How to measure Bears QB Justin Fields? ‘Win more games’

The Bears want to see Justin Fields elevate his play this year. Asked how he’d measure that, general manager Ryan Poles was direct.

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Justin Fields runs on Saturday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The most important decision of Ryan Poles’ career will play out over 17 games this season.

The Bears general manager will be monitoring every Justin Fields decision, throw and result to try to answer the most important question facing the franchise: is their quarterback of the future?

If he is, Fields will be eligible for a life-changing contract extension next offseason. If he’s not, Poles’ job will get a lot more difficult.

Poles probably could spend hours detailing what he’ll be looking for Fields to do in his third season, but he narrowed it down to three words Wednesday.

“Win more games,” he said.

It’s no “Just win, baby,” but it’ll suffice. And it’ll hold for not only Fields, but for a team that went 3-14 last year.

“Progress,” Poles said. “I can’t tell you how many boxes need to be checked [with Fields]. I always think your gut instinct is always going to be a part of decision-making as well. So all of the above. You’re looking for progress to feel good about it and also to watch the tape and get a feel for a guy if he can take you to that next level.”

Having the worst record in the NFL last year leaves a lot of wiggle room in the definition of “next level.” For Fields, progress is running a competent passing attack. In the last 15 years, only three teams had fewer passing yards than the Bears did last year — and the Bears played one more game than either the 2009 Browns or the 2011 Jaguars.

“Just to continue to improve,” Poles said. “Want those sack numbers to come down, interceptions to come down. Make good reads, protect himself, just see him take that next step.”

Poles didn’t give Fields much of a chance to take the next step last year. The Bears’ receiving corps was the worst in the NFL and their offensive line allowed sacks at a historic rate.

At this time last year, Poles gave a 250-word answer when asked whether he’d surrounded Fields with enough talent on offense. He named only three players by name: receiver Darnell Mooney, tight end Cole Kmet and receiver Velus Jones. Mooney had the worst season of his career, while Jones caught only seven passes.

The GM spent the last year trying to upgrade the skill level of his offense, starting with the questionable deal for receiver Chase Claypool at the deadline and — after deciding to stick with Fields instead of drafting Alabama’s Bryce Young — the more defensible trade of the No. 1 overall pick for receiver DJ Moore and draft picks.

The GM extended Kmet and signed fellow tight end Robert Tonyan. He added veteran D’Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson to form a three-headed backfield.

“I feel like explosive plays and run-after-the-catch on offense is going to be better,” he said.

Poles used his first-rounder on right tackle Darnell Wright and gave guard Nate Davis a three-year, $30 million deal.

“I feel better about our setup in terms of the guys in front of him,” he said. “And the tackles, with [left tackle] Braxton [Jones] going into Year 2; Darnell’s doing a good job. That alone should help us. And then Justin’s ability to execute our offense more efficiently and get the ball out quicker, too.”

On paper, Poles said, he thinks he filled about 75-80% of the Bears’ holes — but admitted it’s hard to tell before Week 1.

“It’s hard until you start playing — just being realistic, man … ” he said. “When the lights come on and we play a real game, the energy levels differ, the speed is different. We’ll be able to evaluate that as we go through the season.

“But I feel good again. Just on paper, I feel good about the progress. And I feel we took a chunk out of what we needed to.”

The biggest chunks left to figure out are the two most important positions in the sport: quarterback and edge rusher. The Bears don’t have a long-term keeper at defensive end.

The verdict is out at quarterback — not coincidentally, the same way it is for the franchise.

“We’re in a much better place than we were last year,” Poles said. “I feel we’ve been able to move the needle and be in a position to go after our goals and to have more aggressive goals in terms of being a championship organization.”

The Bears will have to win more games — a lot of them — to get there.

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