After falling 41-10 to the Chiefs on Sunday, the Bears aren't just 0-3. They're literally the worst team in the NFL, owning the 32nd-ranked point differential (-59) through three weeks. The worst part about it: quarterback Justin Fields is not progressing as expected.
Put it this way: even if the Bears had not been competitive in the NFC North, they might've been forgiven for shepherding a legitimate leap from their former first-round draft pick. General manager Ryan Poles said the team was "all in" on Fields ahead of the 2022 season, even though he didn't draft the Ohio State product. And most of Poles' 2023 offseason moves appeared to be with Fields in mind, adding new starters at wide receiver and along the offensive line.
Yet here we are, three games into Fields' third NFL season, and the QB might be further from "franchise" material than ever before. If this sounds familiar to Bears fans, well, that's because it is; we're only a few years removed from No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, another mobile project, flaming out amid a shuffling staff. But is it already time to entertain the possibility of Fields moving on?
Let's make one thing clear right away: Fields deserves better. His own issues aside, he's endured two coaches, two offensive coordinators and two GMs in less than three full seasons, and he's now worked under two regimes who've seemingly been reluctant to lean into his mobility, arguably his greatest trait. Fields made headlines ahead of Week 3 when he suggested the current staff was at fault for his playing out of character, trying too hard to become a pocket passer, and while you can nitpick his public method of highlighting such issues, the entire ordeal underscored the fact that he's never found a true rhythm in Chicago.
This is not a player who lacks starting-caliber talent within himself. Saddled with subpar protection and weapons for much of his time on the field, Fields made slight improvements throwing the ball from 2021 to 2022, while clearing 1,100 rushing yards and totaling 25 touchdowns in his first full year under center. That production doesn't happen by accident.
Pick Six Newsletter
Crafted By The Best NFL Experts
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
But with each passing week it becomes increasingly clear he is a schematic and stylistic mismatch for the very staff that deploys him. For the second straight fall, coordinator Luke Getsy has shied away from keeping Fields on the move or within play-action designs, and Poles' chief investments at pass catcher -- i.e. D.J. Moore, Chase Claypool -- have been far too mercurial to justify confining Fields to an oft-collapsing pocket.
Of course Fields deserves a portion of the blame here; he's been far too spotty with downfield decision-making, possessing a fatal penchant for crunch-time turnovers. Almost 30 starts into his career, he's still fighting to complete 60% of his throws, and he's averaged more than a fumble per game. When he's not scrambling, it seems, he's struggling. But if the Bears are so committed to making him something he's not rather than leaning deeply into his strengths, both in their half-hearted roster-building and stagnant offensive design, it only makes sense for them to begin exploring trade possibilities.
At 24, Fields only has one more year remaining on his rookie contract, unless the Bears exercise a 2025 fifth-year option that would guarantee him a projected $20+ million. While a starting QB's value can't be overstated, is there any scenario where Poles would eagerly guarantee tens of millions to this current version of Fields? Remember, it was basically only a year ago that the Giants declined to use the fifth-year option on Daniel Jones, who proceeded to earn a $160M extension this spring.
The Bears already own a pair of first-round picks in 2024, thanks to dealing this year's No. 1 overall selection to the Panthers in the trade that netted D.J. Moore. But they're off to such a bad start in 2023 that their own first-rounder could end up being near the top, if not No. 1 overall, again. In a 2024 draft class projected to be QB-rich, featuring top prospects like Caleb Williams and Drake Maye, it's conceivable they'll have a clear path to resetting at QB entirely. Which makes a potential Fields deal all the more logical; why not stockpile picks, unload future cash and sell the apparent non-fit at QB if an inevitable replacement awaits?
But Fields won't return premium compensation at this stage, you say! He looks more like damaged goods than a reliable All-Pro. Well, tell that to the Falcons, who aren't committed long-term to Desmond Ridder and whose director of player personnel, Ryan Pace, was responsible for moving up to draft Fields in Chicago. Tell that to the Raiders, who have no clear long-term plan of their own and whose assistant general manager, Champ Kelly, was part of the Bears front office that picked the QB.
Again, Fields is young enough to warrant more time. More help. More creative leadership. But if he and the Bears can't figure out a synchronized path forward, it's never too early to start planning for the future.