Justin Fields is an elite talent. College coaches and talent evaluators saw his potential early, hence the reason he finished the 2018 cycle as the No. 2 overall recruit (and No. 8 all-time, at the time). Ohio State fans witnessed his greatness, as the Heisman finalist and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year led the Buckeyes to a 20-2 record and back-to-back College Football Playoffs. The Chicago Bears realized he was an NFL franchise quarterback... So much so, that they traded a future first-round pick to move up and take him 11th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for both Fields and the franchise, Chicago seemingly ceased football operations after that realization, and have failed to build any semblance of a competitive team around the former Buckeye. They have traded away or let proven talent walk, cut ties with potential mentors for Fields, and failed to address the offensive skill positions.
When I say that the Bears have failed to address the offense, that might be an understatement. You could make a case for Chicago having the worst offense in the NFL — and that’s saying something in a league with the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans. It’s almost as if the organization has a personal vendetta against Fields... or each and every quarterback walking the planet Earth, based on their history.
To celebrate Earth Day, the Chicago Bears are doing their part by recycling garbage quarterbacks! pic.twitter.com/T8jzkOaaAr— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) April 22, 2021
Chicago brought in a new general manager and a new head coach for 2022 — both first-timers. The new regime only shoulders some of the blame here, but their first offseason has been a swing-and-a-miss. The Bears traded Khalil Mack for peanuts, let Allen Robinson walk, and signed zero free agents of note. The “biggest” acquisition was probably Byron Pringle, a 28-year old wideout with 898 career receiving yards. Salary cap constraints did play a role, but there was talent to be had, and the Bears didn’t go out and get it.
The 2022 NFL Draft was slightly more fruitful (on paper), but the front office and coaching staff continued to ignore the offense. Chicago’s first offensive pick came in the third round (their 3rd pick of the draft), and the team took Velus Jones Jr. — who, on May 11, will become a 25-year old rookie wide receiver. Jones has great speed, and was a hell of a kick returner in college, but he only totaled 120 receptions and 1,434 receiving yards in college... over six seasons and 59 games played.
In the second round alone, the Bears passed on wide receivers John Metchie, George Pickens, Alec Pierce, and Skyy Moore in favor of two defensive backs. The team also drafted four linemen and a running back (6th round) to “boost” the offense. Frankly, it was gross negligence.
Beyond simply stumbling out of the blocks themselves, the new group in charge has also failed to right the wrongs of the previous regime. In 2021 – the year Fields was drafted – Chicago passed on a wide receiver until the sixth round, when they took Dazz Newsome. The year before that, the team took Darnell Mooney in the fifth round, and the year before that? Riley Ridley in the fourth. The Bears have not taken a skill player in the first round of the draft since 2015 (with the exception of a QB – former Bear Mitch Trubisky). They did not have a first round pick this year, but we already covered the players they passed up in the second.
Surely they have supplemented with free agents since then, right? Well, no, not really. The team’s last notable free agent signing on the offensive side of the ball was Allen Robinson in 2018. He proved to be a dynamic weapon for Chicago, but was only added to the team because he came at a discount. Robinson had torn his ACL in 2017, and the Bears got him for cheap(ish). After one down season in 2021, the team made little-to-no effort to re-sign Robinson, and he wound up signing with the Super Bowl Champion Los Angeles Rams. The damage in that relationship had been done by Ryan Pace (former GM), but the team still knew it was coming. Have a backup plan, for crying out loud.
Due to the ineptitude of the Chicago’s front office, I fear that Fields’ progress will be stalled by organizational malfeasance. He might also feel the brunt of the blame for team success — or lack thereof. But what is he working with? The roster around him is not a good one. And there is no amount of talent in the world that can overcome historically bad team-building. The Bears have failed Fields thus far, but I do not think Fields will be a failure in the league. He is just too damn good.
Fields is also a tough guy, as evidenced by his ability to perform while injured. In this case, he will need mental toughness to come out on the other end of this bad situation. Not every rookie QB is put in a position to win right away. Those who start are taken early in the draft for a reason. That’s the way it is. But we have seen plenty of young quarterbacks turn it around quickly.
Joe Burrow, another former Buckeye, is a perfect example. The Cincinnati Bengals were awful... like awful, awful when he was drafted in 2020. He got beat up, injured, and endured a ton of losing as a rookie, but ended up in a Super Bowl the very next season. It happens. The difference is, Cincinnati invested in talent to surround Burrow. Chicago needs to do the same for Fields.
I hope that the Bears realize the error of their ways before it is too late. Teams need offensive skill players to win games, and young quarterbacks need those weapons to succeed. I recently projected a high draft pick for them in 2023, but anything would suffice! Draft, trade, overpay, whatever it takes to build around your supremely-talented QB. Fields is the future, but if he ever becomes a thing of the past for Chicago, I would bet a hefty amount that he makes them pay.