As Bears interview Caleb Williams, they are the ones with a big question to answer

As Bears interview Caleb Williams, they are the ones with a big question to answer originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

INDIANAPOLIS -- The wait for the Caleb Williams show started early Friday morning inside Hall J of the Indiana Convention Center. The doors opened at 6 a.m. with Williams, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, slated to take the podium at 9 a.m. local time.

With Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, and Marvin Harrison Jr. slotted to serve as the appetizer for the Williams, the crowds grew as the morning went on. Harrison didn't show, but Daniels and Maye played their part as the opening act for this draft's best prospect.

Williams walked out from behind the curtain, stepped to the podium, and immediately was hit with an aggressive opening serve from deep in the media crowd.

Are you scared to be measured against your competition? Is that why you won't be measured against or throw against them?

And we were off.

To his credit, Williams handled his first dance with the NFL media horde like a pro. He was confident but not overly cocky. He gave direct answers, provided information about his decision to skip the testing and not give each team his medicals, and offered insight into what he's looking for in an NFL home.

For a guy who doesn't like to do interviews, Williams navigated the podium like a collapsing pocket. Expertly.

While the 15-minute media availability was for all the press attending the combine, the Chicago contingent understandably dominated the session, batting questions about the Bears, their roster, quarterback history, and everything else at the supposed No. 1 pick.

Williams gave no ground and, in the process, showed that a three-month dance that is supposed to be about the Bears interviewing him might exactly be the other way around. Williams is an elite prospect who doesn't have an agent, isn't giving every team his medical information, and isn't throwing at the combine because his tape is his resume.

If LeBron James started the Player Empowerment Era in the NBA, Williams might be the one who turns the NFL on its head. At the very least, he's going to do things differently. If the Bears want to make Williams comfortable with landing in Chicago, they will have to pass his tests just as he must ace theirs.

The week at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine started with Williams giving an interview to ESPN, saying he'd be "excited" to play for the Bears should they stick at No. 1 and select him with the top pick in the draft. Williams was saying that he wants to be the No. 1 pick. It's what he has dreamt of, manifested, and worked for. That's Priority 1 because it places you in the "one percent of the one percent" in history.

“It’s not a thought in my mind that I think I’m not going to be No. 1," Williams said Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I’ve put in all the hard work, the time, effort, energy into being that. I don’t think of a Plan B. That’s kind of how I do things in my life. Stay on Plan A and then when things don’t work out, find a way to make Plan A work.”

Bears general manager Ryan Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus, and the Bears' power brokers arrived in Indianapolis looking forward to sitting down with Williams and the other top prospects for the first time. Poles has noted the importance of getting to know "the person" who might be the Bears' next quarterback.

After all, if the Bears are going to move on from Justin Fields, they must be sure they are making the right decision.

But the Fields vs. Williams was never a real debate. The Bears have known for a while that Williams' talent is extraordinary. Teams have been talking about having the chance to draft him since he burst onto the scene at Oklahoma. The choice was always going to be Williams, but the concern was if the Bears would be the choice for the USC star.

Williams did his best to assuage some of those concerns this week. He said his first meeting with the Bears was good and pointed out how the 7-10 Bears are an ascending team in a much better position than most teams picking No. 1 overall.

“I mean the Bears was an [7-10] team last year that’s pretty good for a team that has the first pick," Williams said. "They got a good defense. They got good players on offense and it’s pretty exciting if you could go into a situation like that.”

That's a bonus for a player with Williams' potential. Bad NFL draft luck has eviscerated the careers of similar players given the "generational" label.

But Williams doesn't just want a good situation. He wants the right situation. One that's willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to putting the necessary resources behind Williams to get the most out of what he hopes is an iconic career.

“I want to go to a place that wants to win. 360," Williams said. "From the top all the way to the guys and down to the janitors and people that make everything run. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be part of that and we all take care of each other.”

It's not a question if Williams will play for the Bears if they draft him first overall. He will. He wants to be the No. 1 pick.

But manifesting the type of NFL success that Williams covets is about finding the right partnership between the young quarterback, the general manager, the head coach, and the rest of the developmental team.

For Poles, Eberflus, and the rest of the Bears' power brokers, the Williams courtship will test what they have built and whether or not they can start to erase a reputation for being a quarterback graveyard.

“They were awesome," Williams said of his first meeting with the Bears. "I spoke more about ball and things about that because the interviews are so short. It was more about them getting to know me, getting to test my mental, what I know, the base things of what it takes to be a quarterback in the NFL.

“Ten minutes is difficult to be able to figure out if they are going to develop you. I enjoyed the meeting. It was a good meeting. But 10 minutes or so is pretty difficult.”

As far as the Bears' long, winding search for a franchise quarterback goes, that might actually play in their favor with Williams. The USC star is not concerned about who came before him but understands what will allow him to make sure they mention his name when they tell the story of the NFL.

“I don’t compare myself to the other guys that’s there or been there,' Williams said. "I’m my own player and I tend to like to create history and rewrite history.

"I don’t play for fame, I don’t play for money, I don’t play for jewels and things like that," Williams said later. "Just go out there and win as many games as possible and be the best that I can. My plan is if I can be my best and play as many game as possible at my best, I think I can reach certain points like that.”

Caleb Williams wants it all. He wants to be great. To maximize God-given gifts that have placed him already in rare company. He wants to be immortal.

To do that, the team that drafts him must want the same.

So when Williams meets with Poles and the Bears' brass at his pro day and at Halas Hall, his fact-finding mission will continue as he tries to decipher if he and the Bears are a union that can change the course of history together.

"Just do you want to win?" Williams said when asked what more he wants to learn about the Bears.

That's a question the Bears franchise has struggled to answer for a long time. At Halas Hall, not being a disaster is often viewed as a victory. Last season, Eberflus cited the Bears "almost" winning a close game as proof of improvement. The end-of-season presser where Poles explained why he let the offensive staff go but retained Eberflus was akin to the owner of a shipping company saying the conductor shouldn't be fired because the train only went half off the tracks.

None of that will fly with Williams—both in the pre-draft process or once he gets into the building.

If Williams is going to be the type of franchise-changing prospect many NFL evaluators believe he will be, the Bears need to be willing to change. To show they are serious about winning. That decades of organizational incompetence are in the past.

Williams will play for the Bears if they take him at No. 1. It would be hard to backtrack after two public declarations.

But if the union is going to work and bear the fruits the Bears envision. They must show Williams they have plans to be more than they've been for the last three decades.

The final volley from the press offered a hint that the Bears-Williams marriage might be close to a done deal.

Have the Bears told you you're going to be the No. 1 pick?

Williams smiled, chuckled, and lept off the stage like he was evading a free rusher.

"Thank you, everybody," Williams hollered as he left the stage.

The Bears and Williams seem destined for each other.

But each party, the Bears more than Williams, still has some critical questions to answer before they can feel comfortable tying the knot in April.

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