Many experts were stunned when the Chicago Bears traded up to #11 in the NFL draft last year to grab Justin Fields. Not so much that the Bears made the move, mind you. Everybody knew GM Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy were desperate. They needed a quarterback. It was more that Fields was even available at all. Under normal conditions, it felt like he should’ve been a top 5 lock.
Yet, for whatever reason, the Ohio State star saw three quarterbacks go ahead of him, and then several seeming QB-needy teams pass on him later in the top 10. To complete the madness, Pace got New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman to do something he’d never done in over a decade of running an NFL front office. Trade down in the 1st round. It felt even at the time that the Bears had gotten extremely lucky to have landed Fields.
One year later, many draft experts realize they sold that luck short.
Albert Breer of the MMQB has kept in touch with several well-informed people around the NFL for the past couple of months. A few things are apparent when it comes to the upcoming 2022 draft class. It is a deep group in regards to wide receivers. There are several really good off-the-ball linebackers. Both bits of news are favorable for the Bears. Yet the most critical realization rests at quarterback.
“The quarterbacks are as advertised—not good. Most, if not all, NFL folks I’ve talked to have said all five first-round quarterbacks from last year are better than anyone in this year’s class. One source said he would take those five, plus the Texans’ Davis Mills, over the entire group. In that way, this feels a little like 2013, when the only quarterback to go in the first round, E.J. Manuel, was universally seen as a reach and turned out to be one.”
Now think about where the Bears would be right now if they hadn’t landed Fields last year. They’d be staring at the prospect of guys like Kenny Pickett, Malik Willis, or Matt Corral. All of them don’t seem to carry any sort of wow factor at the most important position in sports. If that weren’t bad enough, the veteran market isn’t much better. Jameis Winston, Mitch Trubisky, Marcus Mariota, and Teddy Bridgewater are the big-name free agents. Not exactly a compelling group.
So, yeah. The Bears should be grateful Justin Fields fell
This doesn’t guarantee that he is going to be a success. The 22-year old still has a lot of work to do before people buy into him. Still, his odds of reaching such levels of achievement are far higher than anybody the Bears could hope to acquire this offseason. Even the quarterback trade market appears to have fizzled before getting a chance to pick up steam. Aaron Rodgers is likely to stay in Green Bay or retire. Russell Wilson probably isn’t leaving Seattle. Even Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t a lock to get dealt from San Francisco.
It is becoming easier to understand why several GM and coaching candidates were so intrigued by the Bears’ job openings this year. There is a good chance many of them recognized how brutal the quarterback market would be this offseason. Taking their chances with Justin Fields was far more appealing than starting from scratch.
Weirdly, people should be thanking Pace.
The former GM didn’t make the trade last April because he saw what was coming. He was trying to fix the position he repeatedly broke with the Mike Glennon signing and Trubisky pick. His aggressiveness allowed Chicago to avoid answering the QB question this year. If Fields ends up becoming good, that move will go down as one of the best in Bears history.
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