The Bears Have a Quarterback Conundrum: What Will Ryan Poles Do?

“There are three sides to every story: My side, your side, and the truth. And no one is lying.” – Robert Evans, The Kid Stays in the Picture

The incendiary quarterback debate in Chicago has raged since the Panthers started trending toward the worst record in the league. Will the Bears trade Justin Fields and draft a quarterback with the No. 1 selection? Will GM Ryan Poles trade that pick for a haul like he did last year when he acquired D.J. Moore and future picks for swapping first-round selections with Carolina? Nobody knows what Poles will do, but that hasn’t stopped Chicago’s rabid fan base from debating, often and sadly at a very personal level.

First and foremost, everybody needs to chill a little bit. This is not a life or death situation for Poles, Fields, Caleb Williams, or any Bears fan. Second, we can look for insight in a neverending stream of speculation but at the end of the day, IT’S JUST SPECULATION. The Fields/Williams debate has become so polarizing that advertising spam sites are creating nonsensical content with deceiving headlines just to command clicks. Nobody knows what Poles will do, nobody knows what he thinks he might do, Chicago’s third-year GM included.

With that in mind, don’t let Average Joe on Facebook or Twitter trigger you, because five years from now it won’t matter much who was right and who wasn’t. The level of insight by reporters and bloggers, including me, can be boiled down to one word: Perhaps. There is not a single person on this planet who knows how it’s all going to play out, so let’s keep our sanity.

The debate has taken all of the fun out of offseason discussions, mock drafts, scouting combines, and the new NFL season, which is just five weeks away. I would prefer the Bears keep Fields, but I can’t see it happening unless a lot of things fall Fields’ way. Mind you, this is just speculation on my part. Here’s what’s working against Fields:

  1. Poles has to be able to exact the tax he feels that first pick is worth. It has to exceed what the Panthers gave him for last year’s pick because Williams, by all accounts, is better than any of last year’s quarterback class, including Pro Bowler C.J. Stroud and first-overall pick Bryce Young. Does that deal exist? Perhaps. But Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels are very good signal callers, too. That robs Poles of the leverage he had last year when it was effectively a two-quarterback draft.
  2. Poles can’t trade down unless he prefers Maye or Daniels over Williams or a player at another position, such as Marvin Harrison Jr. Daniels and Fields are similar in talent, Williams is head and shoulders at the top of the class, and Maye is a more typical pocket passer. Harrison Jr. has the highest grade among all players in the draft.
  3. Poles has little regard for the players he inherited from Ryan Pace. Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Roquan Smith, and David Montgomery are former Bears stars who have left the organization. Darnell Mooney, Eddie Jackson, and Jaylon Johnson could join that group this spring. There is no doubt Poles envisions a roster absent of everybody he was handed, with the only exceptions being Cole Kmet and Cairo Santos. Kmet signed a team-friendly extension last year, and Santos earned his contract because of his consistency. Will Fields join them? He’s going to have to come cheap, and that still might not be enough to keep him around.
  4. Poles doesn’t believe that the improvement from last year to this year was a fluke. He would be incredibly poor at his job if he did, and it would contradict his decision to retain head coach Matt Eberflus at the expense of Luke Getsy and his staff. The Bears were 7-10 in 2023 but blew double-digit fourth-quarter leads three times. Chicago is on the cusp of playoff contention, and adding a rookie quarterback won’t change that. There will be growing pains, but the Bears are going to win because of their defense. If Poles believes 2023 was a fluke, he might be more inclined to focus on other position groups and keep Fields for one more year, minimally.
  5. It’s time to stop making Getsy, a poor offensive line, and a lack of playmakers an excuse for Fields. While all those things impacted his poor performance, Poles expects to improve those groups this offseason. That will also improve the quarterback play in 2024 no matter who’s standing behind the center. In other words, Poles will feel comfortable with Fields or a rookie as long as he gives either the best chance to succeed, which is his job as GM by the way.
  6. The Bears could sign a veteran starting quarterback as a one-year stopgap in free agency. Kirk Cousins immediately comes to mind, and a case could be made for Baker Mayfield, too. Poles could draft Williams or Maye at No. 1 and let him work his way toward QB1 as the season progresses without hurting his team’s playoff chances. That’s how the Chiefs developed Patrick Mahomes and it would make an awful lot of sense to do that for Williams. That veteran stopgap won’t be Fields, however, especially if Chicago refuses to option that coveted fifth year. Signing someone like Cousins to a one- or two-year contract would indicate Poles intends to deal Fields and keep the top pick to draft an eventual starter and franchise quarterback at No.1 or No. 9.
  7. The scouting community believes Williams is the next Mahomes. I’m not talking about pay-per-click analysts like Mel Kiper Jr., either. Most NFL analysts believe Williams will be elite as an NFL quarterback and Poles may believe that too. At the same time, those same scouts are in near-universal agreement that Fields will not improve enough to take the chance on passing on one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft.

At this point, you probably believe I’ve talked myself out of retaining Fields, and that’s a fair assumption. Some things are working in the fourth-year quarterback’s favor, however.

  1. This year’s draft is very top-heavy, and the players available on Day 3 are said to be the weakest group in years. Because Chicago still has so many needs, it may behoove Poles to accumulate as many Day 1 and Day 2 picks as possible. He can do that by trading the No. 1 pick, but Fields could garner a couple of second/third-round picks, too. Poles has his own draft board and will stick to it without fail, for better or worse. If he thinks keeping Fields and trading the top pick will get him the players he wants, that’s what he’ll do.
  2. The guys making the decisions preached continuity at season’s end. That includes Poles, Eberflus, team president Kevin Warren, and probably the McCaskeys. That’s been an organizational foundation since George Halas roamed the sidelines as head coach and it’s not going to change. Poles is allegedly calling the shots, but you can bet your ass he’s doing so within the framework of the business.
  3. Fields is genuinely loved by his teammates and by opposing players league-wide. The Bears locker room won’t mutiny if QB1 is dealt, but they value continuity too, and believe Fields is still improving. It’s easy to ignore the gaps in his game and fall in love with the athleticism and that has merit. You can coach a quarterback out of bad habits, but you can’t create freak athleticism in the training room. Fields has improved, but perhaps (there’s that word again) too little too late.
  4. New offensive coordinator Shane Waldon resurrected the career of Geno Smith and could do the same for Fields. That said, he may prefer a quarterback more analogous to his system, which could theoretically remove Fields and push the Bears toward Williams or Maye. That’s exactly what Poles and Eberflus wanted when they announced the hire. It gives the Bears flexibility, but it also makes their preference at quarterback harder to gauge.

Regardless of what lies ahead, the Bears are in an enviable position. They’re a 7-10 team on the come with the first pick in the draft and a lot of different avenues to improve the team. We should embrace the opportunity as a fanbase rather than using the quarterback conundrum for name-calling and finger-pointing. A lot of data and analytics will go into the final decision, but right now it’s all speculation, and nobody in your social media circle likely qualifies as an NFL scout.

There are 32 general manager jobs in professional football. Their opinions matter much more than the tens of thousands of fans, reporters, and bloggers who think they have all the answers. Will the Bears keep Fields and trade the top pick? Perhaps. It’s also realistic to believe that Fields has started his last game with the Chicago Bears.

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