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Justin Fields and the QB Rookie Contract Conundrum

Justin Fields will be due a new contract in 2024, how much will that impact Ryan Poles rebuild?

Chicago Bears Offseason Workout Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The 2023 Chicago Bears season is just a few months away, and this is a massive season for Justin Fields. Fields is entering his third season in Chicago, and after an offseason in which Ryan Poles added two new starters to the offensive line and four more legitimate pass catching options over the past year (Chase Claypool, DJ Moore, Robert Tonyan, Tyler Scott), he has set the stage for Justin Fields to have a breakout season.

If, for whatever reason, Fields struggles, the Bears have two first round picks in tow for 2024 and will absolutely be in a position to pivot away from Fields. But Ryan Poles, Matt Eberflus, Luke Getsy, Chicago Bears fans, and Justin Fields himself do not expect that to happen. They are all expecting Fields to break out and elevate his game to new heights.

If Fields does in fact do that, the 2024 offseason will have a major focus on extending Justin Fields’ contract. At that point, Fields will only have one season left under his rookie contract, and after that, he will see a hefty increase in his pay moving forward.

There has long been a discussion about the value of quarterbacks still playing under their rookie contracts and how valuable that is to an organization trying to build an entire roster. And make no mistake about it, a quarterback making $8 million a year versus $45 million a year does, in fact, have massive roster implications, but there has been a general idea that once that rookie contract expires, the door starts to close on a Super Bowl window.

That just isn’t true.

If we look at the last five Super Bowls, of those ten teams, half had QBs under rookie contracts (Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes (twice), Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts) and half had non-rookie QBs (Patrick Mahomes, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady (twice), Jimmy Garoppolo). So while it certainly shows that it can aid a team in a championship run, it certainly is possible without it.

But there’s one trend that certainly cannot be denied. The issue isn’t about rookie contracts, the issue is about quarterbacks outperforming their contracts. And that’s where teams need to focus.

Of those ten QBs listed, nine of them outperformed their contracts, and only one (Garoppolo) either was on par with his contract or underperformed it.

Paying Patrick Mahomes $50 million a year doesn’t impact the Chiefs because Mahomes provides more value on the field than his $50 million. Paying Kyler Murray $46 million a year has been a disaster for the Arizona Cardinals because he isn’t outperforming his contract. If Daniel Jones doesn’t continue to improve, the New York Giants are going to have the same problem with that contract in the coming years.

So when you hear NFL pundits talk about how the Bears’ failed to take advantage of Justin Fields' rookie contract window, while that’s true, it won’t be impactful if Fields becomes an elite quarterback. If the Bears pay Fields upwards of $50 million a season and Fields settles into the QB range in the 12-18, that’s when they will find themselves in NFL jail and unable to field a truly competitive team.

Taking advantage of a QB’s rookie contract only matters if that quarterback is an average NFL QB. If the QB earns his new paper and lives up to it, that has very little negative impact as to how the team performs moving forward.

So if Fields breaks out this year and the Bears pay him big dollars, Ryan Poles better be darn confident that Justin Fields will be a top 10 QB in this league moving forward. If it’s trending the right way, but some lingering questions remain, the smart choice is going to be to pick up Fields’ fifth year option and let him play out 2024 before you negotiate a new deal.

Will the Bears remain competitive after Justin Fields receives a new contract with the team? That’ll depend on just how good Justin Fields can be.