ramp up from there. 

"The Bears will be at every quarterback's pro day," an NFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago. "They'll take them to dinner and they'll probably be a story about him impressed they were with them. It's a dance.”

Last week at the Super Bowl, Fields told Rich Eisen that he wanted Poles to keep him in the loop on the Bears' plans for the offseason. The following day, Fields told FanSided that Poles texted him and said he'd keep him up to date on the team's plans.

There's a good chance at least one of those conversations is about assuaging Fields' concerns that the Bears are looking to trade him. It doesn't mean they won't, but the consensus from those I've talked to around the NFL is that Fields will be the Bears' starter in 2023.

"[Poles] is in a perfect spot," an AFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago in January. "He was given a talented quarterback who he didn't draft. If Fields doesn't keep improving, he can say, 'hey, not my guy,' and then can go make a move for a different quarterback. But, you know, with what we saw from [Fields] this season -- there's a lot to work with, lot of potential -- it doesn't make sense to pull that card now."

Wednesday's smoke just means Poles is playing the game. The better he plays it, the more he can help Fields make another leap in Year 3.

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