Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles knows that owning the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft affords him the chance to select a potential franchise quarterback. But when asked about the possibility of his team drafting a QB with Justin Fields already on the roster, Poles made it fairly clear where he stands heading into the offseason.
"We're going to do the same as we've always done -- we're going to evaluate the draft class," Poles said, "and I would say this: I would have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision."
Fields is coming off a season where he made a run at the all-time rushing mark for a quarterback in a season, totaling 1,143 yards and eight rushing TDs in his 15 starts, coming up just short of Lamar Jackson's 2019 QB rushing record of 1,206.
But Fields also has work to do as a passer and with his pocket presence. The Bears finished the 2022 regular season as the league's 32nd-ranked passing team, and though Fields' efficiency improved overall from his rookie season, he still led the NFL in fumbles and sacks taken and averaged only 149.5 pass yards per game on 60.4% completions.
"Just for things to slow down mentally and then be able to react and anticipate quicker," Poles said when asked what more he wants to see from Fields. "Obviously with that, we also have to continue to build around him so that he can do that consistently, as well.
"I'm excited for the direction he's going. … He knows where he has to improve, I think he mentioned that the other day. So we're excited about his development and where he goes next."
Now that it appears the Bears are unlikely to use that first overall pick on another passer, what are their options there? Certainly trading down is one they'll have to investigate.
"I think we have really good flexibility to help this team, regardless if it's making the pick there or moving back a little bit or moving back a lot," Poles said. "We will be open-minded about everything."
The Bears vaulted the Texans to move into the top spot when they lost to the Vikings and Houston defeated the Colts on Sunday. The Texans currently sit in the No. 2 slot, and the Colts are a little behind them at No. 4. Both could be big-game hunting when it comes to QB prospects.
And depending on how the veteran portion of the offseason goes, via trades and free agency, there might be a handful of other teams picking just outside of the top five overall that could also look to make a big move up.
But it also has been a while since the top overall pick was traded to another team drafting a QB. In 2016, the Titans swapped the top pick (along with fourth- and sixth-rounders that year) to the Rams, receiving the 15th, 43rd, 45th and 76th picks in that draft, along with first- and third-round selections in 2017. That top pick became Jared Goff, who led the Rams to a Super Bowl and later was traded with first-round picks to Detroit in a salary dump.
Might the Bears be offered a similar haul? It's hard to imagine they would -- or that Chicago would want to slide that far back in the first round. Teams around the NFL are already grading the 49ers' trade for Trey Lance, costing them three first-rounders and a third-rounder, as a net loss even as Lance has barely seen the field to date.
But there's a potential irony here, as the Bears might be able to ask for a similar return to what the franchise gave up in its 2017 draft day trade to land Mitchell Trubisky. Moving from the third pick to the second overall cost Chicago third- and fourth-round picks in 2017 and a 2018 third-rounder. The 49ers could have maximized the value they received in that trade better, but they did land eventual All-Pro Fred Warner with that last of those picks.
Asked what positions the Bears most need to investigate, Poles said the Bears' evaluation will begin with looking at the "premium positions" and asking themselves if they can improve at those spots first.
"It's hard to identify that right now," Poles said. "But I always go back to the premium positions: We're always gonna look at pass rushers, we're gonna look at offensive lineman, corners. I always start with the premium positions to see, you know, are we good enough in those? And then move on from there."
The Bears lack their second-round pick (No. 32 overall, thanks to the Miami Dolphins forfeiting their first-round selection), having traded it to the Steelers for Chase Claypool at the 2022 trade deadline. Claypool has yet to show he was worth that selection, however, catching 14 passes for 140 yards in his seven games (three starts) in Chicago, with health issues compounding the matter.
So do the Bears have any regrets in trading away such a valuable pick for the receiver? Poles said it's too early to tell.
"I wish he came in, had 1,000 yards (receiving) and we're just going," Poles said. "But it didn't happen that way. But do I believe in the talent and what he can bring to this team? I do. To me, we've just got to take the next step and see how he gets implemented and how he does this offseason.
"He's going to spend a lot of time with Justin (Fields), as well as the other receivers, and build that chemistry. And we'll be able to evaluate that even clearer next year."