The downside of the NFL Draft is that the best players often find themselves going to some of the worst landing spots for development. Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields could be the latest to fall victim to that problem, especially based on what we’ve seen this offseason.
When Chicago hired Poles as its general manager, he talked about the importance of creating an environment that put his quarterback in a position to excel, While he didn’t draft Fields, the Bears’ executive expressed the necessary desire to build around the No. 11 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Chicago was always going to be working with limited draft capital, operating without its 2022 first-round pick because of the prior regime’s decision to use it to get Fields. But the Khalil Mack trade gave the Bears a pair of second-round picks and enough capital on Day 2 that, along with cap space, could create a better foundation around the second-year quarterback.
Instead, we’ve seen the front office seemingly put its offense on the backburner. Facing criticism for not creating an environment that is better for a young quarterback, Poles denied the suggestion that he isn’t bought in on Fields.
“We’re all in on Justin. I believe in Justin. Our coaches believe in Justin. Like I said from the beginning, we’re going to set him up to succeed.”Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles on QB Justin Fields, via Courtney Cronin
It might be true for now. Chicago will start its 23-year-old quarterback this fall and let him develop through practice and game reps. But as we look around the NFL and everything that transpired this offseason, it feels a lot like Poles is creating a situation that will most likely result in Fields struggling. Given the state of the Bears roster, the Bears might be making a top-five pick next year in a quarterback-rich draft class.
Chicago Bears are failing to protect Justin Fields
It’s not like Fields walked into a good situation as a rookie. Former head coach Matt Nagy, who reportedly once no-showed for a meeting with Mitch Trubisky, could never make his offense work. The rookie quarterback was rightfully pissed about the game plan in his first start and the situation barely improved.
Chicago made risky bets on the offensive. Teven Jenkins, the 39th pick in 2021, missed a majority of the season due to a back issue. When he did play at left tackle, he allowed 11 pressures and drew seven penalties in 117 pass-block snaps (Pro Football Focus).
There were only two bright spots on the line, guard James Daniels (40 pressures allowed, 68.3 PFF pass-blocking grade) and Cody Whitehair (33 pressures, 61.3 PFF pass-blocking grade). Unsurprisingly, Fields constantly found himself under pressure as a rookie.
|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)|
The situation isn’t looking any better in 2022. Chicago let Daniels walk in free agency and it is keeping Jenkins at left tackle. As for additions to the offensive line, Lucas Patrick (67.3 pass-blocking grade in 2021) was the “big” free-agent signing and Poles didn’t draft an offensive lineman until the 168th overall pick, choosing a project in Braxton Jones out of Southern Utah State.
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It should come as no surprise that Chicago ranks 29th in Ben Baldwin’s offensive line rankings for pass protection for next season. This isn’t a unit with the talent or depth to protect a young quarterback.
Investing in the offensive line should be a team’s first priority when they look to build around their young quarterback. Not only have the Bears fallen well short in that regard, they also haven’t seemingly put a great receiving corps around Justin Fields.
Justin Fields must make something out of nothing
Protecting a quarterback is the most important factor in their success. Right behind it is an offensive system that highlights their strengths and mitigates their weaknesses. When all else fails, put game-changing weaponry around them and good things tend to happen.
That’s not the formula Chicago is operating with this season. There can be debate regarding the decision to hire defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus as the head coach, there is nothing to suggest quarterbacks can only be successful when they have an offensive-minded as the head coach.
However, Eberflus chose not to hire an experienced play-caller for the offense. Luke Getsy drew rave reviews from Aaron Rodgers, having served as the Packers’ quarterbacks coach from 2019-’21. While the 38-year-old did serve as passing-game coordinator in 2021, the scheme is created by Matt LaFleur and decision-making on play calls is divided up among the staff. Essentially, the Bears are rolling the dice on the potential upside with Getsy and hoping he is the next coaching savant.
He needs to be for this to work. As June approaches, the No. 1 receiver on the Chicago Bears roster is Darnell Mooney. Realistically, he’d be a No. 3 wideout on playoff-caliber teams. But Poles, Getsy and Fields need him to be a No. 1 pass-catcher. Behind him, are Byron Pringle (898 receiving yards in 46 games), Equanimeous St. Brown (543 yards in 37 games) and Dazz Newsome (23 receiving yards in 2021).
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As for Velus Jones Jr, we’re not optimistic. This is a 25-year-old wideout who spent six years in college and he still lacks basic fundamentals as a route runner. Realistically, he’ll be a better return specialist than help for Justin Fields.
This is the problem. Poles talked about being “all in” on Fields and his desire to put the Bears’ quarterback in a position to excel. Nothing Chicago did this offseason indicates that is genuine. It’s a stark contrast to what other NFL teams did in the past year for their quarterbacks.
Comparing environments for young quarterbacks
NFL teams should want to create circumstances that increase the chances of their young quarterback being successful. It’s not even a difficult concept to grasp. As you look across the NFL, both savvy organizations and those with checkered histories in the front office try to put their face of the franchise in a position to perform well and develop.
2022 NFL Draft winners and losers: Chicago Bears let down Justin Fields
New York Jets – QB Zach Wilson
- Signed offensive guard Laken Tomlinson
- Signed tight end C.J. Uzomah
- Signed tight end Tyler Conklin
- Drafted wide receiver Garrett Wilson
- Drafted running back Breece Hall
- Drafted tight end Jeremy Ruckert
San Francisco 49ers – QB Trey Lance
- Drafted running back Tyrion Davis-Price
- Drafted wide receiver Danny Gray
- 375.7 total ypg (7th in NFL) last season
- 84.5 PFF pass-blocking efficiency
- Skill group of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle
New England Patriots – QB Mac Jones
- Traded for wide receiver Devante Parker
- Signed tight ends Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith in 2021
- 88.3 PFF pass-blocking efficiency in 2021
- Drafted offensive guard Cole Strange
- Drafted wide receiver Tyquan Thornton
This is without even mentioning the Cincinnati Bengals building an elite receiving corps for Joe Burrow, the Los Angeles Chargers surrounding Justin Herbert with great weapons and investing in the offensive line, along with the Philadelphia Eagles trading for A.J. Brown a year after drafting DeVonta Smith.
This is how you build a team around a young quarterback who needs support for his game to grow. It worked out for the Chargers and Bengals. As for the Patriots, Eagles, Jets and 49ers, the 2022 season will allow them to do a thorough evaluation of their quarterbacks without any excuses for a poor supporting cast dragging them down.
Meanwhile, in a league where front offices are more reactionary than ever, Fields is largely being asked to improve on his own in 2022. If he doesn’t and the Bears have a top-five pick, there will be pressure to draft a quarterback with Fields labeled as a bust. If this is “Year Zero”, it comes at a far greater cost for Fields than Poles.
Maybe this is the outcome Poles wants and he’s higher on the 2023 quarterback class than he is on Fields. But if that’s the case, he’s using Justin Fields as a sacrificial lamb at a crucial point in his career and that itself is troubling. One thing feels clear, an ugly 2022 season should be a far greater indictment on the Bears than Fields.