The future of Chicago Bears football rests squarely on the right arm (and two legs) of second-year quarterback Justin Fields. The 11th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft is set to embark on his first full season as the Bears’ starter, albeit with a new head coach, offensive coordinator, and a slate of new wide receivers. The challenges are obvious, and they were present before free agency kicked off.
The Bears were expected to do whatever it took to ensure Fields would progress in year two. Upgrade the offensive line and add a legitimate WR1 (and then some); those were the supposed starting points.
With the 2022 NFL Draft officially in the books, the Bears are the subject of criticism for their apparent failure to meet this goal. Free agency produced a new center in Lucas Patrick and a trio of depth wide receivers in Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, and David Moore. The NFL Draft added a third-round wideout — Velus Jones Jr. — and four day-three offensive linemen. It’s unfair to suggest that being a third-round pick or later is an indictment of a player’s potential to star, but draft history tells us that the odds are against more than one of those draft picks developing into a starter.
Frustration with Bears continues to grow
National pundits, Chicago media, and even some Bears fans are frustrated with Poles’ approach so far. It’s important to note the ‘so far’ thing; free agency isn’t over and Chicago will have an opportunity to land quality veterans like wide receiver Jarvis Landry and offensive tackle Eric Fischer if they so choose. But even if Poles doesn’t add a veteran to the mix, it’s inaccurate to say he’s taken only minor steps in his effort to help his franchise quarterback.
“You could say he needs receivers, receivers, receivers,” Poles said in his pre-draft press conference. “But he needs blocking, too, and he also needs balance in terms of running the ball efficiently and getting that done upfront, and then you can do some play-action pass stuff, then you can do different things. Turnovers. Maybe a returner to flip the field to score more points. So it’s all connected.
“That’s really why the mindset is to get the best players on this team as possible. If I get too lopsided and be like, ‘I’ve got to do this specific thing,’ I think that’s where you lead into big mistakes.”
It makes sense, doesn’t it? Football is the world’s truest team sport. All 11 players on offense, defense, and special teams have to do their job to find success. And when one unit is doing its job, the trickle-down effect on the others is very real. Poles knows there’s more to Fields’ development than just wide receivers. If he doesn’t have time to throw the ball, it wouldn’t matter if he had Randy Moss running routes for him.
Bears GM Ryan Poles is sticking to his plan
Poles applied his philosophy to the 2022 NFL Draft. In the second round, he added two defensive backs who can produce turnovers and give the ball back to the offense. More opportunities for the offense means more opportunities for Fields to make plays.
In the third round, Poles drafted a wide receiver who can play a role similar to what Deebo Samuel does for the San Francisco 49ers: get him the ball quickly and let him do his thing after the catch. Offensive weapons like that make the quarterback’s job much more manageable. Plus, Jones has field-flipping ability on special teams. And the shorter the field, the easier it is for Fields to produce points.
On day three, Poles invested four draft picks on offensive linemen. Even if just one pan out, the pass protection in front of Fields improves.
It’s easy to say Poles hasn’t done enough to help Fields. There’s been no splash signing. He didn’t add a first-round wide receiver or offensive lineman in the draft. But what he has done is surround him with a new offensive coordinator and subtle upgrades at various positions, the cumulative effect of which will result in a better chance at success.
So, please, let’s stop suggesting Poles and the Bears have neglected Fields this offseason. They haven’t. Instead, Poles is building a well-rounded football team. And that’s all any franchise quarterback could ask for.