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The verdict is still out on Justin Fields — but not on the Fields trade

If the Bears were going to draft a rookie quarterback to build their franchise around, 2021 was a vintage year to try.

Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears
Justin Fields throws a pass against the Vikings.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On April 22, the Giants’ Dave Gettleman explained why, in eight years as a general manager for two teams, he never had traded back in the NFL Draft.

‘‘I’m not getting fleeced,’’ he said.

Exactly one week later, he did just that. Trade back, that is, not get fleeced. Although maybe he did both.

One thing’s for sure: The Justin Fields trade is one the Bears would make again. They got a rare chance to take a swing at a rookie quarterback and had to take it.

To move up from 20th to draft the Ohio State star with the 11th pick, Bears GM Ryan Pace traded first-round picks in 2021 and 2022, a fifth-rounder in 2021 and a fourth-rounder in 2022 to the Giants.

At the end of his rookie season, Fields’ future remains unknown. In 10 starts, Fields — who, to coach Matt Nagy’s great detriment, didn’t play with the starters in the preseason — has a 73.2 passer rating. It’s unclear whether he’ll take the field again this season. (He won’t start Sunday against the Giants because of an ankle injury.)

The odds of Fields being the Bears’ quarterback of the future are much greater, however, than the chances they would have found one in the 2022 draft. Fields, in fact, would be the top quarterback in the 2022 draft by a wide margin.

The draft crop of quarterbacks last spring widely was considered to be one of the best in history. Five quarterbacks — Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Fields and Mac Jones — were chosen among the top 15 picks. Of the five, only Jones has been even an average player this season. The Bears remain patient, however, saying that quarterback development takes time. The fact the Bears started Fields’ learning curve in 2021, rather than trying to draft a passer in 2022, is a point in their favor.

Besides, the 2022 draft class doesn’t feature a franchise-altering quarterback. In its first 2022 mock draft, Pro Football Focus had one quarterback being drafted in the first round: Mississippi’s Matt Corral, at No. 9. CBS Sports has three going among the top 15 picks: Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Corral.

Perhaps the Giants will use the pick they acquired from the Bears to draft a quarterback in the spring. That pick is currently No. 8, though it will become less valuable if the Bears beat the Giants on Sunday.

The Giants used the 20th pick in 2021 to take Florida receiver Kadarius Toney, who has 39 catches for 420 yards in 10 games. Amid that so-so production came a monster game: In Week 5 against the Cowboys, he caught 10 passes for 189 yards.

The Giants used the Bears’ 2021 fifth-rounder to swing a trade and move up five spots in the third round to draft UCF cornerback Aaron Robinson. He has started two games this season but played only two defensive snaps last week after coming back from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

It’s doubtful either player will make the Bears regret making the deal. Whether they can say that after the 2022 draft is another question — and one that won’t be able to be answered for years.

Gettleman got good value in the trade. According to metrics created by draft analyst Lee Sharpe, Gettleman on draft day acquired the most gains in expected value of any GM of any team since 2010.

That’s cold comfort for both GMs, however. The Giants are 4-11, and Gettleman might get fired at the end of the season. The Bears are one game better, but Pace — and certainly Nagy — might be fired, too.

The Bears, at least, can say this: If they were going to draft a rookie quarterback to build their franchise around, 2021 was a vintage year to try.