NFL combine's biggest loser: Chicago Bears' trade market for Justin Fields

Bo Nix placed his passes with precision. Michael Penix Jr. threw with power. J.J. McCarthy was mobile, accurate and strong.

Yes, it was just a Saturday afternoon at the NFL scouting combine, college stars throwing against air. Yet with each impressive performance you could practically see the draft position of each quarterback solidified — first-rounders — just as the corresponding trade market for Chicago’s Justin Fields softened.

Chicago enters the 2024 NFL Draft in a position of strength and intrigue. The Bears hold picks No. 1 (from Carolina) and No. 9.

They can stick with Fields, who is entering his fourth season, as their quarterback and trade the top selection to a QB-desperate team. It would fetch a bounty that would allow the Bears to surround Fields with all sorts of talent.

Or they can trade Fields and reboot at quarterback with USC’s Caleb Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye or LSU’s Jayden Daniels.

Prior to the combine, either way appeared to be a win, especially when the quarterback market seemed somewhat limited.

Now? Chicago could still get something for Fields, just perhaps not what it was hoping for a few weeks ago.

The combine turned a draft that was top heavy with QBs — Williams, Maye and Daniels — into one that is also deep with QBs — McCarthy, Penix and Nix.

Previously, a team such as Atlanta, with the eighth overall draft pick, may have felt the need to grab Fields in the hope that the Falcons can maximize his talents in a way the Bears haven’t. Now, at least if the Falcons hold the consensus opinion of scouts following the combine, they may believe they have viable options through the draft, namely McCarthy.

Fresh off leading Michigan to a national title, McCarthy showed at the combine his size and arm talent. That won over some scouts who previously saw him as a bit of a game manager for the run-focused Wolverines.

Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson — after polling executives at seven teams — reported that McCarthy is now a consensus first-rounder. He likely goes in the top half, if not the top 10, of April’s draft.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy throws during the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

In other words, rather than give up trade assets to get Fields, who would require a $25 million payout in 2025 and an even heftier extension beyond that, the Falcons could take McCarthy without giving up picks and have him on a cheaper rookie contract. If that's the route Atlanta takes, that’s one prime suitor off the market for Chicago.

Penix and Nix further complicate things. While both are 24 years old after winding college careers, their on-field and combine play has left enough teams intrigued.

Penix must still make it through medical exams and concerns from an injury-plagued college career at Washington and Indiana, but his performance at the combine mimicked his huge season in leading the Huskies to the national championship game. To many, he had the best throwing performance of the group. He looks pro ready.

If his knee checks out, he’s a likely first-round pick — offering another cheaper option than trying to deal for Fields.

It’s the same with Nix. His arm may lack the pop of the elite draft prospects but his accuracy Saturday showed that his FBS-record 77.45 percent completion percentage last season wasn't merely the product of the Oregon offensive system. His footwork was also vastly improved and no one is questioning his football acumen or leadership.

If he can keep it up throughout the draft process, it is not out of the question that six quarterbacks are taken in the first round — or twice as many as some big boards predicted just a few weeks ago.

For Chicago, that could be a disappointment in an otherwise exciting time. Fields has shown plenty of potential in the three years since he was drafted 11th overall in 2021. He has dealt with a shuffling of offensive coordinators and head coaches, not to mention the general dysfunction of the Bears organization.

He could be a steal. Yet heading into his fourth season, he’s a more expensive gamble than a rookie who will play on an initial deal.

Is Fields worth a second-round pick? A third? Some combination of third day selections?

The better this crop of incoming quarterbacks looks, the smaller the market for Fields and thus the less he is likely to fetch. Individual pro days and private workouts are the next data points that could determine things.

The Bears are still in a nice spot headed into this draft, perhaps not as nice as they once hoped.