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Emma: Bears’ quarterback decision is becoming clear with Caleb Williams

5 months agoChris Emma

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The burden of expectations has been carried on Caleb Williams’ shoulders his entire football life. He embraces it.

Williams won a state championship in Maryland in what’s considered one of the greatest high school games ever played, and his legend only grew from there. He was a five-star prospect who followed Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma and went west for a brighter spotlight in Southern California, where he became a Heisman Trophy winner and the face of college football’s new NIL movement.

Next for Williams is being selected into the NFL. He is the presumptive No. 1 overall pick to the Bears in this year’s draft.

“I’ve put in all the hard work, all the time, effort, energy into being that,” Williams said. “I don’t think of a Plan B.”

Bears general manager Ryan Poles set out this week at the NFL Combine to consider not just Williams but also Drake Maye (North Carolina), Jayden Daniels (LSU), and of course three-year starter Justin Fields. He prepared himself to hear out trade offers for the first overall pick in the draft and listen on the market for Fields.

The goal this week for Poles and his Bears brass was to find clarity for this franchise-altering decision looming. But it has become ever apparent that Williams will be Chicago’s next quarterback.

Williams believes he can be the type of franchise star who changes the Bears’ long history of struggles at quarterback.

“I don’t play for fame,” Williams said. “I don’t play for money. I don’t play for jewels and things like that. It’s to go out there and win as many games as possible and be the best that I can.”

The Bears will open the door for Williams once they strike a deal for Fields, which could come to fruition in the next days or weeks. The Falcons, Steelers and Raiders are believed to be potential suitors for Fields’ services. Poles’ trade leverage is lost in part due to the depth of this quarterback class.

This week inside Lucas Oil Stadium, the Bears welcomed in Williams for their first meeting. While it was brief due to the structure of the NFL Combine, Poles and his brass got a sense for the type of person behind this dynamic quarterback talent.

Williams wanted the Bears and NFL evaluators to see his desire to be great.

“A true leader,” said USC running back MarShawn Lloyd, who has known Williams since high school. “A competitive leader, a competitive guy who does not want to lose at anything. Just a great person to be around, great character.

“Whoever picks him, he can bring all he has to the table. We’ve been seeing it the last couple years. I’ve been seeing it since high school.

“The best player in the draft.”

Once selected to the Bears, Williams will face a great challenge like none he has faced before. He will be stepping in with a franchise that has long sought a star quarterback of his caliber. Jay Cutler and Sid Luckman stand at the top of Chicago’s all-time passing leaderboard. Mitch Trubisky, the great disappointment of the 2017 NFL Draft, is statistically a top five quarterback in Bears history. The expectation is for WIlliams to be a transcendent star, and nothing short of that.

To be in this position with Williams is a unique gift after the Panthers (2-15) faltered as the worst team in the NFL following their deal for the No. 1 pick in 2023. Poles was willing to pass on Bryce Young – instead dealing the first overall pick for a considerable haul – and waiting a year for this deep quarterback class. The Bears found their pole position at the top with Williams in line.

Williams himself was attracted to the prospects of being selected first overall by a team that’s ready to win, rather than one starting from rock bottom.

“It’s pretty exciting if you can go into a situation like that,” Williams said of the Bears.

On Saturday at the NFL Combine, Williams will not participate in workouts with his fellow quarterbacks. He has also declined to take part in official measurements and medical evaluations. Instead, Williams plans to allow those teams he meets with to conduct their own assessments.

Williams has heard all the narratives out there throughout this process, including the false notion he wouldn’t want to play for the Bears. He is a polarizing prospect unlike any other at the NFL Combine, but undoubtedly a gifted quarterback prepared for this moment.

Should the Bears indeed call upon Williams as their next quarterback, he hopes to put the past away for a city long awaiting a franchise arm.

“I’m my own player,” Williams said. “I tend to like to create history and rewrite history.”

Move for Marvin?

Holding the second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Texans had a difficult choice between a prized quarterback prospect in C.J. Stroud and the top defensive player in the class in Will Anderson. Ultimately, they chose both.

The Texans selected Stroud with the second overall pick, then traded up from the 12th slot in the draft up to the third pick and drafted Anderson. In doing so, Houston paid a premium by sending the Nos. 12 and 33 overall picks in addition to its 2024 first-round selection. The two teams also swapped third- and fourth-round picks to compensate.

It’s an option for the Bears to consider as they explore the possibility of selecting the top wide receiver in this class, Ohio State standout Marvin Harrison Jr.

The Bears also own the No. 9 overall pick in this draft, a slot in which they can select a top target like Rome Odunze (Washington) or Malik Nabers (LSU). There will also be options like edge rushers Laiatu Latu (UCLA) or Jared Verse (Florida State) and potentially even tight end Brock Bowers (Georgia), the top player at his position.

But Harrison is considered a generational wide receiver prospect. He’s the son of Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison but thought of as even more gifted than his father.

This scenario for the Bears would have to play out with the right trade partner and paying a significant price. But that’s possible with the Patriots, who own the third overall pick and seem to be entering a rebuilding mode. New England could greatly benefit by dealing its top pick for a haul and focusing on the future.

The Bears would be jumping the line in front of the Cardinals, who could intend to select Harrison with the fourth pick as an asset for quarterback Kyler Murray. Poles would have to build an appealing trade package for the Patriots that includes the Bears’ No. 9 overall pick, their 2025 first-round slot and likely a Day 3 pick.

Harrison would not just be a key investment for Williams’ rookie season. He would form a dynamic tandem with DJ Moore, who had 96 receptions for 1,364 yards and 8 touchdowns in his first year with the Bears.

The Bears could boast one of the top wide receiver duos in the NFL.

“That would be scary, for sure,” Moore said of that possibility back in January.

Poles is more likely to stand pat with the ninth overall pick, where he can still select a gifted wide receiver for the Bears. But if he believes Harrison is Hall of Fame-caliber talent, it’s worth exploring a bold trade up to catch him.

Sharpen the edge

Coach Matt Eberflus wasn’t willing to share how the Bears may order their list of priority positions heading into this offseason. But he did point to at least a particular position.

“Certainly, pass rusher is one of them,” Eberflus said. “We got to make sure that we have somebody opposite of (Montez) Sweat. We can never have enough of those guys because they affect the game the most.”

Sweat was a Pro Bowl pass rusher last season after being acquired in a midseason trade. He went on to lead the Bears (6.0) and Commanders (6.5) in sacks last season. By landing Sweat, Chicago saw its entire defense bolstered.

But the Bears struggled to establish a twosome for their edge rush. Veteran Yannick Ngakoue finished with just 4 sacks before suffering a season-ending injury. DeMarcus Walker is a versatile and reliable player for the defensive front, though he’s not a proven stalwart for this unit.

The Bears will be active in seeking improvements for their pass rush this offseason. That starts in free agency and a veteran class loaded with edge rushers. Chicago could seek to sign Danielle Hunter (Vikings), Bryce Huff (Jets) or Jonathan Greenard (Texans) as potential complements to Sweat.

The draft will also feature some dynamic edge rushers to consider, starting with the No. 9 overall pick in the first round.

Eberflus could see this edge rush form into a significant strength to round out his defensive identity.

Brock star

The position of tight end is not exactly a great need for the Bears, who watched Cole Kmet produce a strong first season on his four-year, $50-million contract.

But the Bears can certainly make tight end an even greater strength by selecting the two-time Mackey Award winner Bowers with the ninth overall pick. Considered the top tight end in this draft class, Bowers is worth the Bears’ consideration in the first round.

The Bears met with Bowers this week as they give consideration to selecting him.

“I love watching Cole Kmet,” Bowers said. “He does a great job in all aspects of the game being a tight end. Yeah, it would be exciting.”

Bowers caught 26 touchdowns over three seasons at Georgia, including a school record 13 scores as a sophomore. He was a key player in the Bulldogs’ consecutive national championship seasons and now enters the NFL as a budding star in the league.

Bowers could well match Kyle Pitts (Falcons) as the highest tight end selected in the draft if he went fourth overall to the Cardinals. But he also could fall to the Bears’ position ninth in the order.

Justin out?

If the Bears do indeed move forward with their plans at quarterback, preparing to select Williams and part ways with Fields, the first moves may come before March 11.

That is when teams are permitted to begin open negotiations with free agents. All signings and trades can become official two days later on March 13.

The Bears are not putting a timeline on this decision with Fields, this as Poles surveys the market for a potential trade.

“It just depends on what opportunities pop up,” Poles said. “I will say this. If we go down that road, I want to do right by Justin as well. No one wants to live in grey, I know that’s uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want to be in that situation either. So, we will gather the information, we will move as quickly as possible, we are not going to be in a rush and see what presents itself and what’s best for the organization.”

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