“I don’t know why I did that…”
The admission was strange on the surface, but the fact that Justin Fields was talking about an interception that came right after he exited the concussion protocol makes it a concern. Fields cleared concussion protocol and there has been no evidence that he is suffering from any issues, but head injuries are tricky, and it isn’t extreme to suggest it was partly to blame for what is easily the worst interception the quarterback has thrown this season.
The larger concern is that was the second time he was checked by medical personnel in the game. Once again, the young quarterback was under constant pressure, despite coming into the game with a shoulder injury and a hurt foot. He injured his hip earlier in the game, then took an ugly shot to the back of his head.
These beatings have become a weekly occurrence. It’s enough to make you question this entire season or, rather, the roster moves that have been made since Ryan Poles was hired as the general manager last January.
It’s easy to say Poles’ decision to tear the roster down and build from scratch was necessary or that it is a good team-building strategy, but that seems to be much closer to wishful thinking than actual justification. None of the elite teams in the NFL got where they are by tanking. And, certainly, none asked their quarterbacks to make something out of nothing weekly.
Perhaps more concerning is the question of if he even actually intended on being this bad. If Poles’ plan was to tank, why did he offer 28-year-old Larry Ogunjobi a big contract? And why in the world would he trade a high second-round pick for Chase Claypool?
The biggest concern is his failure to build an offense around Fields. The way he went about the process was questionable as he mostly went after cheap players and, when he did use actual assets, they didn’t work out.
While Fields was under constant pressure last week, it’s worth pointing out that four of the five offensive linemen the Bears had on the field against Detroit were projected starters when the team entered training camp. The only starter missing was Lucas Patrick, who was horrible when he did play. The next biggest investment Poles made on the offensive line was Alex Leatherwood, who was a healthy scratch.
Then, there’s the wide receiver group. None of his three biggest investments – Claypool, Byron Pringle and Velus Jones Jr. have made an impact on the offense. All three were available last week, but didn’t catch any of their six targets.
Poles likes to point out a lack of assets, but that is mostly hogwash. While the team didn’t have a lot of salary cap space in 2022, they could’ve used some of the money available in 2023 to sign players. Even if they had spent $20 million of future cap space to help protect the young quarterback, they’d still have nearly $100 million to spend this offseason — about $30 million more than any other team.
Regardless, the problem isn’t the players he didn’t sign. It’s that the players he did sign aren’t good. It’s hard to ignore how the personnel misses are already starting to pile up. If we are to believe Poles is going to build the Bears into a contender, we also have to believe he is capable of evaluating offensive players, but there is almost no evidence to support that belief, though the sample size is still small.
If Poles truly has had an eye on the future, then protecting Fields should have been a priority last offseason. Even if Fields didn’t prove to be “the guy” they wouldn’t regret having solid offensive linemen or pass catching options for whoever the next quarterback would be, especially if it’s a rookie.
Instead, Poles enters this offseason needing to rebuild almost an entire offense around the quarterback, while also trying to improve what is the worst defense in the league.
The only way any of it makes sense is if Poles really didn’t think Fields could be a franchise quarterback. And we really don’t know if that opinion has changed. The last time he was asked about the topic — after the trade for Claypool — Poles still refused to commit to Fields long term, though was willing to say 29-year-old Eddie Jackson was a part of the team’s future.
If the Bears meet this week and decide one game is worth risking the health of a player everyone perceives is the future of the franchise, it could tell us that Poles simply sees the young quarterback differently than the rest of us.
Either that or he still isn’t willing to accept his own mistakes that have led to near weekly beatings taken by the quarterback.
It’s hard to say which scenario is worse.
Bad Mistakes, Worse Mistakes
We can all live with mistakes made by players who won’t be on the Chicago Bears roster next year, but mistakes by players who figure to be key parts of the future are starting to pile up.
• Braxton Jones has struggled in pass protection all season, but seeing him get sacked along with the quarterback was a red flag. It’s hard to see how they could go into next season without at least making Jones earn his spot.
• After dropping what should’ve been an easy catch last week, Khalil Herbert was destroyed in pass protection this week. The Bears can’t go forward with him as the starting running back if he can’t offer anything in the passing game.
• Cole Kmet had a bad drop for the second straight week.
• Jaquan Brisker was beaten in coverage for one touchdown then failed to make what should’ve been an easy tackle to prevent another. This is the second straight week those mistakes have been made by the young safety.
• Fields had one of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see, lost a fumble because he didn’t protect the ball in traffic and passed 7-for-21 for 75 yards against what was one of the worst pass defenses in the entire league.
It was a bad week for the entire team and perhaps should be treated as just that.
It Could’ve Been Worse
The best thing to happen to the Bears last week was something they had nothing to do with.
Two young quarterbacks — Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud — were both great in their team’s bowl games, which will help push them up the draft board. With a top two pick, the Bears will have to scout both quarterbacks and decide if they like either better than Fields. Assuming they don’t — we’ll know soon if that is a safe assumption — the Bears might be able to get quite a haul in exchange for their draft pick.
What could make this particularly interesting is if the Bears end up with the first pick. Suddenly, their trade options would be even greater as Houston would become an option. The Bears could add assets to slide back one spot and still draft Alabama freak pass rusher Will Anderson Jr.