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Justin Fields
NFL

Justin Fields’ Outlook in 2022 Remains Promising

  • Jack McKessy
  • May 26, 2022
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As exciting as it may be to look at the impacts rookies (particularly rookie quarterbacks) might have on their teams, there is plenty of reason to be excited about the signal-callers entering their second seasons. In particular, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson should enjoy the addition of a few pieces from free agency and the draft that will put them in a better spot to succeed. One quarterback with a more uncertain immediate future is the Chicago Bears’ franchise quarterback, Justin Fields.

For one thing, Fields will have to deal with a new coaching staff in his second year as the Bears’ starter. Their former head coach, Matt Nagy, was pretty much a lame-duck for all of last year anyway, but that doesn’t make the struggle of figuring out a new system any easier. It’s a significant change considering Chicago’s new head coach, Matt Eberflus, comes from a defensive background compared to Nagy’s offensive mind.

An additional uncertainty for Fields is that the Bears fired not only their head coach but also their general manager. After just one year in the NFL, the Ohio State product has to prove himself again to the new brass rather than continuing to develop under the people that drafted him.

The Bears’ offseason hasn’t gone as smoothly as new GM Ryan Poles may have hoped. Chicago lost some key players in free agency—namely wide receivers Allen Robinson and Damiere Byrd and right guard James Daniels—and traded away pass rusher Khalil Mack. Meanwhile, Poles’ free agency additions haven’t all represented big upgrades.

Chicago needed to upgrade their receiving corps even before Robinson and Byrd left. Once those guys, who had the third- and fourth-most receiving yards on the team in 2021, departed, adding pass-catchers became an even bigger point of emphasis.

Rather than making a splash addition at receiver as many teams did in trades this offseason, the Bears signed Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown. While the former is coming off of the best year of his career with the Chiefs in 2021, he got into legal trouble just about a month after signing his new contract with the Bears.

St. Brown hasn’t been anything more than a depth piece since entering the league in 2019. As much as his brother, Amon-Ra, thrived with the divisional rival Lions in his 2021 rookie season, Equanimeous has trended in the other direction, with less and less production year after year.

Fortunately for Fields, all is not lost as he enters his second year as a pro.

Pringle shouldn’t miss any time in 2022, and the Bears will try to maximize his impact by giving him starting reps. One wide receiver coach said Pringle had untapped potential that he didn’t get to show in a limited role with Kansas City. That makes the receiver situation in Chicago feel a lot less dire, especially since Fields will build on the strong chemistry he had with Darnell Mooney last year.

The Bears didn’t stop at adding players in free agency to complement their quarterback; they had a whole 11-player draft class after all. Chicago selected wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. in the third round, and he’ll likely slot in as the Bears’ WR3 behind Mooney and Pringle. Jones has good versatility and big-play ability with his speed and run-after-catch potential.

Chicago also added offensive tackle, Braxton Jones, in the fifth round, fellow tackle Zach Thomas in the sixth, and two interior offensive linemen later on Day 3. While most of those guys won’t be immediate starters in the NFL, Poles established stronger depth on the offensive line to keep Fields well-protected even if some starters go down.

So far, Fields has seemed sufficiently satisfied with the Bears’ moves to build around him in the offseason, saying in a recent interview he has “plenty of confidence in myself and my teammates.” And despite the change in head coach, Fields will get to work with a new offensive coordinator, Luke Getsy, who had success working with Aaron Rodgers as the Packers’ quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator over the last three years.

Still, the Chicago Bears won’t be strong contenders in 2022, and the young quarterback will have some hard work ahead. His pass-catching group, though shored up after Robinson and Byrd’s departures, isn’t significantly stronger than it was in 2021. The offensive line is also still a big question mark, and Fields and the Bears have to hope offensive tackle Teven Jenkins takes a big step forward after struggling as a rookie last year.

There’s good reason to believe that Fields could improve on his rookie season with the new coaching staff and pass-catchers around him while the Bears still struggle. Both things can be true. If the team doesn’t win many games but Fields takes a big step in his second year, the 2022 season can still be counted as a win. For now, Fields should feel cautiously optimistic heading into Year 2.

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Jack McKessy