Not only has the Big Ten decided to push their 2020 season to the spring of 2021, but the schools have also begun to embrace the fate of their now-doomed seasons. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith commented on the situation in the immediate aftermath of the decision, remarking that there are no possible avenues for the Buckeyes to play this fall.
“Not leaving—that’s not realistic,” he said. “We’ve been a member of the Big Ten for a long time, we share the same values as our member institutions. We all know our history and tradition, I don’t need to give you that speech. We’re in the Big Ten, we’re not looking to play someone else outside of our conference, we have a contract that we are obligated to with our television partners, so that’s not happening.
“We’re mentally moving and shifting to the spring as an option.”
Also not realistic? Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields lacing up for a spring season and playing a Big Ten schedule in 2021 just months ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft—and in doing so foregoing the opportunity to fully immerse himself in the NFL draft process.
Now, there are plenty of dynamics that could change regarding the NFL’s 2021 draft process between now and the start of the new year that could prompt a more friendly proposition, but we’re talking about playing a season schedule starting in 2021 and then transitioning to the professional level, where the 2021 NFL calendar is expected to kick off in September of the same year. Two seasons in the same year? That’s a tough sell.
This means that the Buckeyes quarterback may want to start weighing his options. The prospect of transferring to a school still scheduled to play in the fall is all the rage right now, with speculation running rampant that a who’s who of 2021 NFL Draft prospects may suddenly be “free agents” with all of the hardship exemptions they’ll ever need to transfer from a Big Ten (or Pac-12) school and play immediately in the fall. That is, of course, provided that the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 forge forward as they’re currently intent on doing.
For Fields, there are plenty of suitors that would love to welcome a former top recruit and potential top-five overall pick in the NFL Draft at the quarterback position. You think Kirby Smart, who has swooned two transfers at quarterback already between Jamie Newman and JT Daniels, wouldn’t like another crack after letting Fields slip through his fingers in favor of Jake Fromm ahead of 2019? Or how about Ed Orgeron and LSU? The team sure had a lot of success the last time they swayed an Ohio State quarterback to come on down to the Bayou. And heck, that experiment turned out pretty good for Joe Burrow, too—he went No. 1 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft and won himself a Heisman to go along with a National Championship.
The SEC likely has no shortage of teams that would love to embrace Fields. The same could be said for both the Big 12 (hello, Oklahoma? With all due respect to young phenom Spencer Rattler, of course) and in the ACC. Teams would likely jump at the chance to welcome a quarterback who could push Trevor Lawrence and potentially challenge the Tigers. You’d have to be a fool to not want a quarterback of Fields’ caliber on your team.
But for Fields himself, he’s got one clear cut transfer option awaiting him this fall:
The 2021 NFL Draft.
Because here is the inconvenient truth about the prospect of these last-minute transfers—it is mid-August. If Fields moved to the ACC, he’d be taking his first snaps in four weeks. No quarterback is going to flip, learn the playbook in a month, establish the needed chemistry with their pass-catchers, and ball out at a high level. If he moved to the Big 12, he’d get an extra two weeks, still nowhere near enough time to make the kind of magic that Fields would be chasing happen. Every decision Fields makes from here should come with a single question in mind:
“Will this improve my draft stock?”
And opening yourself to more criticism by transferring in the eleventh hour just for the sake of having more tape, nevermind whether or not it is good tape, has more twists and turns that could go wrong than ways it can go right. Fields enters the fall with 393 pass attempts on his resume. That’s 101 more than Cam Newton had before he went No. 1 overall. And after the late surges of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Burrow to become No. 1 overall picks in recent years, the NFL gravitates to what you’ve done most recently—and Fields’ most recent play was tremendous.
Currently regarded as the QB2, Fields runs no risk of falling behind Trevor Lawrence, as he’s already considered to be behind him in the first place. Could North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance transfer and leapfrog Fields? Sure. It’s possible. But Fields has a first-round pedigree and first-round tape based on his play last season. If Lance leaps him, so be it.
Financially, Fields is still likely to fall among the top-10 overall picks even if he becomes QB3. So the risk of what could go wrong for Fields simply isn’t worth the marginal reward—any effort by Fields to play between now and the 2021 NFL Draft should be done with the sole objective of pushing to surpass his level of play from 2019. That simply isn’t a realistic expectation for an August transfer ahead of a September kickoff.
Where should Justin Fields transfer? To his private quarterback coach and training center of choice.