Bears’ plans for No. 1 pick taking shape at NFL Combine
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Well before arriving to the NFL Combine this week, Bears general manager Ryan Poles reached out to quarterback Justin Fields and informed him of what was about to occur. The outbreak of loose speculation and narratives was about to begin. His name would be connected.
Poles wanted Fields to know the Bears’ plans that have taken shape for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and how this franchise would approach its defining moment — starting with an acknowledgement of the future at quarterback.
There are perceptions and realities in play. It’s why Poles elected to be transparent with Fields. The Bears see him as their future at quarterback. But they want to be sure.
“Justin did some really good things,” Poles said Tuesday morning of Fields’ second NFL season. “I’m excited for where his game is going to go. But at the same time, when you sit in our situation at No. 1 overall, you have to do your due diligence. You have to investigate everything. You got to spend time with those guys just to make sure we’re making the right decision.
“We’ll be in communication with Justin along the way, just to make sure he knows what we’re doing and nothing is a surprise to him.”
The Bears’ brass will continue ongoing evaluations of prized quarterback prospects like Bryce Young (Alabama), C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), Anthony Richardson (Florida) and Will Levis (Kentucky) — each projected as first-round picks.
All four quarterbacks will likely meet with Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus and the Bears in Indianapolis this week.
“Just to get to know them,” Eberflus said. “Get to see their leadership skills, how they are as a teammate, their FBI — their functional intelligence right there in the meeting, to see how they think on their feet during the 20 minutes we get with them in this process. That’s what we want to do. We really want to work these guys and see where they are.”
But Poles has made it clear that the Bears would have to be “absolutely blown away” by one of these quarterbacks to make that the choice with the No. 1 pick.
That has not changed at all, Poles said, because of the belief in Fields’ future.
The most likely option for the Bears — as it has been all along — is for Poles to execute a trade of the No. 1 overall pick and seek investments around Fields. Those efforts to shop that selection have begun in earnest this week in Indianapolis.
Perhaps a dozen teams will be seeking a quarterback this offseason, and the draft represents the chance to solidify the most important position in sports for the long term. In moving forward with Fields, the Bears are presented with remarkable leverage for teams desperate to draft the top quarterback in this class. Poles simply must play his cards right in creating a bidding battle to trade up.
“If a team is in front of you and you’re only talking about one player, well, that’s going to leave two or three other players,” said Texans general manager Nick Caserio, whose team owns the No. 2 overall pick.
Is Caserio prepared to potentially settle for the second-best quarterback on his draft board? The Texans have been a franchise in disarray through recent years, one seeking hope in the form of a young quarterback. The Colts are in a similar position with the No. 4 overall pick. Those are the two most enticing trade partners for the Bears, a pair of division rivals who can attempt to outbid each other. By selecting second or fourth, Chicago can still likely land one of the two top overall players in this draft class — Alabama linebacker Will Anderson or Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter.
The Bears can select a transformational defensive prospect whom they valued as a potential No. 1 overall pick while trading down and stockpiling more draft capital. But teams like the Raiders, Falcons and Panthers — who select seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively — should also be involved in seeking a trade with the Bears as they too seek a quarterback.
These negotiations take form this week at the NFL Combine, which serves just as much for meetings between league personnel as it does actual scouting.
There’s certainly a benefit for the Bears to wait until late April and see through the best offer that lands on their table. When the No. 1 pick was last dealt in 2016, the Rams and Titans struck that deal on April 14 — exactly two weeks before the draft began. But Poles also pointed to the possibility of trading down before free agency begins March 13, which would offer a clearer picture of the Bears’ needs on the open market. Chicago has more than $100 million in salary cap space, by far the most of any team.
The Bears have the potential to rise from the bottom of the standings into a promising place, coveting a run of championship contention this franchise hasn’t seen in several decades.
As Poles settles into Indianapolis for this important week of work, he sees hope on the horizon.
“We have flexibility,” he said. “We have opportunity. We can gather all of that information, and I know our entire front office, our entire organization is pumped, just with the opportunity that we have to do something special.”