Whether it serve as a smokescreen or to signal a legitimate franchise-altering move, speculation over what the Chicago Bears opt to do with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft will continue until they turn in their card or work out a trade.
Even after a season in which he was Chicago’s premier offensive threat, those whispers won’t exclude quarterback Justin Fields.
“I think they’ve already been saying that,” Fields said Thursday on The Rich Eisen Show about people questioning if he’ll still be the Bears QB in 2023. “How I look at it is just controlling the controllables. No matter what happens with me, I can control what I can control, and that’s how I approach the game. That’s how I train for the game and how I carry myself within the game. It’s just those three aspects to where I kind of just have to look myself in the mirror and say what can I control? And it is what it is, and just move on and be the best quarterback I can be.
“Now’s the time where I’ve been trying to grow personally, spiritually as a quarterback. So I’ve grown a lot these past few weeks in the offseason.”
For however much growth Fields feels he’s undergone in the time since his season ended, he did show some promising development during his sophomore campaign under center with the Bears.
He was nearly uncontainable on the ground, becoming the third quarterback in NFL history alongside Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson to rush for 1,000 yards in a season by finishing the year with 1,143. He showed flashes as a passer, too, although that portion of his second-year leap was less substantial.
He threw for 2,242 yards and 17 touchdowns while increasing his TD percentage from 2.6 to 5.3, and he saw his passer rating jump from 73.2 as a rookie to 85.2.
Still, his interception rate stayed roughly the same as it did the year before (3.7% versus 3.5%). And though his tendency to escape the pocket made every play a must-see, it belied the fact that his still-developing pocket awareness put him at risk for both turnovers and injuries — he led the league with 55 sacks taken.
Decision making and seeing the field comes with reps. Fields has still made just 25 starts in his young career, and if he marries an improved mental game with his arm talent and running ability it spells trouble for the rest of the league, but the fact that he hasn’t done it yet allows the draft questions to persist.
Part of that is by design. If the Bears want the biggest haul possible should they trade the No. 1 pick, it makes sense to allow it to look like QB is an option at the very least. They aren’t simply going to tell other clubs who they’re targeting.
As for Fields, they haven’t filled him in yet on anything, either.
“Everybody would love honesty in the process,” Fields told Eisen when asked if he wants to be clued in on Chicago’s direction in the draft. “I would definitely like to know that. It’s a business, so I totally understand. No hard feelings. But like I said, I control what I can control. Control my work ethic. Control how I carry myself each and every day.”
The process is still far from over with the draft over two months away. It’s possible the Bears let Fields in on their plans once they’re more solidified. While it’s also possible those plans could include starting over at the game’s most important position with someone like Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Chicago has far more glaring holes to fill as a rebuilding team on both sides of the ball.
For now, Fields will keep plugging away with his sights on putting together his best season yet.
“I think I’ve shown a little bit, but I don’t think I’ve shown the world what I can do in terms of playing the full quarterback position, and playing it consistently,” Fields said. “I think there were sometimes this year where I was better than others. Like my last game of the season against the Lions, that wasn’t a good game. So just being more consistent for my teammates, for my coaches and for the fan base. Once I do that, once I just keep progressing, keep getting better, then I’ll be good.”