Success can be defined in different ways depending on the situation. Since we're talking sports, wins matter and is the ultimate success, but that's the end goal. There are short-term goals required before getting in a position to win games. The Chicago Bears went 3-14 in 2022, but the franchise's intention was to strip the roster down to the bare minimum, start establishing a culture, and determine which players would be a part of their future. Winning was secondary because the state of the roster lacked talent, and the outlook of the salary cap was awful.
Chicago's 2022 season was wildly successful if you look at it as the first step in a journey.
It was also wildly entertaining because of Justin Fields, who checks in as my Most Important Bear for the 2023 season.
It should come as no surprise. The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and during my time writing this series, I've only had a non-QB in the top spot three times.
General manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus laid the foundation for this franchise a season ago. A culture was established, the cap was re-set, they moved some veterans for draft capital, figured out which players fit their profiles, and most importantly, they determined that Fields was the guy.
Here are a couple of things I wrote a year ago when I placed Fields atop the Most Important Bears list for 2022.
How quickly he can put it together will determine how much success the 2022 Bears have, and while I do think Fields has what it takes to be Chicago’s long-term answer at quarterback, I also expect him and the Bears to struggle this year.
I’ll be surprised to see the Bears end the season with a winning record, but Fields and the offense will eventually click. Success will eventually come, and he’ll prove how important he is not only to the 2022 team, but to the future of the franchise as well.
Fields struggled early, but the situation he was in needs to be accounted for.
I don't think Ryan Poles was sold on Fields as his franchise QB and he wanted him to prove he was.
Part of the rebuild was stripping the roster down, but Poles did virtually nothing to help his young quarterback. He added Lucas Patrick to play center, but his other o-line move was Dakota Dozier. While Patrick had some starts under his belt and scheme familiarity, Dozier, who was running with Chicago's ones all 2022's offseason, was plucked off the Vikings' scrapheap. Injuries to both players led to Sam Mustipher slotting in at center, and Poles' other o-line additions didn't come until training camp, and neither of those players were necessarily good.
His big move at receiver was signing Byron Pringle, whom he hoped could build off some minor success in Kansas City, but Pringle was injured and didn't do much. Poles traded for failed first-round draft pick N'Keal Harry, but Harry was a non-factor too.
Poles gave Fields the worst supporting cast of any quarterback in the NFL last year, and all Fields did was put his head down and go to work. Fields' dedication to his craft and positive attitude were evident to Poles, but when Fields rose above the offensive mess and started to make plays, that's when Poles knew what he had.
On November 1, Poles traded what ended up being the 32nd overall selection for wide receiver Chase Claypool. The compensation was steep, but at the time, Poles knew he needed to add a receiver for his QB, and other teams were inquiring about Claypool.
Poles did what he felt he needed to do to get his franchise quarterback a weapon.
Hindsight is rough on that move thus far, but Poles continued his belief in Fields with the trade for D.J. Moore and in bolstering the offense at every position this offseason.
Before the Moore trade, Poles was doing his due diligence at the quarterback position since he held the first overall draft pick, but his decision to trade it to Carolina spoke volumes.
"My level of belief [in Fields] is sky high," Poles said on May 5 during a radio hit with 670 The Score. "The way this guy is moving around the building right now is he is locked on, he is focused, he wants to be great. He's a first-in last-out guy and he's pulling this team together. And you can tell the effect he has on other people. All these guys, they're showing up, going to work, doing extra with him."
"We're all in on Justin," Poles said in a second radio spot that day, this one with ESPN 1000. "I believe in Justin. Our staff believes in Justin. And like I've said from the beginning, we're going to set this up for him to succeed. I've gotten a lot of questions: 'But what about receiver?' We're going to do the best we can with the roster. We're going to improve the roster as well, but we're also going to [focus on] the scheme, the technique. Our coaches are hard at work, and so is Justin. Justin is grinding right now. He's putting in the time. The leadership is coming out of him, so I'm excited. I'm excited about him and what he's going to become here."
Justin has had a nice offseason getting accustomed to the new players around him as he settles into year two of the Luke Getsy offense, and he's continued that by working out with his teammates away from Halas Hall.
Per Simeon Kelley's IG story, #Bears QB Justin Fields is in Miami training. Fields told the media in June that he was going to get WR's, RB's, TE's down there to work out before training camp.— Zack Pearson (@Zack_Pearson) July 13, 2023
Getting better as a passer is a must for Fields in 2023, but more weapons, a better offensive line, and familiarity with the scheme makes me believe the best is yet to come.
"It's the first season I'm going into where it's my second year knowing the offense," Fields said via the team's site. "So [I] definitely feel more comfortable in it, just with my reads and stuff like that, just seeing what the defense is doing and stuff like that. It's truly amazing when you have that feeling going in, knowing where your guys are going to be, [being] more comfortable with the footwork stuff. It's been great."
Another thing Fields will have to his advantage is defenses wanting to make him a passer.
We've seen this notion come up with a negative connotation with previous Chicago quarterbacks, so how Fields reacts in 2023 will say a ton about how he's developed.
Defenses must be mindful of Fields' ability as a runner, both on designed runs and when a play breaks down and he has to scramble. RPOs and read options are another way the Bears can stress a defense with the threat of Fields. Teams will spy him, they'll contain rush him, and they'll stay on him a tick longer as he carries out his play fakes. This will lead to him getting a fraction of a second longer to read a defense, defensive players out of position, and it could lead to fewer defenders back in coverage.
From week 4 through week 15, Justin Fields was above average in EPA/Play, CPOE, Adj. Comp %, TDs per play (pass + rush) &Turnovers per play (INTs + Fumbles Lost). The only stat included that he was below average in was Sack Rate, which was still double the rate of the average QB. pic.twitter.com/0xd2lRLKq3— Quinten Krzysko (@ButkusStats) July 13, 2023
While Fileds became electric as a runner last year, to discount his growth as a passer points to someone just looking for a reason to complain.
The usual suspects of loudmouth, crybaby trolls have been out all offseason to discount Fields and the Bears, but there are plenty predicting good things for Fields in 2023. His coaches and teammates have been impressed with his growth and his leadership, but his opponents haven't been shy about sending praise his way either.
Even if Fields continues to grow as a quarterback, it still might not be enough for some critics who'll see anything short of substantial passing numbers in year three as a failure.
But this is year two of the Poles/Eberflus regime and year two of Fields in Getsy's offense. Success will be measured by improving on last season's win total, becoming more efficient as a passer, and continuing in his role as the face of the franchise.
"He's always the hardest worker," Eberflus said about Fields via the team's site. "He's always the first guy out, last to leave. He's always done that. But he is taking that to a different level in terms of being a vocal leader and talking to guys."
The buy-in is there from all 90 players on the roster, and their sights are squarely on building off last year's foundation.
"They've bought into our culture here, just competing day-in and day-out and really just having that championship mindset," Fields said in a recent chicagobears.com article. "We're all working towards the same goal, all working towards getting better… and we just look to take that next step."
What would you define as success for Justin Fields and the Bears in 2023?