CHICAGO — If the Chicago Bears are headed for a charmed existence with Justin Fields, the moment the Seattle Seahawks said no thanks to a massive trade offer for Russell Wilson could be the best thing that happened to Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy.
We won’t know for some time, maybe multiple years, if Fields is the long-sought answer to the Bears’ decadeslong dilemma: How in the world can they successfully end their search for a franchise quarterback?
Wilson would emphatically have provided the team with a player they could declare “QB1″ without provoking snickers from the masses as happened when the team tagged Andy Dalton as such.
Wilson is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, has a Super Bowl ring and has won 68.4% of his regular-season starts. But he would have come at a head-spinning cost. The Bears are never going to say what they put on the table, but let’s just say three first-round picks plus more — a cost that would have affected draft classes through 2023.
Had the Bears won the Wilson lottery it would have further complicated a messy salary-cap situation, but they would have had a premier player at a position that has too often been staffed by the bogeyman.
Fields came at a high cost when you review the draft value charts teams use to exchange picks. They gave the New York Giants the 20th overall pick, a fifth-round pick, and first- and fourth-round selections in 2022. The transaction fee, when adding the value of the picks exchanged (the Bears got the 11th overall pick and the Giants pocketed four picks) was equal to the 21st or 22nd overall pick in what was the first-ever trade down in a draft for New York GM Dave Gettleman.
If Fields proves to be a significant upgrade in Nagy’s offense over Mitch Trubisky, whom the Bears traded up to draft second overall in 2017, it will be a steal and Pace will prove he was worthy of a second shot.
So, the question was posed to three front-office executives: Are the Bears better off with Fields than they would have been if the Seahawks had traded them Wilson?
“It’s an interesting exercise and something we do when looking at trading picks, although we haven’t been in that situation considering a trade for a QB like Wilson,” one executive said. “Before you start talking about Fields, the idea is bird in the hand or two in the bush. With Fields, you’re enticed by the rookie contract. Whether they want to admit it or not, there’s some security with drafting another quarterback.
“They bought themselves time especially if Fields flashes. If he has a Justin Herbert-type rookie season, then you’re thinking, ‘Maybe we have something here. This guy is the on the right track. He’s flashing things that are maybe really good.’ If he just does that, there’s a lot of excitement and they may have fixed all the wrongs of the past.
“When you look at the other side with Russell, there is a perception with first-round picks, especially with fans, that they’re the Holy Grail and that guy is going to save your franchise. First-round picks in April, everyone thinks they’re headed to the Pro Bowl in January or the next stop is the Hall of Fame. So, what we do sometimes to reel ourselves back in, and it’s just an exercise, but it’s helpful is look at the picks involved historically. Where do we think we’re going to finish? Do we think it’s going to be a top of the round pick or a bottom of the round pick or somewhere in the middle? You throw names around.”
It’s fair to say if the Bears acquired Wilson, they’d expect to do well. For this exercise, let’s say that meant trading the Seahawks the 20th pick in 2021, and the 10th overall pick in 2022 and 2023.
Looking at players taken 20th overall and 10th overall in the last decade, would the Bears trade linebacker Darron Lee (20th pick in 2016 to the New York Jets), cornerback Eli Apple (10th pick in 2016 to the Jets) and quarterback Josh Rosen (10th pick in 2018 to the Arizona Cardinals) for Wilson? In heartbeat.
What about trading center Frank Ragnow (20th pick in 2018 to the Detroit Lions), cornerback Stephon Gilmore (10th pick in 2012 to the Buffalo Bills) and linebacker Devin Bush (10th pick in 2019 to the Pittsburgh Steelers) for Wilson? That’s a much more difficult question to answer.
“You’ve got to look at past drafts. What do you get at No. 20 usually?,” one executive said. “And then where do you think you’re going to be picking in Round 1 the following two years with Wilson? My point is when you start putting real names to the abstract idea of first-round picks, you really start thinking and sometimes you wind up saying, ‘Hell yeah, we would.’ Other times it becomes a different kind of conversation.
“What’s Russell Wilson worth to you and, if you get him, what’s he working with and what kind of team is around him? You’re getting a better quarterback and you’re going to be in every game, but it is enough to get over the hump? And I can’t tell you what Fields is going to become. But can they have a rising star and put a bunch of really good pieces around him? Those are all the thoughts you have to consider. But if you hit, it’s a 15-year hit. Look at the Packers. They’ve had two guys in 30 years. They’re so spoiled they don’t know how the rest of the league lives.”
One executive was emphatic in picking Fields in that scenario.
“Because at least they can surround the kid with some players,” the executive said. “Unless your roster is final or solid for the next three years, and no roster is really ever that way because of the turnover, then who are they going to improve the roster with if they land Wilson? Wilson would give them a premium player at the position but you can’t tell me that offense is ready to win now.
“They busted on Trubisky and they went all-in thinking they could chase a Lombardi Trophy with him. They didn’t have enough offensive weapons with him and don’t have enough offensive weapons to be a threat right now. They’ve got one wide receiver (Allen Robinson) right now and they don’t want to pay him long-term. What they’ve done is created time for themselves with Fields. Time to develop him and now more picks to build the roster around him.”
The third executive said you’ve got to look at the choice two different ways.
“It’s hard to say because we don’t know what Fields is,” the executive said. “On the one side of the coin, it depends on how much time Pace and Nagy have left. If they don’t have a lot of time left, the better play would have been Russell. If they have time, the better play is Fields because they have time to see what he can become by developing him. That’s how you have to look at it. If the McCaskeys are saying Pace and Nagy are our guys and we’re gonna see and let them grow with Fields, they made the right move.
“If the McCaskeys are saying, ‘This is it.’ I would say, ‘Hell, then let me go get Russell Wilson because I don’t have time to wait on the young guy.’ They may feel they’re one player away, I don’t know. If they do, then Russell was the play. He would make it better for them. Nagy, like most offensive-minded coaches, thinks he’s smarter than everyone else in the world. All of them do. Our guy does. All offensive-minded head coaches think that way. I’m not killing him. It is what it is. Now, you have to see what he can do with Fields.”
What the Bears become with Fields will be fascinating. Expectations, especially for a quarterback-starved fan base, are going to be sky high. There’s a feeling around the league that Pace and Nagy were able to trade away future draft capital with the idea they will have some time to work with the new quarterback.
But for a two- or three-week stretch, all of the buzz surrounding the franchise centered on the idea Wilson could be acquired. Now, the Bears have Fields, a quarterback on a rookie contract, and more draft capital than they would have had otherwise. Time will tell if he can solve the organization’s dilemma.