clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

If Bears draft a rookie quarterback, beware your early expectations

Selecting Caleb Williams or Drake Maye atop the 2024 NFL Draft could set the Chicago Bears up for long-term success. — even if 2024 is a little bumpy.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

We can’t seem to escape the topic, so let’s go ahead and just lean into it.

It’s more likely than not that the Chicago Bears will draft a quarterback if they end up with a top-2 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. (Depending on how much they like other quarterbacks in the class, maybe they’ll even consider other rookies in the top-10.)

It won’t be because Justin Fields has been bad; he hasn’t been. But there’s simply too much logic in potentially resetting at quarterback if your goal is to own your division for years to come (as general manager Ryan Poles hopes).

Note that phrase at the end there: “for years to come.”

Does that mean 2024? Maybe not.

Now, being the football connoisseurs you all are, you’re familiar by now with the wide range of outcomes a highly drafted quarterback can have in the NFL.

Frequently, the highest-drafted quarterbacks tend to struggle more often than not in their first seasons — usually because the teams they find themselves on blow chunks.

Just look at the last two quarterbacks taken with the No. 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence (2021) and Bryce Young (2023). Lawrence endured an ugly 3-14 rookie season while dealing with Urban Meyer as his head coach and throwing to cardboard cutouts of NFL players, and Young (currently 1-14) is encountering much the same problem in his situation.

Lawrence has rebounded under Doug Pederson and an improved offensive staff, and Young may yet do the same.

Meanwhile, CJ Stroud, last year’s No. 2 pick, has shocked the NFL world with how quickly he’s become a top-10 quarterback. The Texans, who used the No. 2 and 3 picks on Stroud and edge rusher Will Anderson last year, have flourished under a new coaching regime that clearly has the young squad bought in on both sides of the ball. And Stroud’s development under offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik has been especially notable, along with the addition of dynamic rookie receiver Tank Dell alongside Stroud.

If you want to go back to 2020, Joe Burrow was having what looked like an MVP campaign before a torn ACL ended his season early despite a lack of elite weapons and a porous offensive line.

Kyler Murray (No. 1 overall in 2019) also had a strong rookie year on a bad Arizona Cardinals team.

So for those who think the Bears are destined to slip back into rebuilding mode with a new quarterback, don’t assume that yet. The Bears have the makings of a strong roster, with a No. 1 receiver (DJ Moore) and a growing offensive line already in place, that should be able to shepherd a rookie along.

But that doesn’t mean the playoffs are a given for the Bears in 2024 with a rookie quarterback. Nor should we have that expectation.

As positive as we should feel about the overall picture, especially on the defensive side of the football, this isn’t a fully rebuilt team just yet. Again, the offensive line, while improving, sits 24th in Ben Baldwin’s composite rankings of pass-blocking units. DJ Moore (80 catches, 1,123 yards) and Cole Kmet (66 catches, 571 yards) have been very reliable all year, but not much else has been in terms of non-quarterback skill positions.

The Bears will very likely add another pass-catcher to the mix to offset that last part, and the center position, by far the weakest link on the offensive line, will get an upgrade as well. Will it be the second coming of the Kansas City Chiefs when Patrick Mahomes stepped into the starting role flanked by Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and a grizzled veteran offensive line? No. But you could say it’s much closer to that than the 2023 Carolina Panthers.

What we don’t want to do, however, is get your hopes up for the playoffs right off the bat. (Not saying it won’t happen; just don’t overdo it.)

No matter how good they are, rookie quarterbacks take time to adjust to the speed and quality of the NFL game. Some of them — like Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels, for instance — could very well struggle with similar issues Fields does as far as taking sacks and fumbling the football. At least at first.

But the whole point of drafting a rookie quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick isn’t necessarily to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl in 2024. (Though if that did happen, it might well be seen as proof that better quarterback play was all that was needed to take the Bears to the next level.)

The real purpose of this is to build up to, as Poles put it, “take the North and never give it back.” This is about creating a perennial Super Bowl contender for 2025 and beyond and giving yourself time to build up the roster with a cheap, young star the quarterback position a la Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes and (somewhat accidentally) Brock Purdy.

If you have to sacrifice that to an extent in 2024 for having a roster and quarterback who could contend for a Super Bowl every year after, you’d take that trade-off, wouldn’t you?

That, more so than any short-term consequence, is what the Bears are going to look ahead to. Fields, while improving on the whole, hasn’t yet proven he can put a team on his back and carry it to the postseason, even if that expectation isn’t entirely fair given the continued rebuilding state of the offense and the fact that the defense wasn’t playing competitive football until Montez Sweat showed up.

But life’s not fair, and Poles’ duty isn’t to Fields. It’s to the Chicago Bears and their aspirations to win championships. It’s hard not to think those ambitions aren’t better served by taking the long view rather than a short-term gamble on Fields, however beloved he is or how much he was done wrong.

And if the Bears go that route, don’t make the same mistakes the Bears made with Fields. Don’t expect too much too soon. Give a young quarterback a chance to grow. Hopefully, they’ll become much better than what we’re used to expecting, even if it takes a year longer than you’d like.