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NFL

Are Bears Putting Too Much on Justin Fields?

  • Bryan Perez
  • March 29, 2022
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Investing a first-round pick on a quarterback is a big commitment for any NFL franchise. But that investment alone often isn’t enough. The list of failed first-round quarterbacks is a long one, and in many cases, it’s the result of a team’s failure to provide the support needed for positive results. The Bears are hoping that isn’t the case for second-year quarterback Justin Fields.

Fields is that commitment – that massive recent investment – the Chicago Bears made in the quarterback position. Former General Manager Ryan Pace traded up in the 2021 NFL draft to pick Fields in a move that wasn’t cheap; the Bears sent the New York Giants this year’s first-rounder, which as we now know is the seventh overall pick. There’s no question it was the right decision by Pace, Fields has franchise-changing potential, but in order for that potential to be realized, current General Manager Ryan Poles has to do his part in adding that aforementioned support.

Poles is taking his time (to put it lightly) in adding players around Fields who can make his job easier in 2022. The Bears signed a new center in former Green Bay Packers lineman Lucas Patrick, and wide receiver Byron Pringle was inked to presumably start alongside Darnell Mooney. While both signings are fine, neither feels like that move that will help elevate Fields’ game.

Poles’ approach to free agency has frustrated Bears fans but perhaps there’s a different strategy in the works at Halas Hall. Maybe, just maybe, Chicago is banking on experience as the critical factor in Fields’ development. It’s not about overpaying for mid-tier wide receivers or offensive linemen. Instead, it’s about focusing on Fields – the player – and his personal development.

“The development of him for the second year should be a big jump,” Bears Head Coach Matt Eberflus said Tuesday from the NFL’s annual league meetings. “It should be. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for better technique, better fundamentals, better decision-making, better timing, everything. He’s all on board on that. He’s excited about where he is and he’s been working his tail off. That’s what we want, just that big jump from year one to year two.”

If we take Eberflus at his word, the Bears’ primary focus appears to be making sure Fields is the best version of himself before investing big money into players around him. In a way, it makes sense. Shouldn’t Poles and Eberflus first find out whether Fields is the guy before doling out massive contracts on wide receivers? What’s the point if Fields ends up flopping? It’s a painful reality to consider but Fields being a bust is within the range of outcomes. It always is. And the darkest days for any franchise are the ones that follow missing on a first-round quarterback that’s compounded by overpaid wide receivers with no one to get them the ball.

This peek behind the curtain is important to remember for the 2022 NFL Draft, too. Eberflus made it pretty clear Tuesday that the Bears’ focus will be on the best player available, regardless of whether it’s a position that will directly impact Fields this season.

“Being the head coach means you make decisions based on the whole football team and if that’s signing a slot receiver or a ‘U’ tight end or a guard or a D-tackle or a corner, whatever that is, you’re making the best decision and taking the best player that’s going to help the football team,” said Eberflus. “I think you just look at it through that lens.”

Looking at this Bears team through that lens, all bets are off in the second round, where Chicago has two picks at No. 39 and 48. The general thought is that one or both of those selections will be spent on a wide receiver. Or, perhaps, the second round is where Poles will land a potential starting interior offensive lineman or offensive tackle. But maybe that’s been misguided all along. Maybe, again just maybe, the Bears are going to practice what TDN preaches and simply ‘draft good players.’

There are plenty of examples of franchise quarterbacks who elevate the talent around them, rather than the other way around. Elite quarterbacks can turn average wide receivers into Pro Bowlers. Elusive dual threats can make a middling offensive tackle earn high marks. At the end of the day, if Fields is that dude, then a combination of Mooney, Pringle, and a talented rookie at wide receiver should be enough for him to do well. An offensive line with tackles like Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom will be fine. If Fields is the guy, his teammates will prosper, right?

It’s a slippery slope to put that much pressure on a young quarterback but this is where the Bears are headed barring a massive shift in philosophy this offseason. Whether it works or not will be Poles’ burden to bear, no pun intended.