Justin Fields and Rookie QBs: What Are the Bears’ Options With the Top Pick in the 2024 NFL Draft?

The decision surrounding whether to keep or trade Justin Fields seems simple on the surface to most, but it is far more complex for the Chicago Bears.

No team in recent history has an offseason storyline as interesting as the current iteration of the Chicago Bears. They have a decent amount of cash at hand for another round of free agency pickups, but the biggest questions concern the NFL Draft. More specifically, what will — and what should — the Chicago Bears do with the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft?

To keep Justin Fields or not … that is the question.

Chicago Bears’ Potential Choices in the 2024 NFL Draft

Chicago has options, and general manager Ryan Poles knows that.

“We are going to turn over every stone to make sure that we are going to make a sound decision for our organization,” Poles said during a news conference on Jan 10. “I did think Justin got better. I think he can lead this team. But at the same time, there’s a unique situation where I and our staff have to look at everything.”

Normally, there’d be no chance that a quarterback could survive consecutive drafts with his team owning the first pick. But they didn’t earn the top pick this season. That pick was acquired via trade with the Carolina Panthers before last year’s NFL Draft.

But the Bears and Fields were far from world-beaters in 2023, earning the ninth pick in the NFL Draft. However, considering their roster construction, things certainly could have been worse.

Fields himself could have been better but also worse. The young quarterback certainly made strides in the passing game this season, but progress overall has been slow, and there are critical aspects that Fields struggles with today.

There are three things that the Bears could do in April:

  1. Trade Fields
  2. Trade the No. 1 pick (for a king’s ransom, presumably.)
  3. Draft a QB and keep Fields

As famous Canadian Justin Beiber once told some unfunny English bloke, “Immediately no.” That should be the consensus around the possibility of No. 3. That’s limiting the Bears’ ability to build around the quarterbacks while making Fields a lame duck and tanking his trade market.

Poles didn’t completely shoot down the possibility, but it would be a foolish move.

“I’ll just stay very wide open with the different paths that we go,” Poles said. “And as we collect information, if that closes some of those pathways down, then we’ll move to some of the other ones. But I’m going to be wide open about this.”

We’ll discuss the merits of the two realistic options, but we need to discuss the financial implications of each and how this draft class compares to Fields as a prospect.

The 2024 NFL Draft Class

A few things make the Bears’ current situation different than a season ago. Firstly, Fields had three more years of control on his contract, and two of them were very cheap. Now, he has one year of inexpensive control and one moderate year with his fifth-year option.

The second difference is that this draft class at QB has been received much better by the masses. In 2023, C.J. Stroud had his doubters. He failed to consistently show an ability to create when things broke down in the pocket, and he played with some outrageous receiving talent.

The creation knock seems foolish now.

MORE: 2024 NFL Draft Scouting Reports

Anthony Richardson was a blank slate, but of every QB over the past two classes, nobody has more impressive physical gifts. He’s a bigger version of Fields in a lot of ways, except he’s much less naturally accurate. Bryce Young was outstanding but was a historical size outlier with an average-ish arm.

2024 has produced some spectacular prospects. There is a real argument to be made that the top three (Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels are all more attractive prospects than Fields was.)

Personally, that’s not where I fall. As a diehard supporter of Fields as a prospect and Daniels, since he was a 170-pound freshman at Arizona State, the LSU transfer does not stack up to Fields. But Daniels, along with each of the three prospects, share similarities with the Bears QB that will both entice and dissuade fans and the coaching staff.

Jayden Daniels

Williams wows us with his ability to create as a passer on the run. He provides truly jaw-dropping examples of creation capacity that mimic Patrick Mahomes. But nobody is more exciting in college football than Daniels.

There are three distinct similarities between Daniels and Fields.

  1. Each throws an exquisite deep ball
  2. Each battle for the most dynamic rushers in the NFL
  3. Both are somewhat inconsistent with the quick game

Daniels’ dynamic rushing style is not too dissimilar from Lamar Jackson’s. Additionally, the league has progressed in a way that ensures a player like Daniels won’t be urged to change positions or fall to the final pick in the first round.

But that rushing endeavor breeds danger, and that might as well be Daniels’ middle name. He might be 210 pounds soaking wet with multiple pairs of socks on, but he plays the game as if he’s Josh Allen. Daniels endures excruciating, bone-crushing hits with consistency. It’s a dangerous game, but he makes things difficult on himself with his style.

That third point might be more of a knock for Fields than Daniels, but the LSU QB is no Drew Brees, either.

Drake Maye

Although Fields is shy of 6’4″, he possesses an ideally stacked frame that old heads would automatically assume is sturdier.

They both possess outstanding arms, but Maye can truly sling it, and his quick release gets the ball to his target even quicker.

The major difference is how they operate within the pocket. Maye certainly isn’t afraid to uncork passes downfield, but his offensive line didn’t allow him the freedom to hold onto the ball for a fortnight before releasing a pass.

Maye’s operational capacity is advanced but imperfect. There’s a personality trait that some quarterbacks possess called the “bozo” gene. That gene isn’t debilitating for all, but it can be for some.

Maye can look exceptional from an operational perspective on 98% of his dropbacks, but every once in a while, he will completely lose his mind and throw a pass directly to a defender.

But that QB in Buffalo turns the ball over more than anyone, but his highs are high enough to overcome those poor decisions and the YOLO ball. Maye is a similar case.

And while Williams and Daniels are lauded for their mobility, Maye is no slouch. Although his running style more closely resembles that of Daniels Jones, the Giants QB is dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Additionally, Maye can manipulate arm angles and throw on the move at a high level. It’s simply not on Williams’ level, but it does not have to be.

Caleb Williams

We all know this story. Anonymous scouts and general managers touted Williams as the next generational quarterback prospect, failing to understand the concept of generations.

There’s no denying that Williams is outrageously talented. His physical gifts as a passer are nearly unrivaled, and his mobility makes for physics-defying plays on the regular. His normal game film is another player’s entire highlight tape.

But quarterback is far more complex than that. Williams’ greatest strength is also his most significant weakness. His urge to make THE play instead of the play bites him in the backside. He routinely ignores routine passes for longer-developing downfield concepts, first-and-10 be damned.

MORE: Free NFL Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

Only Jalen Milroe, Jase Bauer, Dequan Finn, and Kaidon Salter held onto the ball longer on average. That has been a consistent theme in Lincoln Riley’s system, but Williams is a serious offender.

According to PFF tracking, Williams’ time-to-throw sat at 3.16. Only Fields (3.40!) and Lamar Jackson (3.17) held onto the ball longer than Williams at the NFL level. Only six quarterbacks averaged over three seconds.

There will be very similar frustrations with Williams as there are Fields in Chicago, should that be who they decide to draft.

Justin Fields

Fields might be the most naturally accurate passer to the intermediate and deep areas of the field of the three. His natural arm talent is top-tier, and his rushing ability has always made him dangerous.

But like Williams and his struggles, there is far more to quarterbacking than a pretty ball and outrageous rushing ability. The quick game was never part of Ohio State’s offense. We saw the same thing from Stroud, and we’re also seeing him hold onto the ball for a long time at the NFL level, albeit with far more success than Fields.

Overall, Williams and Maye are probably better prospects than Fields, while Daniels has incredibly closed the gap in a Joe Burrow-like ascension.

Fields had a ton of potential, and while he’s improved, it’s been an excruciating process with multiple offensive iterations and poor surroundings to bleed behind.

The Monetary Implications

To say things get confusing here would be a Trent Brown-sized understatement. As Nick Whalen wrote in an expansive post on X (formerly Twitter), there are monetary aspects that we’re not accounting for when looking at the difference between keeping and trading Fields.

With the heavy lifting already done, there’s no need to beat a dead horse here. Click on the post and read through it all.

But in case you don’t, let’s break things down Barney style.

  1. Fields would be more expensive than a 1.01 rookie in roughly three of six seasons (projecting a 4-year extension worth $45 million per season.)
  2. The trade package will vary depending on how far the Bears trade back, but a significant move like last draft season would result in a bigger package than Chicago received for 1.01 in 2023.
  3. The rookie contract window is important, but free agents are expensive. Trading the pick would likely net two or three first-round picks. Even with their guaranteed contracts, they would be significantly less expensive than free agents of the same relative caliber.

 Trade Fields or the Pick?

“I mean, when you talk about building a team, I want that type of support in the locker room,” Poles said of the support for Fields in the locker room. “I want those guys, when they go take the field, to believe in the player that they have at that quarterback position. I want them to believe in the person to the right and the left, so I love that. With any decision, I got to take the emotion out of it and look at the whole deal there.”

The “easy” answer is right in front of them, but it’s not the way the Poles and the Bears should think about the situation. Fields haven’t impressed enough to hitch their wagon to for the foreseeable future. Although he’s an exciting player with outrageous physical talent, his production has been underwhelming.

Some fans will be upset if they trade Fields, but from a job security perspective — specifically for Poles — trading Fields and drafting a rookie QB is the only correct decision.

The only way to skirt that conclusion is if the team adores Fields off the field and as a leader while believing in their very core in his ability to develop at a more rapid pace with cleaner surroundings. The “person” behind the arm is important to Poles.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our ability to see talent on the field,” Poles said. “The human being we’ve got to figure out. Especially to be a quarterback in this city. You’ve got to have it right. You’ve got to have mental toughness. You’ve got to be able to block things out.

Another important aspect of this is that Poles did not draft Fields.

“Nobody wants to be judged or fired because they didn’t make the previous guy’s draft picks work,” an NFC GM told Yahoo’s Charles Robinson. “Especially quarterback and head coach — if it’s not working out or it’s lagging, you should get an opportunity at changing it your way. Quarterbacks and head coaches are so much of your culture, so it’s kind of hard when you didn’t put those pieces in place, and you’re taking the hits anyway.”

GMs that spoke with Robinson said Fields would probably be worth, at best, a second-round pick and a potential day-three kicker. Like Sam Darnold before him, whoever acquires him would also have to decide on his fifth-year option and consider an extension, which hurts his value.

Darnold’s failure in Carolina also doesn’t help the Fields’ value in a trade.

Meanwhile, trading the pick would net them a high first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, a 2025 first-round pick (likely top 10), and likely another first-round draft pick or a player of equal value. The price would be even higher the later they trade back, but that might not be in their plans.

The possibility of pairing Marvin Harrison Jr. with Fields and DJ Moore might be too much to pass up for Chicago. Although there are plenty of ridiculously talented wide receivers in this class, no prospect in the past decade is as complete as Harrison.

MORE: 2024 NFL Draft Big Board

He will be the first non-quarterback drafted. No team, no matter their WR situation, should pass on him.

But with Arizona sitting at No. 4, the Bears can’t move down past No. 3 if they want a chance to draft him. But if they’re happy with acquiring more capital and shooting for Malik Nabers from LSU or Rome Odunze from Washington later in the top 10, it would open up a lot of doors.

In the end, it would likely be easier to build a winning situation by trading the pick rather than Fields. But if Fields never becomes an above-average quarterback with consistency, it’s all for naught. That’s especially true if Williams or Maye or Daniels (whoever they like most) becomes a top-five QB elsewhere.

So, the “safer” move is to start over with a rookie. The big-brained move might be keeping Fields and surrounding him with young, highly-drafted talent. But unless they love Fields, the easy choice is to move him and move on.

If they trade Fields and he becomes a legitimate franchise QB, while the Bears’ rookie struggles in his first contract, we might have to just admit that when it comes to QB play, Chicago might be cursed. But if they keep Fields and he underperforms, everybody gets fired.

All the 2024 NFL Draft resources you need — the draft order, the top QBs, the Top 100 prospects, and the full 2024 Big Board — right at your fingertips at Pro Football Network!

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