At least Justin Fields gave us a win before his fate as the Chicago Bears’ quarterback was officially sealed on Sunday.
If we’re being straight-up, Fields’ very first pass attempt of the game — a bone-crushing sack taken on a pretty clear blitz read where the ball needed to come out immediately — said it all: he’s not where he needs to be as a third-year quarterback.
As dysfunctional as other things were around him in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings (bad snaps, poor protection on his interception), Fields unfortunately proved he can’t consistently beat teams as a passer when under pressure and essentially caused his own thing injury by A. not throwing the ball to an in-breaking DJ Moore (a common problem) and B. not throwing the ball away on time.
Now, he’s got an injury to his throwing hand that could greatly hamper his ability to grip a football at best and could knock him out for the season at worst. Put that together with the fact that Chicago will very likely have the first pick in the draft one way or another, and the writing is on the wall, though it gives me absolutely no pleasure to say it.
It’s not all his fault: Luke Getsy and the Bears have actively tried to force Fields to be something he isn’t, and the coaching staff can’t consistently coach up the kinds of max-protect deep-shot plays Fields excels at, leading to a disjointed mess all around. It’s just time for everyone to move on.
You never know when the snap is going to be high and over your head.— Nicholas Moreano (@NicholasMoreano) October 17, 2023
Justin Fields just has to take off after Cody Whitehair's snap. pic.twitter.com/GA3rnuxrgc
As of now, the only quarterback-related question that matters for the Bears right now is whether they’re taking Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. One of them will be the future of the Bears, and Chicago has to pick the right one (if there’s a right choice) and pair them with a head coach who will get the most out of him.
(You’ll note I haven’t mentioned Tyson Bagent yet. That’s because Tyson Bagent is unimportant except as a potential backup, and that’s all the discussion we need to have on the matter.)
On paper, this choice could be a tougher one than you might’ve thought coming into this season.
Williams, the consensus top pick for a while, has stumbled a bit of late against Arizona and Notre Dame, which played the most aggressively disciplined defense he’s seen all year and picked him off three times last Saturday. A cynic might say the Heisman winner has many of the same problems Fields does as far as holding the football too long and trying to do too much under pressure. That would, of course, but too simplistic as Williams has displayed a far quicker release and more demonstrated ability to play in structure within the pocket. Still, calling him a better prospect than, say, Andrew Luck or Trevor Lawrence, is a stretch when you really dive in.
But make no mistake: Williams can throw absolute lasers from the pocket — with anticipation, I might add) in addition to making the kinds of rarified off-schedule plays only Mahomes, Josh Allen and prime Aaron Rodgers can boast of.
Maye, meanwhile, projects something like a Carson Palmer/Justin Herbert clone — arguably the kind of passer Fields should’ve been at this level — with machine-like precision throwing the ball down the field and every club in the bag you could want.
In a nutshell, either one is worthy of being a top pick. The question becomes which one you prefer.
After that, things stay even more interesting: what would you do with the second top-five pick you’ll likely have?
If the Bears retain the second-overall pick (which they currently have), trading down with a team that wants whichever quarterback they don’t take will net them an impressive haul, even if it’s only moving down one spot.
Sean Payton believes Caleb Williams is a 'truly generational player' & is good enough that somebody will tank for him+cause the NFL to move to a lottery system to stop it happening again— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) October 13, 2023
I bring this up for no particular reason this October evening...pic.twitter.com/yGqS2YKfeV
Moving down to No. 3 would be enough to take megastar prospect Marvin Harrison Jr. to pair with a new quarterback and Moore. Sliding down further leaves you in position to take a top offensive tackle (e.g. Olu Fashanu or Joe Alt), one of the best edge-rushers in the class (e.g. Jared Verse) of the next-best receiver (e.g. Rome Odunze, Keon Coleman) with a king’s ransom on the side.
(Personally, I’d err on the side of taking the blue-chip prospect like Harrison. The Bears don’t have enough of those players, and this one could make your rookie quarterback better immediately.)
Look at that: a Bears topic that’s actually exciting to talk about!
On the one hand, it’s thoroughly miserable to keep looking ahead with hope toward a theoretical future the Bears might find a way to “Bears” up rather than root for a winner right now.
That said, the goal should be to hunt for championships, not mediocrity, and the Bears are nowhere near either one at this point. Only three teams have made the playoffs since the NFL merger, and the Bears won’t be the fourth whether Fields or one of his backups plays the rest of the way. And even if they did, what would it matter?
With nothing substantial to root for this year, it’s time to do what we Chicago fans do best: look toward next year. Fortunately, that outlook might legitimately be bright. It’s got to be better than this, right?