Everyone gets nervous when Bears general manager Ryan Pace takes a big swing in the draft, and rightfully so. But this one is different.
Pace gave up a lot, including the Bears’ first-round pick next year, but he’s also getting a lot in Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. This is much different than when he bet the franchise’s future on Mitch Trubisky four years ago.
Fields fits every part of the criteria to be the Bears’ long-term answer at quarterback in a way Trubisky never did. There’s far more certainty and far less projection after he dominated college football the last two seasons.
Fields piled up 5,373 yards 22 games and threw 63 touchdown passes versus nine interceptions while leading Ohio State to the playoffs twice. He went throw for throw with No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence and had him on the ropes with two minutes left in 2019, then thumped him in the playoffs last season.
“I definitely think it will translate well, especially with the fan base,” Fields said. “I know that Bears fans are very passionate about football, and of course so is Ohio State, so it’s really kind of [the same] in terms of seriousness.”
That carries much more weight than Trubisky going 8-5 and losing in the Sun Bowl during his lone season as a starter at North Carolina. There’s a world of difference between their credentials.
So while the Bears settled for fourth choice among quarterbacks, opting for Fields over Alabama’s Mac Jones, the price they paid to move from No. 20 to No. 11 is justifiable for Fields. If he plays for the Bears as he did for Ohio State, no one’s going to worry about Pace selling off a first- and fourth-rounder in 2022 and a fifth-round pick this year to jump nine spots and make sure he got Fields before anyone else wised up and did the same.
It was a gutsy choice by Pace not only because he once again depleted the Bears’ future stock of draft picks but because there’s no guarantee he’ll get to stay long enough to see how this turns out.
Or maybe Fields buys him more time.
It’s difficult to decipher whether Pace made the selfless move by picking a player who might not contribute much this season, when Pace’s job is on the line, or extended his stay because Fields brings long-term hope.
Fields can save Pace’s job simply by not being a disaster, even if the season goes sideways for the Bears with Andy Dalton. If the Bears veer off the road early, Fields will get a chance to get his growing pains out of the way this season with an eye on breaking out in 2022.
As far as trying to win now, which seemed to be the Bears’ priority until this trade, the more prudent move probably would’ve been to draft an offensive tackle who could start right away. While that would’ve helped long term as well, there’s nothing exciting about it.
But Fields? He’s electric. And the Bears are rarely electric.
Fields has all the firepower they’ve lacked at quarterback since, well, maybe forever, plus incredible running ability. He was initially thought to be second only to Lawrence among quarterbacks in this draft, and the nitpicking that dropped him behind Zach Wilson and Trey Lance never made sense.
“There’s a lot of criticism coming from outside voices that didn’t really matter,” Fields said. “So I just did my best to cut all that out and really just get to work.”
All the Bears have to do — and this is the scary part — is not ruin him. Don’t fall in love with Fields’ phenomenal skillset this week, then spend the next four years trying to change him into something else. He can change everything for the Bears — if they let him.