By trading for Chase Claypool, Bears are investing in Justin Fields
Eight months to the day after general manager Ryan Poles first detailed an in-house Bears study that determined second-year quarterbacks improved most when given a “dependability piece” at pass catcher, he finally brought in high-quality help for Justin Fields.
Eight months to the day after Ryan Poles first detailed an in-house Bears study that determined second-year quarterbacks improved most when given a “dependability piece” at pass catcher, the general manager finally brought in high-quality help for Justin Fields.
When Poles traded the Bears’ own 2023 second-round pick to the Steelers for Chase Claypool hours ahead of Tuesday’s harried NFL trade deadline, he made his first major investment in a wide receiver. And in Fields.
“I like the way Justin is trending,” Poles said. “And I think adding another big body who’s physical, explosive, great leaping ability, can stretch the field but also is violent with the ball in his hands — as well as a blocker — enhances everyone around him.”
Enhancing Fields is the clearest sign yet that the Bears like what they see in their quarterback, who is almost halfway through a yearlong tryout to be the face of the franchise.
“As a quarterback — and you all know where I come from — you can never have enough weapons and guys that help your quarterback gain confidence,” said Poles, who spent 12 years in the Chiefs’ front office, the last five with star Patrick Mahomes on the team, before the Bears hired him in January. “I know a lot of the guys are starting to make plays for us. Adding another receiver is going to allow him to continue to grow and gain that confidence.”
Once Claypool gets settled, the Bears will also have one fewer excuse if Fields struggles.
Poles said last offseason that he wanted to give Fields help at wide receiver, then did so on the cheap, signing Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown and Dante Pettis to one-year deals and trading a 2024 seventh-round pick to the Patriots for N’Keal Harry.
Claypool is different. In his third year from Notre Dame, he is a physical specimen. At 6-4 and 238 pounds, he owns the seventh-fastest speed in a game this season, having run 21.46 mph in Week 1.
His first two seasons were almost identical. He caught 62 passes for 873 yards in 2020 and 59 for 860 in 2021. Claypool has caught 32 passes for 311 yards this season, but his yards-per-game average was down from 57.3 last year to 38.9. A week and a half ago, he complained about the Steelers’ lack of deep passes. Since 2020, Claypool ranks fifth in the league in routes run and targets on go routes, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Poles said he had no concerns, pointing to quarterback instability — the Steelers switched from Mitch Trubisky to rookie Kenny Pickett last month.
“There’s a lot of changes going on there,” he said. “So you have to just look at the scenario and put it all together. I think he’ll be fine.”
The Steelers don’t make many personnel mistakes, though, and it’s fair to wonder what they know about the 2020 second-round pick that Poles doesn’t. There have been questions about his maturity.
Poles knows that he liked Claypool better than the underwhelming free-agent wide receiver class that was awaiting him in March. JuJu Smith-Schuster, D.J. Chark and Sterling Shepard are the biggest names expected to be available.
“That’s part of my job and part of my crew upstairs: You have to do a little bit of forecasting and look down the road,” he said. “I just didn’t feel completely comfortable with that. Not to say that there’s not good [free-agent] players there. I just didn’t feel comfortable with not being maybe a little bit more aggressive at this point.”
He probably overpaid for the privilege. But Poles is giving Fields a weapon for the next year and a half, at least. He can extend Claypool, who is on a rookie deal, this offseason.
“The contract definitely helps,” Poles said. “But, just like everybody else, we’re going to take this season and see how everything works out and go from there.”