Chicago Bears starting quarterback Justin Fields showed flashes of promise in his rookie season. If the franchise wants him to live up to the potential, warranting the cost of two first-round picks, general manager Ryan Poles needs to do a lot of work this offseason.
We’re already seeing Poles chart a path towards clearing out much of the remnants left from Ryan Pace. While only receiving second- and sixth-round picks in the Khalil Mack trade seems light a light return, Chicago prioritized cap flexibility.
Fans won’t see the biggest impact from it this year. Dealing Mack still leaves $24 million in dead money on Chicago’s books and creates just $6 million in space for the 2022 NFL salary cap. However, per OvertheCap.com, the Bears are projected to have $121.4 million in cap space next year.
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Plus, Chicago picked up the 48th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft from the Los Angeles Chargers. Poles now possesses three top-75 picks and that bodes well in a draft class rich with talent at key areas of need on the Bears’ roster.
Before examining our blueprint for how the Bears can start building around Justin Fields in 2022, let’s review where things went wrong.
How the Chicago Bears set Justin Fields up to fail as a rookie
I’ll be the first to admit that I called for Chicago to start Fields after the preseason. While quarterback Andy Dalton might still be a viable fill-in starter, reps are the most important thing. NFL rules adopted to reduce practicing in the summer have proven costly for the development of young signal-callers.
Ultimately, former head coach Matt Nagy felt differently about the situation. But Fields made his first NFL start in Week 3 and it went poorly, finishing with a 27.7 quarterback rating and a 46.1% completion rate. Through his first two games, Fields made poor decisions, missed plenty of throws and held on to the football far too long.
- Justin Fields stats (Week 2-3): 12-of-33 (36.4%), 128 passing yards, 0-1 TD-INT, 11 sacks, 3.88 ypa
He showed improvement as he gained more experience. Across his next five starts, Fields completed 65% of his pass attempts and averaged 6.9 yards per attempt. Unfortunately, he struggled to protect the football (6 interceptions,7 fumbles) and took 15 sacks.
Before an injury ended his rookie season prematurely, Fields walked away with his best performance of the season against the Minnesota Vikings.
- Justin Fields vs MIN: 26-of-39 (66.7%), 285 passing yards, 1-0 TD-INT, 96.6 QB rating, 7.3 ypa
It wasn’t the season Fields wanted to have and it dampened some of the buzz on the uber-talented quarterback coming out of the 2021 NFL Draft. However, Chicago deserves a lot of blame for what transpired.
Just take a look at the Bears’ offensive line when Fields played in 2021. While quarterbacks are responsible for sacks, hurries and pressures fall more squarely on the line and coaching staff.
|QB hurries||Pressures||PFF Pass Blocking Efficiency|
|Bears’ OL w/ Justin Fields (Wk 2-14)||92 (7th most)||108 (10th most)||82.4 (4th worst)|
Keep in mind, Chicago wasn’t a high-volume passing offense in 2021. The Bears ran a passing play on 55.81% of their snaps, the ninth-lowest mark in the NFL. Yet, Fields faced the fifth-highest pressure rate (27.3%) among quarterbacks last season.
The rookie must shoulder some of the blame for not getting rid of the football quicker, it was a fault in college. With that said, it didn’t help that he didn’t get to spend all of training camp working with the starting wide receivers (Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney). Even if he did, Robinson seemed checked out on the franchise and Mooney is a No. 2 receiver at best.
Simply put, Nagy and Pace put Fields in a situation engineered for failure. Thankfully, a new regime can change things.
Building a new offense for Justin Fields
As of now, the Chicago Bears project to have approximately $25-$30 million in cap space this offseason, depending on potential cap casualties (Danny Trevathan, Nick Foles) and contract extensions. It’s not enough to make a huge splash in the market, but Chicago can start building a better structure around the face of its franchise.
Almost the entire Bears’ offensive line could be addressed. James Daniels held up well at right guard this past season, but he is a free agent. We’d feel a lot more comfortable with Teven Jenkins if he shifts back to right tackle. Of course, that still leaves center and the left side of the line as potential areas to address.
Sign Brian Allen
It’s imperative for Chicago to fortify its interior offensive line. Fields’ athleticism is exceptional and quarterbacks who can roll out of the pocket want to know they don’t have to worry about an edge rusher pushing them into their guard or center. Allen won’t create a ton of pancake blocks, but he stays in front of his man. According to Pro Football Focus, Allen allowed just 3 quarterback hits and 20 pressures across 567 pass-block snaps in 2021. Plus, the 26-year-old center fits into the Bears’ window and he grew up in Illinois.
- Contract: 4 years, $27 million
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Chicago Bears re-sign James Daniels
It’s important to maintain some continuity, even with the arrival of a new coaching staff. One aspect we’re considering, offensive linemen like knowing what a mobile quarterback is doing and that comes with experience. Daniels is already familiar with how Fields moves around the pocket and when the gets rid of the football. Plus, the 6-foot-4 guard thrived is both a capable blocker in the pass and run. While Poles might not have drafted Daniels, he can send an early message to future draft picks by rewarding those who earned long-term deals.
Sign Christian Kirk
Instead of spending the Bears’ money on one player, spreading it around seems like a better alternative. Daniels and Allen are cost-effective options, allowing Chicago to target one of the second-tier receivers in NFL free agency. Christian Kirk finished with the 15th-most deep targets (23) in the NFL last season, a high mark considering Kyler Murray missed time and DeAndre Hopkins eats up a lot of targets. More impressively, signal-callers posted a 114.5 quarterback rating when targeting Kirk. He’s going to cost at least $12 million per season, but this is the kind of receiver you want Fields working with for the next three seasons.
Draft George Pickens
A duo of Mooney and Kirk provides Justin Fields with two field stretchers, but we want someone who can complement all of that. George Pickens made his return from a torn ACL during Georgia’s championship run, flashing some of the talents that led many to believe he’d be a WR1 over a year ago. Quarterbacks want a receiver with ball skills, someone who can snag catches through contact with their size and strong hands – Pickens fits that description. When Fields throws it up in Pickens’ general direction, he can feel confident a catch will be made.
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As for left tackle, the plan would be a one-year contract with Jason Peters and a Day 2 pick spent on his protege. Filling multiple needs is better than one, that’s what pushes us towards this plan over signing Terron Armstead. One thing we feel confident about, it would be great for Justin Fields.