LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Bears general manager Ryan Poles backed Justin Fields as Chicago’s starting quarterback for 2023 and said he would have to be “absolutely blown away” to take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.
“Yeah. We had good conversations,” Poles said during his season-ending news conference on Tuesday. “I’m excited for the direction he’s going. As I mentioned before, he knows where he has to improve. I think he mentioned that the other day. We’re excited about his development and where he goes next. He showed ability to be impactful with his legs. There’s flashes with his arm. Now if we can put that together, I think we have something really good.”
The Bears entered Week 18 second in the draft order but then swapped spots with Houston for the No. 1 overall pick after the Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts 32-31. Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are considered the top quarterbacks in a draft class that could feature as many as four QBs taken in the first round.
Poles appeared to temper debate on whether the Bears would take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick after committing to Fields as Chicago’s starter for next season.
“We’re going to do the same as we’ve always done,” Poles said. “We’re going to evaluate the draft class, and I would say this: I would have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision.”
Despite the Bears ending the 2022 season on a franchise-worst 10-game losing streak and 3-14 record, Fields showed signs of improvement in his second season that has the Bears general manager encouraged about his development.
“I thought Justin did a good job,” Poles said. “I thought we changed a lot, we adapted, we tried to put him in a position to be successful, he showed the ability to be a playmaker. Be impactful. He can change games quickly. Does he have room to grow? He does. He has to get better as a passer, and I’m excited to see him take those steps as we move forward.”
The Bears owned the league’s top rushing offense and worst passing offense, with Fields averaging 149.5 passing yards per game. He did not play in Chicago’s season finale against Minnesota due to a hip injury, finishing his season 64 yards shy of the single-season quarterback rushing record.
In two seasons with the Bears, Fields has led Chicago to five wins while completing 60.4% of his passes for 2,242 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, along with 160 carries for 1,143 yards and eight rushing TDs.
Poles pointed to the discrepancy between Chicago’s rushing and passing game as a lack of chemistry with the skill players around Fields. Aside from wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet, who played with Fields during his rookie season in 2021, Chicago overhauled its entire wide receiver and tight end group in 2022.
“I noticed through the season that guys he had the most time within the offseason, that transferred into the season,” Poles said. “I think that’s why Cole had a helluva year. So, building that chemistry is big. And then just letting the game slow down to him. Everything’s new. This offense was new. You’re seeing everything for the first time. Time on task I think is going to help.”
Poles said he did not regret putting more offensive pieces around Fields as the quarterback improved during the season, citing that the Bears made uses of their resources to “the best of our ability” based on the players available.
“I wish there was a perfect scenario where you could just clean up everything and get good,” the general manager said. “So I thought we made, solid, sound decisions to do that. Yeah, I wish it was perfect across the board so it was clean as much as possible, but it just doesn’t always happen that way.”
The Bears did attempt to bolster the receiving corps at the trade deadline when they sent their own second-round pick (No. 32) to Pittsburgh in exchange for Chase Claypool. Despite his lack of production (14 catches for 140 yards in 7 games), Poles is confident that the wide receiver will contribute in 2023.
“That’s the difference between trades in baseball and basketball, it’s like plug and play,” Poles said. “There’s an entire offseason and half of a season of installs and all the things you need to do collectively to play and execute offensive play. On top of that, it was a little bit choppy with Justin getting dinged up, he got dinged up. So it was a little bit choppy of a start. I told Chase, and we had a really good conversation, I’m not blinking at that one at all. I think he’s going to help us moving forward and I’m excited about it.”
As Chicago turns the page to the offseason, Poles pointed out the “flexibility” the team has to improve the roster given the ample resources the Bears have, from over $108 million in salary cap space for free agency to the No. 1 draft pick.
While Poles dispelled the notion that Chicago will “go crazy” with their spending in free agency, the leverage the Bears have sitting in the No. 1 draft slot is not lost on the GM.
“We can evaluate the talent there, we can see what player presents themselves in that position to help us, and then we can look at the scenarios,” Poles said. “If the phones go off, and there are certain situations where that can help us, then we’ll go down that avenue too. I think we have really good flexibility to help this team, regardless of if it’s making the pick there or moving back a little bit or moving back a lot. We’ll be open to everything.”