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Bears couldn’t trade for Russell Wilson — was it for the best?

The Bears were optimistic about their roster this offseason — unreasonably so, as it turns out. When the Seahawks said no, they likely saved the Bears from themselves. 

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams
Russell Wilson throws a pass against the Rams on Tuesday.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

With Zoom onlookers dressed in green — it was St. Patrick’s Day, after all — the newest Bears superstar looked into the camera on his computer and began his list of thank yous.

To the McCaskey family, for allowing him to begin the next phase of his Hall of Fame career.

To the Nagurski family, for letting him resurrect the retired No. 3 Bears jersey.

To the Seahawks, for a Super Bowl championship journey six years ago that he’d never forget.

And to general manager Ryan Pace, for being bold.

By the time he closed his laptop an hour later, the man would have — at a tremendous cost to the Bears, in terms of trade assets and money — changed the trajectory of the league’s most tortured landing spot for quarterbacks.

The Bears had, by that point, already spent months secretly planning to buy the Arlington Heights stadium site. If they were lucky, their new acquisition would have taken the first snap on that field years from now. Maybe one day they’d even put a statue of him outside of it.

Next to George Halas and Walter Payton would be a bronze image of the Bears’ first dominant quarterback in three-quarters of a century: Russell Wilson.

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It could have happened.

In early March, Pace talked to Seahawks general manager John Schneider in Fargo, North Dakota, where both had traveled for Trey Lance’s pro day.

Pace made an offer and told Schneider he needed an answer by the start of the league year on St. Patrick’s Day. Free agent Andy Dalton was aware of the offer, knowing that the Bears could turn to him if Wilson decided to stay in Seattle.

Pace offered the Seahawks a combination of draft picks and expensive players — partly to account for Wilson’s $32 million cap hit.

Schneider brought the offer back to coach Pete Carroll. The oldest coach in the NFL — Carroll turned 70 in September — didn’t want to rebuild. He knew a truth about the NFL that was the very reason the Bears had made a “Godfather” offer in the first place — you either have a quarterback or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re not going anywhere.

The Bears didn’t have a serviceable quarterback to trade — or a draft pick that the Seahawks believed would land one of the five passers expected to be drafted in the first round.

Even though Wilson was willing to leave — his agent told ESPN he’d accept trades to the Bears, Raiders, Cowboys and Saints — the Seahawks weren’t ready to end the marriage.

Carroll said no.

The Bears moved on to Dalton — and then, after a stroke of luck, were able to trade up to draft a quarterback in the first round. When he arrived, rookie Justin Fields’ new teammates said they reminded him of one quarterback — the man who wears No. 3 in Seattle.

Are the Bears lucky the Seahawks said no? Do the Seahawks regret it? As the two teams prepare to play Sunday, both are in the muck. The Seahawks are 5-9 and the Bears are 4-10. Any competitive advantage the teams gain from losing is gone, too — neither has a first-round pick in 2022.

Since returning from a mallet finger injury that included a break and dislocation, Wilson has posted a 2-4 record with a 81.68 passer rating.

With a steep learning curve, Fields has posted a 73.2 passer rating, which ranks 29th in the NFL.

In very different ways, both franchises have every right to be disappointed with their quarterback play this season.

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The Bears offer included three first-round picks, including the team’s No. 20 overall choice in 2021; a third-round pick; and veteran players.

It’s unclear exactly who the veterans were — the Seahawks might have had their choice of a few — but defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and cornerback Kyle Fuller would have made sense to help balance out Wilson’s salary. Hicks has a $12 million cap figure this season, the final year of his contract. Fuller had a $20 million cap figure for 2020, the result of restructuring.

The Seahawks had to know that the Bears were about to cut Fuller — and they did in a cap-saving move, just days after they said no to the trade. Hicks figures to have demanded a restructured contract had he been traded.

The Seahawks didn’t miss out on much. Fuller has started only eight games — and only one in the last month — as a member of the Broncos. Hicks has been productive when healthy, but that’s an important caveat. He has appeared in eight games this season — in one, he was injured on the first snap.

As for the draft picks: the Bears eventually dealt three of the four choices anyway. They traded their first-rounders in 2021 and 2022 to the Giants to move up nine spots and take Fields. To jump up in the second round to draft tackle Teven Jenkins, the Bears gave up their second and third-rounders in 2021.

Wilson is a better player than Fields and Jenkins, obviously, and more valuable than two veterans who were never destined to be part of the Bears’ 2022 team. But at what cost?

Wilson’s cap hit is $32 million this year, $37 million next year and $40 million in 2023. Even if he signed a new contract with the Bears, the hits would have been similar. Fields’ cap hit this year is $3.4 million. The next two years: $4.3 million and $5.1 million.

The Bears were optimistic about their roster this offseason — unreasonably so, as it turns out. When the Seahawks said no, they likely saved the Bears from themselves.

While Wilson would have made the offense hum — and turned receiver Allen Robinson into a weapon again — the Bears’ defensive struggles probably would have kept the team from being dominant.

The Bears were not one Wilson away from being a Super Bowl champion in 2021. With Wilson on the roster, the Bears might have been a playoff team. More realistically, they’d look, well, like the Seahawks do now.

For the third consecutive year, Wilson’s passer rating is lower than it was the previous season. He might not age well, either; at 33, he’s already taken 423 career sacks, the 14th-most in the history of the NFL.

Still, underestimate the value of a paradigm-changing franchise quarterback at your own risk. If the Bears have learned anything this season, it’s that everything about Halas Hall is long past in need of a change.

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So who would the Bears rather have: Wilson on a team that, this year, was already the oldest in the NFL and wouldn’t have the draft capital to get young talent? Or an unproven Fields, a 2023 first-round pick and about $30 million extra each year to spend on other players?

If they’re right about Fields, it’s the latter.

The Seahawks still have a surefire standout quarterback — and the Bears don’t. But if Fields develops, the Bears can build around him while he’s still cheap. When Pace made his “Godfather” offer, the idea of the Bears moving high enough in the draft to take Fields was a pipe dream. The franchise got lucky.

Pace and Nagy, though, might not have.

Perhaps the greatest impact WIlson would have made on the 2021 season is saving their jobs. After pulling off his second blockbuster in four years, Pace would have enjoyed a second honeymoon as a swashbuckling, no-regrets general manager. Even if the Bears had struggled and been short of cap space, Pace could have convinced the McCaskeys that he’d use Wilson to lure free agents, the way Tom Brady did in Tampa.

Nagy’s offense, meanwhile, would have had a higher floor with Wilson, sparing the head coach the indignity of the Bears’ hideous performances in Cleveland and beyond. The narrative would have been an easy sell: Nagy finally has his quarterback. Now let’s see what he can do with him.

The Seahawks, though, said no to trading Wilson. They might reconsider this offseason. Rumors of Wilson’s next destination ramped up again earlier this month. Wilson said it was a “non-story” when podcaster Jordan Schultz — whose father Howard is the former Starbucks chief executive officer and Seattle mainstay — reported he’d be willing to go to the Giants, Broncos or Saints this offseason.

The Bears weren’t on the list. They hope they’ve already found their quarterback. Besides, they don’t have a first-round pick to trade them this year — they already used it to trade for Fields.