Moving on from QB Justin Fields would be epic mistake by Bears
The Bears are best served leaving that problem solved and continuing to work through what looks like an endless to-do list with the rest of the roster.
It didn’t take much for Justin Fields’ footing as the Bears’ franchise quarterback to slip a little, and that’s not surprising here.
The Bears’ exasperating history at the position makes it the most volatile job in Chicago sports: The public is overly eager to declare you a hero, but unless you live up to that immediately, the clock starts ticking on your exit. Mitch Trubisky overzealously was celebrated as the answer in 2018, then got booed off the field halfway through the next season.
Fields, who will sit out the season finale Sunday against the Vikings, has put together the second-greatest rushing season by a quarterback in NFL history and improved most of his key passing stats despite the Bears putting minimal talent around him.
Yet the idea of general manager Ryan Poles trading him and rebooting the position with the No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the draft keeps coming up. There have been entire segments about it on both sports-radio stations this week.
It would be an epic mistake.
Fields differs from past Bears hopefuls in that he has a sustainable skill as a runner and has progressed as a passer without much help. He’s the best running quarterback in the NFL, and it has been awhile since any Bears quarterback was the best at anything.
When Giants owner John Mara assessed quarterback Daniel Jones a year ago, coming out of his third season, he said: ‘‘We’ve done everything possible to screw this kid up.’’ The Bears could say the same about Fields after his first two seasons.
First they put him through the counterproductive ordeal of playing in former coach Matt Nagy’s offense and under Nagy’s and former GM Ryan Pace’s ill-conceived plan to take an elite college quarterback and glue him to the bench for his rookie season as though he were a project.
Then they cleaned up all of those issues and saddled him with new ones. While coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy have done far better matching their scheme to Fields’ strengths, every fear about the personnel Poles put around Fields has come true. Some of it has been even scarier than expected.
It is routine to see Fields face pressure the moment he finishes his drop-back. And because defenses can get to him with only a four-man rush, that leaves a spy to help contain his running. All of that might be navigable if he had options downfield, but there’s often nobody open. It’s impossible.
Fields can’t ask for perfect circumstances; that’s unrealistic. And virtually any quarterback can thrive when everything around him is in place; that’s not special. But Fields has managed to make discernible strides when everything around him has been wrong.
He bumped up his passer rating by 13 points from his rookie season to 85.2 and made modest improvements in completion percentage (58.9 to 60.4), touchdown percentage (2.6 to 5.3) and interception percentage (down from 3.7 to 3.5) — all while being sacked a league-high 55 times.
There’s still tons of room for Fields to improve — he averaged a league-low 149.5 yards per game passing and threw for only 75 last week against the Lions — but his improved efficiency suggests he’ll be capable of more production once he gets better protection and better targets.
If the Bears ever wanted to trade him, this would be the time to do it. His stock is high, and, if they get the No. 1 pick in the draft, they would have their choice of Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. But they would be unraveling one of the few boxes they’ve checked this season.
Fields hasn’t made a case that he’s headed toward being a top-five quarterback, but there have been sufficient signs that he at least will be good. The Bears are best served leaving that problem solved and continuing to work through what looks to be an endless to-do list with the rest of the roster.