With the first pick in this year’s NFL draft, the Chicago Bears will be faced with an intriguing dilemma. Do they commit to starting quarterback Justin Fields, their first-round pick in 2021, and auction the choice to the highest bidder? Or do they stay put and draft another quarterback?
Given the quality of quarterbacks in the 2023 draft, it seems like a difficult decision. But I don’t think it is. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it’s hard at all.
If I were the Bears, I wouldn’t budge. I’d draft a quarterback.
It could be Bryce Young. It could be C.J. Stroud. It could be someone else at the top of my board. But it would be a prospect I believe can be – no, will be -- a difference-making quarterback. And that’s the key. It must be a quarterback I believe has the ability to get me where I want to go, which is the Super Bowl.
From what I’ve seen of Fields, he’s not that guy.
I’m not trying to disparage him. I’m simply looking at what’s the strongest – and wisest – move for the Bears. The future of the franchise depends on what they do with this pick, and, with rare exception, teams that go to Super Bowls – even teams that make the final eight of the playoffs – almost always get there with a difference-making quarterback.
Finding a Difference-Maker
Look at last season’s Super Bowl. It was Matthew Stafford vs. Joe Burrow, both No. 1 picks. The previous year it was Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes. Brady is the outlier here, and his story is well known. Mahomes was the 10th overall choice in 2017. Except for Brady, seven of the past 10 Super Bowl quarterbacks have been first-round draft picks, including five chosen first overall.
Peyton Manning was one. So was Cam Newton. So was Jared Goff.
Each one of those quarterbacks helped turn a franchise inside out. Where Indianapolis was 3-13 in Manning’s rookie season, the Colts were in the playoffs his second. Where Cincinnati hadn’t won a playoff game since 1991, they went to the Super Bowl in Burrow’s first full season as a starter (he missed half of his rookie year with a season-ending knee injury).
I think you get the picture. This decision affects the Bears not just for the immediate future but the next decade. Essentially, they must decide if Fields is a quarterback capable of taking them deep into the playoffs. If he’s not, they can’t waste this opportunity.
They must find a better option in this year’s draft. Then take him.
It's Been Done Before
It’s not an unprecedented move. In 2010, Carolina spent its first draft choice on quarterback Jimmy Clausen. One year later, the Panthers made Newton the No. 1 pick. In 2018, Arizona chose UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen with the 10th overall selection. Then, one year later, the Cardinals made quarterback Kyler Murray the first pick.
Quarterback is one of the most important – maybe the most important – position in all sports, in terms of driving success. If you have an opportunity to choose a difference-maker, as Carolina and Arizona did, you don’t pass on it. Between now and the April draft, the Bears will be offered a litany of trade proposals for the No. 1 pick, and the temptation to jump at one of them will be enormous. But they should just say, “No.”
Why? Simple. I like to play the odds. I don’t like swimming upstream. And the odds tell me that a difference-making quarterback changes everything. At the very least, he guarantees you’re good and gives you the opportunity to be great.
Which is where Fields comes in. I don’t see him as having the ability to be a great quarterback.
When you watched him this season, what do you remember? A lot of spectacular runs, right? But he wasn’t an accurate passer. There were four games where he completed 50 percent or fewer of his attempts. Nor was he productive with his arm. He had 17 TD passes, never threw for 300 yards, 12 times threw for under 200 and had 75 in his last start.
Granted, he wasn’t surrounded by an abundance of talent, but I look at him and see limitations. Maybe you could run an offense like the Eagles, which is a hybrid of the Baltimore Ravens’ offense, and be successful. But I’m not sure you’d have sufficient success to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender year after year.
In fact, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t.
I want a quarterback who can demonstrate the breadth of skill needed at the position, and I don’t see that in Fields. I have enough questions about him that I don’t believe he can do what you need to be a top-tier team. I also believe there are options in this year’s draft – particularly at the top – where you can find a quarterback who can.
That’s why I say this decision isn’t tough.
If I’m Chicago, I resist the temptation to trade down for a basket of draft choices. Instead, I would stay where I am and spend the No. 1 pick on my next quarterback – because he can change everything. Not just for now, but for the next 10-to-15 years.
Joe Banner is a former front office executive for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, and also served as a consultant with the Atlanta Falcons. Banner was a part of an Eagles franchise that made a Super Bowl and played in four NFC championship games. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeBanner13