Bears GM Ryan Poles easily could be ‘blown away’ by a college QB. It happens all the time in the NFL.

Don’t be so sure the team is married to the idea of keeping Justin Fields.

SHARE Bears GM Ryan Poles easily could be ‘blown away’ by a college QB. It happens all the time in the NFL.
Bears quarterback Justin Fields walking off the field after a loss to the Eagles in December.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields walks to the locker room after a loss to the Eagles at Soldier Field in December.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

When a reporter asked Ryan Poles on Tuesday if he’d consider using the top pick in the draft on a quarterback, the Bears general manager said he’d have to be “absolutely blown away’’ by a college prospect to do it.

That calmed Justin Fields’ many fans, and possibly Fields himself, because the “experts” who rate college players for a living seem to think there isn’t a sure-thing superstar quarterback in the 2023 draft. Thus, the chances of Poles’ being blown away on draft day appeared to be remote. Bears fans could get back to worshiping at the altar of Justin.

But let’s keep in mind what a strange animal the NFL Draft is. It’s early January, the draft is in late April and in between is more than enough time for otherwise normal, clear-thinking talent evaluators to lose their minds. We’ve seen it over and over.

A drumbeat has started for Alabama quarterback Bryce Young to be the No. 1 overall pick. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Mike Tannenbaum, the former Jets general manager, gushed about Young, praising his physical ability and his intangibles. Know that when a football person starts talking about a college quarterback’s “intangibles,’’ it’s all over. It’s what led former Bears general manager Ryan Pace to trade up to take former Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick in 2017. The key word in the preceding sentence, used twice, is “former.’’

Tannenbaum said the Bears should trade Fields and use the No. 1 pick on Young. What’s important here is not that Tannenbaum has this opinion. It’s that you can bet actual general managers, not just a former one, will eventually form the same opinion, if they haven’t already. At last glance, Poles was still an actual general manager.

All of Fields’ many fans, and possibly Fields himself, can start panicking now.

Something happens to NFL people when it comes to the draft and quarterbacks. Armed with the knowledge that the position is by far the most important in football and living with the reality that if they don’t find a good one they won’t have their jobs for long, GMs start seeing things. They start not seeing things, too. Young’s height, for example. He’s 6-foot, undersized for an NFL quarterback. This is a certainty: Whoever drafts the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner will say the kid’s height doesn’t matter. This from a league full of executives who measure everything as if a skyscraper’s structural integrity depends on it.

I’ve seen Young play multiple times the past two seasons. I’m not an expert, but I see a very good college quarterback who could be good in the NFL. That’s what I thought about Fields, who was a talented player surrounded by talented teammates at Ohio State. But would his skills translate in the NFL?

The more levelheaded among us are still asking the same question about Fields: Does he have the ability as a passer to excel in the league? We’re not sure yet and, even though Poles declared during a Tuesday press conference that Fields would be the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2023, it was clear from his comments that he believes Fields has a ton of growing to do as a passer. 

What’s interesting here is the gap between what lots of Bears fans think — Fields is just about the greatest thing ever – and what others without emotional ties to Fields think — he hasn’t proven himself as a legitimate NFL quarterback.

The other thing that stands out here is the possibility the Bears would make their fanbase go through this again. How many times can you expect fans to throw themselves at a quarterback? It was love at first sight with Jay Cutler, Trubisky and Fields. I’m sure I’m forgetting one or two or a hundred others who were called “franchise’’ quarterbacks upon arrival in Chicago.

The Bears created the most recent monster, in a good way. They realized halfway through the season that Fields was really, really fast and really, really elusive. He was incredibly entertaining, so entertaining that fans stopped blaming former coach Matt Nagy for everything that was wrong with Fields and enjoyed the show.

The possibility the Bears would ask those fans to let go of Fields would be shocking if it weren’t for the reality that nobody and nothing is sacred in the NFL. Poles didn’t select Fields. Pace did. The No. 1 goal in the league is to win. The No. 2 goal is to keep your job. Winning means some job security. Poles cares about Fields in the context of whether the kid can help him win games and stay employed. That’s it. It’s business.

I think the Bears will hold on to Fields, but I’m a realist. I’m looking forward to finding out if Fields is a good quarterback, but I can do that if he’s in a Colts uniform, too.

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