The Bears might have another franchise-defining quarterback decision to make

Who will turn into a bigger star, Justin Fields or Alabama’s Bryce Young? The Bears have the top pick in the draft.

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Bears quarterback Justin Fields running against the Bills.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields runs against the Bills in December.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It was the second half of the 2022 season, Justin Fields was running his way into the hearts of Bears fans and the McCaskeys surely were breathing a sigh of relief. Whatever critics wanted to say about Fields, they couldn’t argue that there was no future for him in Chicago. Very little controversy existed over which quarterback would lead the franchise into the future, at least for a few years.

That meant there’d be no major, gut-wrenching QB decision for ownership to OK in 2023, nothing that could haunt the Bears the way the decision to draft Mitch Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes in 2017 had.

Peace. Finally, the McCaskeys had quarterback peace.

Um, yeah, about that.

In a matter of a few months, things have changed. The Bears were bad enough last season to “earn” the No. 1 overall pick in the April draft. They still say they love Fields, and most experts think they’ll stick with him, trade the top pick and select a non-quarterback in the first round. But it’s turning into a big decision, one that could define the franchise for years to come.

What if the Bears keep Fields, and Alabama’s Bryce Young, projected to be the top quarterback in this year’s draft, turns out to be a once-in-generation player for another team?

What if the Bears choose Young and trade Fields, only to see Fields turn into a superstar for another team?

It would be so like the franchise to choose wrong this time around. Cynical? Yes. And your point is? The issue really isn’t whether Fields stays or goes, as crazy as that sounds. The issue is the team’s terrible habit of choosing the wrong quarterback. They’ve done it over and over since the 1950s. 

If you adore Fields, there’s a good chance you’re going to be happy. The odds of the McCaskeys wanting to keep him seem high. They know an exciting player like Fields doesn’t come along often, and they know his skills translate into more fan interest, which translates into more profit for the family business. He has shown enough promise to earn the McCaskeys’ faith.

It’s my civic duty to point out that their faith is not necessarily a good thing.

The family has a tendency to fall in love with whichever quarterback is pushed in front of them. Jay Cutler was chairman George McCaskey’s favorite Bear when Cutler was snarling his way through an eight-year stay in Chicago. Trubisky was the kind of clean-cut, conscientious person the McCaskeys like for either quarterback or marketing intern. But neither player turned into the franchise quarterback the Bears were sure they’d be.

The fact that ownership is captivated by Fields the way so many Bears fans are … is that the kiss of death for Decision 2023?

The wild card this time around is new general manager Ryan Poles. He has an opportunity to build a team in his image. If the Bears win with Fields, will that success be because of Poles or because of former GM Ryan Pace, who drafted the quarterback in 2021? Ego sometimes affects vision.

When it comes to picking quarterbacks, the Bears are the bomb defuser who, given the choice of two wires, snips the wrong one. The team has so much shrapnel from past decisions that going through airport security is a nightmare. This is why longtime observers of the Bears are leery about the April draft. Even standing pat can blow up in the franchise’s face.

Three months ago, this didn’t seem like an issue. Then Young started moving up teams’ draft boards.

And then Fields started running, all the way to a single-season franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback. No one can be certain if he’ll turn into a great passer. Under new coach Matt Eberflus, the Bears didn’t give him many chances to throw, and when they did, the results were uneven. It takes some imagination to project him as a dual-purpose quarterback. That’s where the risk comes in. 

Once again, the McCaskeys and the people they’ve hired have a choice to make. I’m sure they thought they were out of the choosing business for a while.

Keep Fields and hope he turns into a terrific passer?

Or choose Young and hope his rookie contract means years of big individual and team success before the kid is due a huge payday?

If anyone has antacids on hand, I know a family that might be in need of some.

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