For Bears, it’s time to make a tank call

It’s anathema to NFL players and coaches, but the team could really use a high pick in the 2023 draft.

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The Bears could basically guarantee three more losses by sitting Justin Fields, and they’d also be shielding him from the risk of injury.

The Bears could basically guarantee three more losses by sitting Justin Fields, and they’d also be shielding him from the risk of injury.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Tanking.

It’s a dirty word, one that implies deviousness and cowardliness and something one step above cheating.

It’s a pity that tanking by a sports team ever makes sense. I hate it. Always have. So, I can guarantee, do all athletes.

But you can’t argue with the rules of a sports league, even — rather — the lack of rules by that league. And if the NFL says the worse your team’s record, the higher your pick in the upcoming draft, well, if a decent season and playoffs are lost, why not tank away? The best college players go at the top of the draft. If you’re bad, you can get one.

That’s where the Bears are now. At 3-11 with three games left, they are a nowhere team headed nowhere, except to the drawing board for the 2023 season and beyond.

We don’t need to see more from electric young quarterback Justin Fields to know his future, with talent around him, is unlimited. It took the Bears 40 years to draft a quarterback with as much potential as their only Super Bowl-winning QB, Jim McMahon. And Fields is the one.

If you think Fields’ “development’’ for three more games matters for next season, it’s possible. But little that’s learned now will translate to an advantage nine months away.

The only thing that translates for sure is a devastating injury. Such a needless thing would be a stone-cold disaster for this fleet, elusive athlete who has taken a beating but whose legs are yet undamaged.

Blow out an ACL or rip an Achilles tendon, and Fields might not even be ready for next season. One is reminded here of sad cases such as once-electric Bears running back Tarik Cohen, likely done with football after suffering a blown knee on a fair catch in 2020.

And if you want to move to another sport, consider that Bulls guard Lonzo Ball still is not able to play after a seemingly minor meniscus injury from almost a year ago, one that doctors initially thought would take four to six weeks to heal.

Yes, we’d miss watching Fields make magic. And, yes, he could add to his astounding, league-leading 1,000 rushing yards. He could go for Lamar Jackson’s NFL quarterback record for a season of 1,206 yards. But it would be a hollow crown, even if the Bears won out. They’d be only 6-11.

Former Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass set an NFL quarterback rushing record with 968 yards in only 14 games back in 1972, a mark that stood for 34 years. The Bears’ record that season? A miserable 4-9-1.

To take full advantage of the NFL’s tolerance for tanking, the Bears could rest Fields, knowing his backup, Nathan Peterman, makes losing simple.

Looking at this as it stands right now, without the scruples of morality or, I suppose, the dictum of fair play, the Bears could make sure to lose out and be assured of no worse than the second pick in the draft. Win the last three games, and they drop to 14th.

Draft position matters. It could be the difference between taking Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf, Troy Aikman or Tony Mandarich.

The likely first pick this year will be Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. But the Bears don’t need a starting quarterback, so the No. 2 spot is dandy. It means they could take either of two star defensive linemen, Georgia’s Jalen Carter or Alabama’s Will Anderson. Or anybody else they please. They could also trade down and snag more picks. The possibilities are huge.

Don’t forget, the Bears could easily lose the last three games without trying. A deeply flawed team can’t suddenly change.

It’s understood, and welcome, that NFL players and coaches hate to lose. No coach or general manager could even hint to players that they give less than their all.

The idea is so contrary to the football code that former Browns coach Hue Jackson ripped owner Jimmy Haslam for supposedly offering Jackson a bonus to lose. This was just after Jackson had been fired, and he was mad. He pulled back his statement later.

But for a league that oddly tolerates tanking — no Ping-Pong balls or lottery for these fellows — it makes you think. The Bears won’t tank. Can’t do it. But, man, you wonder if they should.

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