Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields was asked Monday about taking ownership of the team.
“I feel like it’s already mine,” he responded, noting how his teammates know what he wants to accomplish in Chicago and how hard he will work to get there.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles wants it to be Fields’ team too.
Fields made strides in his second season with the Bears and his first with coach Matt Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. He made incredible plays with his feet on the way to 1,143 rushing yards, the second-best rushing season by a quarterback of all time. He also made some beautiful plays with his arm, but those didn’t come consistently enough to dig the Bears passing game out of the NFL cellar.
So when Poles sat down for his end-of-season news conference Tuesday at Halas Hall, the third question was whether the GM plans for Fields to be his starting quarterback in 2023.
Poles responded yes, noting that while Fields needs to improve his passing game, the Bears are “excited” about the direction the quarterback is headed.
“He showed ability to be impactful with his legs. There’s flashes with his arm,” Poles said. “Now if we can put that together, I think we have something really good.”
The follow-up question was obvious.
The Bears own the No. 1 draft pick this spring, which gives them the top choice of a group of quarterback prospects that includes Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis — should they want it.
Would Poles consider taking a quarterback at No. 1 to potentially supplant Fields?
“We’re going to evaluate the draft class, and I would say this: I would have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision,” Poles said.
In the nine months Poles has gotten to know Fields, the GM has seen a player who is resilient, has a growth mindset, has taken ownership of his standing within the team and is hungry to be successful.
But it’s widely acknowledged across the Bears organization — including by Fields — that there’s room for growth in the passing game after he completed 192 of 318 passes for 2,242 yards with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 15 games. The Bears had the best rushing offense in the NFL with 177.3 yards per game — and the worst passing offense with 130.5 yards per game.
Poles said Fields and Getsy already sat down to map out where he needs to start approaching his improvement, and Poles expects to meet with staff soon to go over that plan to help Fields build toward a more consistent performance.
He thinks Fields needs more time to build chemistry with his playmakers, noting the better production of those he is most familiar with, including tight end Cole Kmet. And Poles said more time working within the Bears offense also could help Fields mentally in games, which he noted as an area for improvement.
“As a passer, just for things to slow down mentally and then be able to react and anticipate quicker,” Poles said. “We also have to continue to build around him so that he can do that consistently as well.”
Poles has far more resources to build around Fields this year than he did in his first offseason, with projected salary-cap space of $118 million, according to OverTheCap.com, a full slate of 2023 draft picks and the opportunity to add more picks by trading back from No. 1.
It’s fair to question Poles’ approach last offseason to adding offensive linemen to protect Fields and playmakers to catch his passes. Poles decided to rely on a lot of young players and short-term veteran contracts on the offensive line. And he added cheaper wide receivers to play behind Darnell Mooney before trading for Chase Claypool midseason.
Some of the issues in both groups contributed to Fields being sacked 55 times, tied for most in the league with Russell Wilson.
But Poles said Tuesday he doesn’t regret the decisions he made to aid Fields.
“We used the resources that we had to the best of our ability based on what was there,” Poles said. “That’s what I go back to in terms of making sound decisions. That’s hard. I wish there was a perfect scenario where you could just clean up everything and get good. So I thought we made solid, sound decisions to do that.
“But now looking at where we can go currently, where we have flexibility to do a little bit more, now the second piece is what talent’s there for us to bring in that can help move the needle to help everybody get better.”
Poles has a lengthy list of needs on offense and defense, and he noted he always starts with what he considers premium positions: pass rusher, offensive line and cornerback.
He didn’t mention wide receiver in that group, but that doesn’t mean the Bears won’t make upgrades. They hope to get Mooney back at some point this spring from an ankle injury that required surgery, Eberflus said. And Poles believes that despite a “choppy” start with the Bears, Claypool will help them moving forward.
Poles also was asked if adding a true No. 1 receiver is important.
“Obviously you would love a No. 1,” Poles said. “I hope one of these guys on our roster — or if someone’s available — can develop into that guy. We’ll see.”
Fields said Monday he fully trusts Poles to make the team better this offseason and said he even would pitch in on recruiting free agents if needed.
But he’s also not taking his eyes off his own work.
“My job is strictly get better, work on my skills at quarterback and ultimately get my teammates better,” Fields said. “So of course I’m going to pay attention to who we get and stuff like that. But to be honest I’m just focused on me right now and everybody else that’s on the team and just getting better with those guys.”