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Better Lucky Than Irrelevant: How Landing Justin Fields Might End Up As The Franchise’s Best Told Story

The glitter of the NFL Draft has worn off for most teams but the Chicago Bears are still sitting atop the highest of a mountain. Here’s a deeper luck into what went right on Thursday night.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Rewind back to January 13th. The Chicago Bears concluded a rollercoaster of a season with a disastrous season-ending press conference. Doubts swirled around the organization as many questioned general manager Ryan Pace’s job status. with some also wondering how safe head coach Matt Nagy was too. Yet, owner George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips took the “stage” to announce that both would keep their jobs. The decision itself caused outrage, but their words and lack of “conviction” irked most onlookers more than anything.

Despite the black eye, the team marched on with their off-season. One, that frankly started off as a disaster. The team scrambled to clear enough cap space to operate. Rumors of every available quarterback under the sun were conjured and ultimately they came away with Andy Dalton. As if the feelings around this team couldn’t get any worse, they released top cornerback Kyle Fuller in the coming days following their addition at quarterback.

To put it bluntly, all hope felt lost for a storied franchise and its fanbase. A story all too familiar as of late.

Behind the scenes, Pace, Nagy and their assembled staff of scouts prepared for a crucial draft. One in which they had their first, second and third round picks for the first time in quite some time. With so many needs, how could a team in their position “win” the draft and change the entire perception of their franchise over a long weekend?

According to SI’s Albert Breer, the groundwork for restoring hope for this franchise started last year when Pace reached out to Ohio State head coach Ryan Day early that season. They covered a bevy of players, but one of the primary focuses from Nagy was the recent Georgia transfer in Justin Fields, who had just come off an eye-opening 2019 campaign that was cut short in the college football playoff against Clemson. Day called Fields a “generational talent” and that truly stuck with Nagy.

Fast forward about 14 months and the Bears had been hard at work exhausting all options to improve their quarterback situation. After all, everyone knew that Dalton was not a long-term solution, but it was also the best they could do at the time.

Or so they claimed.

The Bears attended each top quarterback’s Pro Day in the last couple months. Some of that work was done in secret, while other visits were simply out in the open. Heading into Thursday night’s draft the team had a clear plan. That plan according to Pace had three levels.

  1. Find an affordable trade-up partner and deal up for a quarterback.
  2. Find an affordable trade-up partner and deal up for an offensive lineman.
  3. Make the pick at No. 20.

Number two on the list should be somewhat concerning, but it’s also a mildly understandable move from a team that came into the draft with so many pressing needs. The thought process being — If you can’t get your quarterback this year, build around the position for next year.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Bob Self/Florida Times-Union via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Luck Factor No. 1

The draft opened with some predictability. Trevor Lawrence was taken No. 1 overall and he was followed by fellow quarterback Zach Wilson at No. 2. Then we entered the first true obstacle. In late March, the San Francisco 49ers engineered a trade up from No. 12 to No. 3, giving up a king’s ransom in return. Everyone knew they were going quarterback but didn’t know who that quarterback would be. Still somewhat of a shocking move if they were truly undecided when making the initial trade.

Heading into draft week, it was reported that their decision was down to a pair of quarterbacks; Trey Lance and Mac Jones. Despite all of the smoke around Jones, it was hard to fathom Lance not being the pick at No. 3, right? Even so, the conspiracy theorist in most of us were wondering “what if it’s been Justin Fields all along?”. A few moments later, Lance was named the No. 3 overall pick and the anxiety-ridden part of the draft had began.

Luck Factor No. 2

The next hurdle was simple. Will Atlanta take a quarterback? Rumors were that they preferred Lance but maybe they saw enough value in Fields to shock everyone and pass on another talent? As draft day approached, rumors started to surface that they leaked interest in Lance simply to drum up trade interest in their pick. Whether we ever find out the truth is anyone’s best guess, but most breathed a deep sigh of relief when Kyle Pitts was announced at No. 4 overall.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Luck Factor No. 3

Going into the draft, the group-thought process agreed that No.’s 7-9 was where a team would make a move at quarterback. Whether that was Detroit, Carolina or Denver taking a quarterback or trading back with another motivated team. It was anybody’s best guess.

Detroit landed the top tackle in the class with Penei Sewell, Carolina went with cornerback Jaycee Horn and Denver followed with another cornerback in Patrick Surtain II.

The thought process quickly moved from this being the “sweet spot” in regards to a trade up, to the Bears are running out of picks to take a quarterback in front of New England. Despite each team making their own respective deals for a starting quarterback earlier in the off-season, they each had multiple rumors surrounding them taking quarterbacks in this range.

Luck Factor No. 4

This is one detail of draft night that will be vastly overlooked but might have been the biggest key of all of this.

At No. 10 overall, a rare inner-division trade between Dallas and Philadelphia was consummated. Both of Dallas’ targets at cornerback had gone off the board and Philadelphia desperately wanted to take receiver Devonta Smith. In the middle of No. 10 and No. 12 were the New York Giants, who ended up being caught in the crossfire. At the time, New York was rumored to also be in the market for a receiver, hence the trade up from Philadelphia.

This played a key part in the Giants being willing to trade down. Without this trade, Dallas goes elsewhere with their pick and Smith slips to the Giants.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Luck Factor No. 5

Before we get to the biggest cog in this puzzle, this key detail also played an important role. As noted above, it appeared the Bears were running out of options. If the Giants weren’t willing to trade out of No. 11, the Bears would have had to talk Dallas into move down another eight spots. If that didn’t work, the Los Angeles Chargers appeared to be locked in to an offensive tackle at No. 13. That would have meant the only team between New England and their pick of the final two first round quarterbacks would have been Minnesota.

On Monday morning, ESPN’s Courtney Cronin revealed that the Minnesota Vikings were indeed “shocked” that the Bears swung up a few picks in front of them and took Fields. Apparently, the Vikings felt they were in a prime position to take him at No. 14 but weren’t willing to part with any additional draft capital to guarantee him.

A trade from No. 14 to No. 11 probably would have cost around a late-third round pick, but it was something the Vikings were not willing to do. Whether or not they’ll regret that later on remains to be seen, but it played a big factor in the Bears’ final steps to landing Fields. This bombshell cannot be understated for one simple reason. If The Giants had two offers on the table, conventional wisdom says they would have dropped a few spots down and recalibrated their board.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Luck Factor No. 6

Now we arrive at the most crucial of the moves that needed to unfold for the Bears and that’s the Giants and their willingness to move down nine spots to No. 20.

In most situations this wouldn’t have been quite as big of a deal, but general manager Dave Gettleman had never traded down in any draft before Thursday night. It took multiple surprising picks and the board falling exactly out of favor for the Giants to make this move, and that’s exactly what happened.

This also required no other teams like New England, Minnesota or even Washington to make offers or be aggressive in doing so. Again, the chances of that happening were very slim. It also helps that Gettleman’s value of the Bears’ 2022 first round pick was as high as it was.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Pick

Finally, this brings us up to Thursday night with the Bears on the clock.

As we all waited impatiently for the next quarterback to go, news broke that the Bears were indeed trading up to No. 11. Whether that notification came via a phone notification or live on the broadcast, the question then became Fields versus Jones. Would Pace mortgage a portion of the future for the more bland quarterback in Jones or was this as obvious as everyone believed it to be? The ESPN telecast didn’t seem to think it was a clear cut decision. Frankly, you never know with Pace. Which is why most held their breath as the pick was being announced.

At last, the pick was announced and it was indeed Fields.

It truly felt like a franchise changing moment for an organization and fanbase that has been tortured by poor quarterback play for far too long. It only took six lucky factors and months of frustration, but the Bears appear to have found their franchise quarterback. Or at least, that’s the hope. At the very least, Fields provides a level of optimism that hasn’t been felt since the 2018 off-season.

How the pick pans out is anyone’s best guess and ultimately only time will tell. For now, Bears fans finally have hope again. While it doesn’t guarantee success this upcoming season, it does guarantee that fans will be fully tuned-in during the preseason and the debates of when Fields will actually play will run deep into the preseason. That alone is more than anybody could have fathomed just a few short days ago.

Oh, and do I mention that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers appears to be heading for a messy divorce before Week 1?

Maybe this past weekend will end up being a franchise changer in more ways than one.