There were fair questions for general manager Ryan Poles at the end of the 2022 season when the organization lucked into the No. 1 pick with a franchise-record 10-game losing streak and an unthinkable rally by the Houston Texans to defeat the Indianapolis Colts in the final minute of Week 18.
Poles said the Bears would have to be “blown away” by a quarterback to consider drafting one, and all signs pointed to the Bears rolling with Fields, something they affirmed before free agency when he traded the pick to the Carolina Panthers for wide receiver DJ Moore, the Panthers’ first- and second-round picks this year (Nos. 9 and 61), another first-rounder in 2024 and a second-rounder in 2025.
If you already are looking ahead to the draft in April, it’s an important Sunday in October with the Bears (0-3) hosting the Denver Broncos (0-3) while the Minnesota Vikings travel to Carolina in another battle between winless teams.
Some extrapolated that Poles was going betting on Fields in Year 2 of his rebuilding project, but that was a flawed way to look at the situation. It would imply Poles invested in the quarterback to begin with. He inherited him.
What Poles did was continue to play the hand he was dealt when he was hired. Naturally, the Bears needed to make moves offensively. No matter who was at quarterback, help was desperately needed at wide receiver. That would have been the case if Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton or Craig Krenzel were the starter. So Poles acquired Moore via trade and drafted Tyler Scott in Round 3.
The offensive line needed major work. The Bears signed right guard Nate Davis to a three-year, $30 million contract and drafted right tackle Darnell Wright in the first round. Davis missed two games after the death of his mother, and injuries have forced the Bears to scramble up front. Left guard Teven Jenkins suffered a right calf injury in a conditioning drill in Indianapolis, landing him on injured reserve, and a nagging neck injury sent left tackle Braxton Jones to IR as well. The Bears hope both will return soon.
The struggles on offense are across the board. The team isn’t running the ball like it did a year ago. Fields isn’t seeing the field clearly. Moore is tied for 66th in the league with 15 targets. He should have 25 or more. Scott has not been on the field much, partially because the offense cannot sustain many drives. He has five targets.
You can’t fault Poles’ logic in keeping Fields this season and attempting to put him in a position to succeed. It likely made sense to those throughout the organization. Fields flashed on occasion as a rookie in 2021, and the team had invested heavily by trading up to get him. If he clicked, the rebuild would be expedited. The Bears are maintaining a positive outlook about the possibility Fields turns the corner, but there’s not much else they can say at this point.
It is fair to judge Poles while charting the progress of Young, Stroud and Richardson. Stroud is off to an intriguing start coming off an upset victory at Jacksonville.
The maddening thing is Fields has appeared to regress through three games. Maybe the woeful Broncos defense, which was hit for 726 yards and 70 points in Miami on Sunday, will prove to be the antidote the Bears need. Maybe NFL start No. 29 will be a breakthrough for Fields, but the list of quarterbacks who have performed so poorly for nearly two full seasons of starts and then blossomed into a top-tier starter is difficult to assemble.
It’s also appropriate to judge Poles off the moves he has made. Davis needs to look like a well-paid upgrade. Judging him immediately will be challenging because he missed so much practice time. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, highly paid free-agent signings, need to provide sparks for a defense that is lacking. The trade for wide receiver Chase Claypool has been a dud, but none of the skill-position players are getting opportunities to flourish. Darnell Mooney had 36 snaps and one target against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The draft classes need to be examined as the season plays out. The Bears need to see Wright turn into a foundation for the line. Young players on the defensive line and in the secondary need to show growth. Poles was short on draft capital in 2022 as the bill came due for the trade to get Fields, but third-round pick Velus Jones looks like a wide receiver without a role.
An elite quarterback can be the ultimate eraser. He can make areas of deficit on the roster look better. Aaron Rodgers did that for years in Green Bay. When a quarterback is playing as poorly as Fields is, even positions that should look solid or even good are dragged down.
Maybe the Bears believed better pieces around Fields would make him better, but in the NFL, with elite quarterbacks, it works the other way. The quarterback makes the players around him better.
If Stroud continues to excel for the Texans — he has 906 yards passing, third-most all time in his first three games — Poles can be asked about eschewing the opportunity to replace an Ohio State quarterback with another Buckeye. If Young becomes a star for the Panthers, it was opportunity lost.
The 2024 quarterback draft class appears loaded starting with USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye, and the Bears look like they are on their way to being in need and position to choose one. If they do, perhaps all the struggles will prove worth it, but with 14 games remaining it feels a long ways off.
In the meantime, Poles’ work building the roster will be inspected, but he didn’t wager on Fields. That isn’t a chip that came from his stack at the poker table. He does have money on the table and will be pot committed if he winds up drafting a quarterback in April.
Russell Wilson, Broncos quarterback
Information for this report was obtained from NFL scouts.
Russell Wilson, 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, is in his second season with the Broncos and 12th in the NFL. Wilson had his worst year as a pro last season but has rebounded somewhat under new coach Sean Payton, completing 65.4% of his passes for 791 yards with a passer rating of 99.5.
Wilson is 2-2 against the Bears with the most recent meeting a 25-24 victory for Nick Foles in Week 16 of the 2021 season.
“Russell Wilson looked like a bodybuilder, last season and that is not the frame you want at the quarterback position,” the scout said. “I’ve seen where Payton said he dropped about 15 pounds since, and you can see the difference. Last year in Nathaniel Hackett’s offense, they tried to put him in a timing-and-rhythm system and make him a more rhythmic passer. That’s never been his game. He’s a very instinctualthrower who will voluntarily play outside of structure and move outside the pocket. He likes to make plays as coverage breaks down. When you put him in a timing system, that’s just not his game. That doesn’t mean he can’t throw quicks or play-action, but last year he struggled in a system that was very defined.
“This year with Payton, again it’s a timing and rhythm system, but Wilson is playing at a higher level than he did in ‘22. I’m not saying he’s Patrick Mahomes, but in comparison to last year. He’s getting the ball out quicker and seeing it a little bit faster. His eye level still drops at times, and he still drifts in the pocket and likes to play on the edges of the pocket. The biggest thing that has limited his production is he’s not using his legs as a runner anymore. He’s not moving to run like he used to, and that’s him being older in his career. Russell was never one of the most dynamic runners in the league but he used to be really efficient when he took off. That’s one thing that has changed. Very similar to what happened with Aaron Rodgers the last couple years, and it happened to Russell when he was younger. Aaron stopped running the last two years in Green Bay, and that was a big weapon for him. That’s where Russell is at this stage of his career. His instincts are high, but it gets to a point he just wants to go out of the structure to make plays, and that can wind up being detrimental to your offense.”