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Chicago Bears and Ryan Poles will control the NFL’s offseason again

The Bears are in a fantastic place heading into the offseason.

SPORTS-FBN-BEARS-SWEAT-TB Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

General Manager Ryan Poles has the Chicago Bears in position to do something fantastic this offseason. What that ends up being is anyone's guess right now, but just being in a position to draft the top quarterback in the class or trade back to bolster his roster means that he and the Bears once again control the offseason.

Chicago is top ten in 2024 effective salary cap space at nearly $40 million, and while there could be an extension or two done, there are also a few veteran cuts made to offset the deals.

But it's their second consecutive first-overall draft pick that has everyone buzzing.

That in itself is worth lauding, but what they do with it is bound to split analysts and fans.

In a recent article at ESPN.com from Jeremy Fowler and Courtney Cronin, they explore both options surrounding Chicago's first pick. Trade back and roll with Justin Fields in 2024 and beyond, or keep it and draft their top QB on their board.

They report that Poles is set to return "per sources," but the article suggests that the future of head coach Matt Eberflus is still up in the air. With the Bears bouncing back after an 0-4 start and sitting at 7-9 heading into the season finale against the Packers, my guess is it would take an embarrassing game for them to move on from Eberflus.

While Fields has good relationships with Poles, Eberflus and all of Chicago’s decision-makers, the top pick offers the possibility that USC quarterback Caleb Williams, North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye or someone else could be a better long-term answer for a franchise that has not known true quarterback stability since Sid Luckman helped revolutionize the passing game in the 1940s. But Chicago’s embattled leaders, should Poles and Eberflus return, also need to win in 2024. Are they prepared to hitch their wagon to a rookie, even a supremely talented one?

A third season from a Poles/Eberflus pairing needs to be a winning one, and that's regardless of whether it's Fields or a rookie quarterback.

This is a good roster, and it will only get better with another offseason, but Poles has always had the future in mind with his decisions, and I expect he'll do the same when deciding on the best QB to lead his team.

It's a difficult choice, and the play from Fields and the Bears to close out the season has given Poles and the Bears plenty to think about, but he'll also need to think about his locker room and how trading their guy will affect the team's dynamic.

His teammates love him, but more importantly, they believe in him, and they've had plenty to say through the media the last few weeks.

"He's 'Him.' I want him to be the quarterback," receiver DJ Moore said about Fields. "I said what I said; now it's on the higher-ups. It's up to them."

"If we keep this group together, it could be dangerous. That atmosphere these last couple home games, it feels like playoff football. It feels like we're right there," safety Jaquan Brisker said via WSCR. "It means a lot that the fans had his back, because we have his back. That's all that matters. It means a lot to us."

"He makes plays like the Lamar Jacksons and the Patrick Mahomes', and guys don't really hype it up like they would other quarterbacks," defensive end Montez Sweat said. "I'm happy he's on my side."

Sweat has been on the opposite side of Fields twice when facing him as a member of the Commanders, so he knows what it's like to gameplan against him.

“No one in here thinks Justin’s not a top quarterback,” one veteran player said. “No one would tell you that. Everyone believes he’s a top-10 quarterback in the league.”

“It’s like, if you get rid of him, what are we doing?” a Bears veteran said. “It’s like last year when they got rid of [linebacker] Roquan [Smith] and Rob [pass-rusher Robert Quinn]. That was our captain. We knew we were going down.”

But the Bears need to explore all options, and that includes the financial one. As unpopular as it would be, moving Fields and drafting a rookie would give them four more years of the rookie wage scale, whereas keeping Fields would likely need to come with them picking up his fifth-year option and eventually extending him with a massive deal.

Sure, they could move on after 2024 if he doesn't make a year-four leap, but will they be in a better position to get a quarterback at that time?

If they stick with Justin, they'll be banking on him ascending into a top-tier QB while assuming the top rookie quarterback options don't give them a better chance for future success.

ESPN took an informal poll of league evaluators, and they were told that Fields would net them a second or third-round pick in a pre-draft trade this offseason.

They were also told that if the Bears traded the first overall pick, the "return could be immense."

Several executives agree Chicago could net more than it did in the Panthers trade, and from a prospective trade partner already picking in the top five. Those execs believe the price to get to No. 1 could be two future first-rounders on top of this year’s pick, along with a variation of a Day 2 pick and/or a premium veteran player on a manageable contract.

On Sunday, Fields had one of the better games of his career, and if he can stack another one in the season finale in Green Bay, that would really ramp up the offseason pressure on the Bears.

Buckle up, Bears fans; Poles will either trade the pick for an immense haul or trade Fields and draft his replacement.