The Bears made themselves a permanent punchline by trading up to take Mitch Trubisky at No. 2 overall in the 2017 draft, then watching eventual megastar Patrick Mahomes go eight picks later to the Chiefs.
In his lone appearance at Soldier Field, he mocked them for it by counting to 10 on his fingers after rushing for a touchdown on his way to a blowout and, ultimately, a championship.
The Bears will get endless eyerolls for that error.
But it looks like they’ll be the ones laughing about the 2021 draft, when several teams declined the opportunity to take Justin Fields. He went fourth among quarterbacks that year and lasted all the way to No. 11, long after the Jets took Zach Wilson at No. 2.
It’s possible neither Fields nor Wilson will play when the Bears visit the Jets on Sunday, but for very different reasons. Fields is on a seven-game tear that has rocketed the franchise’s hopes to new heights but has a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder), while Wilson has been straight-up benched for sputtering on the field and on the mic.
It has gotten so bad for the Jets that coach Robert Saleh said Wilson needs “a reset” because he can’t fix his fundamentals and prepare for games at the same time.
“Zach’s career here is not over,” Saleh insisted. He circled back with, “This is not putting a nail in his coffin.”
If it reaches a point where the coach feels that needs to be said publicly, it’s a mess.
Imagine if that was the conversation around Fields halfway through his second season.
Instead, he has reasserted himself within that draft class. He now stands right where he did as a college star: Right there with Trevor Lawrence at the top. There’s a solid case for either of them as the NFL’ most promising second-year quarterback.
Lawrence is the more prolific passer, but Fields is the best running quarterback in the league. Lawrence is averaging 251.2 yards passing and rushing combined for the Jaguars and has produced 16 total touchdowns this season, while Fields has averaged 225.1 and put up 20.
Mac Jones has the best passer rating at 89.3, but the Bears saw how shaky his job security is when the Patriots benched him during their game last month.
Fields is almost 10 points better in passer rating for his career than Wilson, and that’s with almost half his starts coming under Matt Nagy. It’s hard to have any read on Lance, who is out for the season with a broken ankle and has played just eight games.
It was a loaded, but strange draft at the position. Lawrence and Fields were the stars of the sport. Jones had just won a championship at Alabama. But Wilson shot up draft boards despite being relatively untested at BYU, as did Lance from North Dakota State.
Lawrence held his spot as one of the most coveted quarterbacks in recent draft history and went No. 1, but Fields fell behind Wilson and Lance.
After Lance went third to the 49ers, several quarterback-needy teams bypassed Fields: the Falcons, Lions, Panthers and Broncos. They weren’t sold.
The Broncos ended up sending two first- and two second-round picks to the Seahawks to get Russell Wilson and now wish they hadn’t. The other three teams are still searching.
Going into this season, the Texans’ Davis Mills — a third-round pick out of Stanford in 2021 — was ahead of Fields statistically across the board. Now it’s not even close.
He had no guarantees when the Bears fired everyone who helped draft him and brought in general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus. Now it’s hard to imagine the Bears spending their likely top-five pick in the upcoming draft on a quarterback.
Fields’ leap is a credit firstly to his own development and skill, but it’s also a result of the Bears cleaning up an egregiously bad fit between him and Nagy and bringing in Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.
Nagy made the same counterintuitive mistake with Fields that he did with Trubisky by steering him away from the style of play that had worked for him his entire football life. They heard “win from the pocket” on repeat. Nagy probably had it stitched onto a throw pillow in his office.
That’s no longer a saying at Halas Hall.
Getsy is a first-time NFL offensive coordinator and Eberflus is a first-time head coach, and neither has handled everything perfectly this season, but their willingness to adjust opened the door for Fields to show his talent.
He responded with a run that could alter the course of the franchise. The Bears have averaged 25.3 points over their last seven games, up from 16 over the first four games and 21 for the entire Nagy era.
If Fields and Wilson stay on their current trajectories, the Jets will join the growing list of teams that can’t believe they missed out on such a dynamic talent.