Analysis: Did the Chicago Bears win the Justin Fields trade? It was never about winning the trade

This trade was more about Caleb Williams than it was about Justin Fields

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields carries the ball during their game against the Eagles Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

“What’s your grade?”

That’s what a friend asked me Saturday night in the aftermath of the Justin Fields trade. The Bears sent Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a 2025 sixth-round draft pick, which can become a fourth-round pick if Fields plays 51% of the offensive snaps in Pittsburgh next season.

At the question, my initial thoughts ranged through the entire grading system: A-minus, B, C-plus, D. But it was hard to spit out a definitive answer. I wanted to give Ryan Poles a poor grade for executing such a big move Saturday night during St. Patrick’s Day weekend – one of Chicago’s favorite holidays. Poles, no doubt, is having a stressful offseason and deserves to sit back with a Guinness as much as anybody.

Ultimately, where I landed was this: the grade doesn’t matter. Does. Not. Matter. This move was never about “winning” the trade. This move was going to happen, no matter what the return was.

The minute the Bears landed the No. 1 overall draft pick, gift-wrapped from the woeful two-win Carolina Panthers, this was always the direction things were trending. The Fields truthers can be mad that the Bears gave him away for what they might consider a paltry return, but the fact is the Bears were moving on. They were probably happy to take whatever they could get.

Poles has an opportunity to select USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 overall draft pick. Williams is widely considered the best quarterback prospect since at least Trevor Lawrence in 2021. The type of quarterback talent that only emerges once every few years. Yes, it’s a lottery ticket. Highly-touted quarterbacks don’t always work out. But Poles was essentially handed a free lottery ticket, and he wasn’t about to throw it away.

Poles didn’t draft Fields, and it wouldn’t have mattered if he had. History has shown us that Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are forced to win games with their arm at some point during a playoff run. In 38 career starts, Fields has totaled 300 passing yards just one time. That’s not the type of quarterback you go all-in on.

The entire NFL saw the writing on the wall. And yet, none of the 31 other teams across the league wanted to make Fields a starter. Anybody who thought the Bears could get a first-round pick in return for Fields was kidding themselves. As soon as starting jobs began filling up, Fields’ value plummeted further.

Poles said he wanted to “do right” by Justin at the NFL Scouting Combine. Some fans thought that meant sending him to a favorable situation or sending him somewhere he could be a starter right away. But maybe doing right by Justin simply meant not putting him in awkward position by keeping him on the roster when they draft a quarterback. Doing right by Justin was getting him out of Chicago before Williams shows up in two months.

The Bears were never going to go into the 2024 season with Fields and Williams on the roster. That’s not doing right by anybody – least of all Fields or Williams.

Could they have gotten more in return if they kept him on the roster and waited to trade him until somebody’s starter got hurt in September or October? Maybe, but there was no guarantee. The Jets had all season to trade for a quarterback after Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles last year, and they didn’t. The Cardinals traded starting quarterback Josh Dobbs and a seventh-round pick at the trade deadline last year, and all they got in return was a sixth-round pick. You can’t assume that a better deal will emerge in the future.

Did the Bears win the Justin Fields trade? It was never about winning the trade. It was about setting up the franchise quarterback – the one they will draft April 25 – for success.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.