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Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles staying ‘open-minded’ as he evaluates whether to keep Justin Fields or draft a QB at No. 1

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles returned to a familiar phrase Wednesday at Halas Hall as he described his upcoming evaluation of the team’s quarterback situation.

As Poles prepares to determine whether the Bears will stick with Justin Fields in 2024, he said he would have to be “blown away” by a QB prospect to draft one at No. 1.

Poles used the same phrase last year when he was looking at the quarterback class, and he ultimately traded the top pick.

But this is a different draft, and Poles made clear he is keeping his options open as the Bears go into “information-gathering mode” on a crop of quarterback prospects that includes USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye, LSU’s Jayden Daniels, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy.

Poles said his “brain has gone crazy” as he ponders the many scenarios that could play out. He vowed to stay “open-minded” and later added that he’s also ready to take phone calls on ideas for a potential trade.

So while the Bears announced decisions about their coaching staff Wednesday — retaining Matt Eberflus and firing offensive coordinator Luke Getsy — their quarterback decision is still up in the air.

“We are going to turn over every stone to make sure that we are going to make a sound decision for our organization,” Poles said. “I did think Justin got better. I think he can lead this team. But at the same time there’s a unique situation where I and our staff have to look at everything.”

The unique situation, of course, is owning the No. 1 pick for the second straight year.

The Bears were not blown away last year by a class that included Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson. Poles fielded offers for the top pick at the NFL scouting combine, and he made the deal to trade the pick to the Carolina Panthers on March 15.

But he’s not necessarily on the same timeline this offseason, which kicks into high gear with the combine Feb. 27 in Indianapolis.

“In my mind right now, I’m going to take this all the way to April,” Poles said.

Some of the most important homework the Bears will do over the next couple of months, Poles believes, is on the “person” behind each quarterback prospect. Poles said that process takes time — sitting down with the prospect to ask questions one-on-one and also reaching out to the people who know him best.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our ability to see talent on the field,” Poles said. “The human being we’ve got to figure out. Especially to be a quarterback in this city. You’ve got to have it right. You’ve got to have mental toughness. You’ve got to be able to block things out.

“Any time you have a passionate fan base, there’s pressure to be the best and to get over the hump and carry that team to the next level. This fan base is dying for that guy to do that. That’s part of living in the big city, that’s part of being a head coach in a big city and a GM in a big city. You’ve got to have thick skin and be able to block out the noise and go to work regardless of the ups and downs. Your family has to do that too. You want people that want to take on that challenge.”

Bears coaches have said Fields has that ability to block out the noise. It’s just that his improvement on the field under Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko, who also was fired Wednesday, was slow.

Poles and Eberflus offered familiar assessments of where Fields’ game is at after he threw for 2,562 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions and ran for 657 yards and four touchdowns in 2023.

In the second half of the season since coming back from a dislocated right thumb, Fields cut down on sacks and turnovers and made some strides in the passing game, including keeping his eyes downfield on throws, Eberflus said.

But when asked where Fields most needs to improve, Poles pointed to the two-minute offense. Fields’ fourth-quarter stats this season included three touchdown passes, six interceptions and a 53.4 passer rating.

“That’s a critical part that we’ve got to continue to get better at because that’s where you win games, close games,” Poles said. “And a lot of times when you look at the playoffs and championships, that’s where you close it out.”

Several of Fields’ teammates, including wide receiver DJ Moore, offered votes of support for him over the last couple of months, but Poles said he has to separate that from his evaluation a little bit.

“But I absolutely love it,” Poles said. “I mean when you talk about building a team, I want that type of support in the locker room. I want those guys when they go take the field to believe in the player that they have at that quarterback position. I want them to believe in the person to the right and to the left, so I absolutely love that. With any decision, I got to take the emotion out of it and look at the whole deal there.”

Given all of the work the Bears have ahead, Poles said he wasn’t ready to determine whether the team would pick up Fields’ fifth-year option, which is a decision they must make by May.

With the firing of Getsy, if the Bears want to keep Fields, he would have to play in his third offense in four seasons under a new coordinator. But Eberflus brushed off a question about the challenges that would pose for Fields, who hasn’t been dealt the best hand in terms of organizational and roster support in his three years with the Bears.

“Justin’s very smart, very intelligent,” Eberflus said. “He’s able to adapt and adjust, so I don’t see that being a problem at all.”

There is another scenario for the Bears — one where they would keep Fields and draft a quarterback at No. 1, setting up either a competition or a year of learning for the rookie behind Fields.

Poles didn’t shoot it down. It’s one of the many options that have been floating through his brain as he weighs the decision ahead.

“I’ll just stay very wide open with the different paths that we go,” Poles said. “And as we collect information, if that closes some of those pathways down, then we’ll move to some of the other ones. But I’m going to be wide open about this.”