Justin Fields looks to Bears’ future confident he’s their franchise quarterback
As impressive as Fields was at times, GM Ryan Poles will be tempted by the option to pick his own quarterback — likely a choice between Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
While speculation surges about his future with the Bears, quarterback Justin Fields spoke Monday as though it’s a given that he’s the franchise quarterback. He talked about the upcoming offseason like someone with total certainty about his standing in the organization.
Fields talked about his high hopes for next season, his role as the leader of the team — ‘‘It’s already mine,’’ he said — and his confidence in general manager Ryan Poles to use the wealth of salary-cap space and draft picks he has at his disposal to make major upgrades.
He even mentioned helping Poles recruit free agents.
‘‘I’m sure we’re going to have that conversation here in a bit,’’ Fields said. ‘‘Whatever he’s going to do, I fully trust him. His goal is to make the best team he can for us.’’
That doesn’t sound like someone with even a shred of concern that Poles will use the No. 1 pick to replace him.
It’s unlikely, but that possibility will linger until the Bears trade back or take a defensive star with the pick instead. Poles could squash such talk with an absolute endorsement of Fields, but he probably won’t because his job is to drive up trade offers.
As impressive as Fields was at times, Poles will be tempted by the option to pick his own quarterback — likely a choice between Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. And Fields was far less convincing down the stretch than he was in October and November.
The best thing Fields established was something he wants to do less. He was the NFL’s best running quarterback and finished 63 yards short of Lamar Jackson’s record of 1,206 yards rushing at the position. His improvement as a passer, however, was modest.
‘‘It’s a rushing record, and I’m a quarterback,’’ Fields said, downplaying its importance. ‘‘If there was one record I’d like to break, it’d be a passing record. We’ll see if we can get that done in the near future.’’
Fields finished seventh in the NFL in rushing yards — no other quarterback cracked the top 30 — but was last among starting quarterbacks at 149.5 yards passing per game. His completion percentage (60.4) and interception percentage (3.5) held steady from his rookie season. He raised his passer rating 12 points to 85.2, which ranked 25th.
Still, for most of the season, Fields was the one player who gave the Bears any chance. As they point to being within a touchdown in the fourth quarter in nine of their 14 losses as cause for optimism, Fields was the reason.
That’s why the best thing they could have done in Week 18 was sit him. The Bears needed to lose to the Vikings and have the Texans beat the Colts to get the No. 1 pick. They safeguarded their side of it by playing Nathan Peterman and Tim Boyle.
They declared Fields out with a strained hip, an injury he played through the week before against the Lions. Not that anyone genuinely fretted about it, but Fields said Monday his hip felt ‘‘pretty good’’ and he ‘‘probably’’ could have played, but he would’ve been at about 80% of his ability.
‘‘But actually it really wasn’t up to me,’’ he said. ‘‘The trainers, they didn’t want me playing. Yeah, I couldn’t be out there.’’
Fields had mixed feelings about his season, saying that he grew in intangible ways, such as his grasp of the offense, but that he still needs to ‘‘get better at a lot of stuff.’’
That last part is the toughest for Poles to evaluate. Would Fields instantly improve his deficiencies with a legitimate offensive line and skill players around him, or would the same shortcomings still be there? And if he is ascending, could Young or Stroud ascend higher and faster?
It’s probably the biggest decision Poles will make in this job. And regardless of the circumstances around him this season, Fields didn’t prove his case conclusively enough to make it an easy one.