Mié. Abr 17th, 2024

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One of the great questions of the 2024 NFL free agency period was answered on Saturday when the Chicago Bears traded quarterback Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a 2025 sixth-round draft choice that becomes a fourth-round pick if Fields plays 51% of Pittsburgh’s snaps in 2024, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The move ends the former first-round pick’s tenure with the Bears after three seasons, all but confirming Chicago will draft a quarterback — likely USC’s Caleb Williams — No. 1 overall on April 25.

Fields joins a Steelers team that has made numerous QB-related headlines in recent weeks, most notably their acquisition of nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson and the trade of former first-rounder Kenny Pickett to the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday.

ESPN’s Courtney Cronin and Brooke Pryor provide insight on the Fields trade from both the Bears’ and Steelers’ vantage points, including what comes next for both franchises at quarterback.

Does this remove any doubt the Bears will draft Caleb Williams?

Cronin: ​​The Bears are in the process of finalizing their evaluation of Williams and the other top quarterbacks in the draft, and they will arrive at a decision within the next few weeks. A sizable contingent from the Bears front office and coaching staff will be on hand for USC’s pro day on March 20. The team will then host Williams on a top 30 visit to get to learn more about him as a person.

All signs point to Williams being the top pick. Chicago will also formulate its contingency plan for potentially trading back a pick or two if its evaluation leads them to a prospect other than Williams.


Will Fields have an opportunity to win the starting job in 2024, or is this a long-term play for the Steelers?

Pryor: This is a long-term play. Wilson is the team’s starting quarterback, a team source told me. Fields is expected to join him in Pittsburgh to learn under a player who has been selected to nine Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl. But, of course, 66 quarterbacks started an NFL game last season, so just because Fields is not expected to start Week 1 doesn’t mean he won’t see the field at some point. In adding Fields for a 2025 sixth-round pick — which turns into a fourth if Fields plays more than 51% of snaps in 2024 — behind Wilson, who signed a one-year deal for the league minimum, the Steelers are addressing short-term and long-term needs at quarterback without giving up significant cap space or draft capital.


Why didn’t it work out for Fields in Chicago?

Cronin: Despite flashing potential, Fields never definitively answered the question as to whether he could become the Bears’ franchise quarterback. His mobility was among the best in the league among quarterbacks, but one knock against him was holding onto the ball too long, which often led to him being among the most sacked QBs in the NFL. Fields (3.18) and Russell Wilson (3.02) averaged the longest and third-longest time to throw over the last three years, respectively, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

Fields is entering his fourth season, and Chicago’s ability to start the clock over by drafting a quarterback next month is huge. Had the Bears stood pat with Fields, they would have had to exercise his $25.7 million fifth-year option by May 2 and start thinking about an expensive extension in the near future.

As the first wave of free agency winds down, the Bears’ depth chart includes new additions wide receiver Keenan Allen, running back D’Andre Swift and tight end Gerald Everett, along with returning veterans DJ Moore, Cole Kmet and an improved offensive line. Defensively, the Bears are in a good place with the likes of Jaylon Johnson, Montez Sweat and Tremaine Edmunds. The Bears believe they are ready to compete and want to shift toward a quarterback who is the reason they win games.

And with Williams considered a generational talent, the Bears felt it was the right time to move on from Fields.


How do Fields’ skills translate to Arthur Smith’s offense in Pittsburgh?

Pryor: Fields’ greatest strength is his mobility — he was the most prolific scrambler in the NFL last season with 1,359 yards on 153 scramble plays — but also like Wilson, he has the skill set to be a solid quarterback using play action. He completed 56 of 90 attempts for 718 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions off play action last season.

One of Smith’s top priorities is establishing a balanced offense through a strong run game anchored by Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, and Fields’ prowess throwing the deep ball can go a long way toward accomplishing that. In 2023, Fields threw seven touchdown passes targeting go routes, tied for fourth in the NFL, according to NFL Next Gen Stats — something Steelers wide receivers like George Pickens will appreciate. Although, also like Wilson, Fields took a lot of sacks over the last two seasons. Wilson (100) and Fields (99) have been sacked more than any other QBs since the start of 2022. No other QB has been sacked 80 times in that span, according to ESPN Stats and Info.


What made the Bears decide this was the best offer they could get?

Cronin: The Bears had hoped to land a Day 2 pick in the 2024 draft coupled with a 2025 pick that had the potential to escalate, heading into the combine in Indianapolis in late February, a source with knowledge of the team’s plans told ESPN. The parameters of the trade that sent former New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers (a 2021 sixth-round pick plus second and fourth-round selections in 2022) was what Chicago had hoped to model its Fields trade after. But as potential destinations quickly came off the board with Russell Wilson signing with Pittsburgh, Kirk Cousins with Atlanta and Baker Mayfield staying in Tampa, the Bears had to adjust the type of return they were hoping to receive.

A source told ESPN that five teams in addition to Pittsburgh reached out to Chicago, and the majority of those teams had envisioned the former first-round pick in a backup role. Additionally, the Steelers had been in talks with the Bears throughout the week of free agency and reached back out after sending Kenny Pickett to the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday. The Bears had an additional offer with stronger draft capital from a team with an established starter, per a source, but chose to send Fields to Pittsburgh with the hope of putting the 25-year-old in a position to continue his development — first as a backup to Wilson and eventually as a starter.

In Indianapolis, Poles said he wanted to «do right» by Fields, which included not keeping him on a team with a rookie and finding a spot where he could continue developing. In Pittsburgh, Fields will have that chance.

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