It’s official! With the Carolina Panthers losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars 26-0 in week sixteen, the Chicago Bears have clinched the number one overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, which they received from the Panthers in a blockbuster trade prior to last year’s draft.
This is big news because it means the Bears must make a tough decision during the offseason. Do they stick with their young quarterback Justin Fields, who has improved a lot this season and shown high-level flashes, or do they move on and draft one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft?
There’s an argument to be made here for both sides. However, I believe there is a correct decision that could greatly benefit the team in the long run. Here’s the case for why the Bears should draft a quarterback with the number one pick in the 2024 NFL draft.
Justin Fields may not be a sure-fire franchise quarterback
One of the best arguments for the Bears to draft a quarterback is that Justin Fields is not a sure-fire franchise quarterback. That doesn’t mean he isn’t good or hasn’t gotten better over the years because he has. However, I’m still not confident that he can be a great quarterback one day.
If you only watched Fields play the first couple weeks of this season, you probably think he is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. However, he’s been pretty good since then and he has had by far his best season since entering the league in 2021.
His numbers across the board are way better than they’ve been in the past. He has 20 big-time throws compared to 15 turnover-worthy plays, he has been one of the more productive deep ball throwers in the league, and his accuracy rate and pressure-to-sack rate have improved to around league average. Not to mention he’s still elite as a rusher and his production in this area is fantastic. Based on this information, I feel comfortable saying that Fields is slowly becoming a solid starter.
Unfortunately, there is not much data to show that Justin Fields is good enough to be labeled a surefire franchise quarterback. While it’s been great to see him improve in a lot of key areas like accuracy and sack avoidance, he is still just average in these areas and that’s not good enough. His deep ball throwing and mobility are awesome, but there are other important traits that Fields needs to develop before any team can be completely confident that he is their QB1 long-term.
Maybe the Bears are satisfied with where he is in his development as a 23-year-old. However, I wonder if they are satisfied to the point where they will pass up the opportunity to draft a quarterback in a draft with one of the best quarterback classes in recent memory.
Resetting their rookie quarterback contract would give the Bears a huge advantage
While the Bears will have to judge whether or not Justin Fields is good enough to be their franchise quarterback, they will also have to consider whether or not they want to give him a large contract. This is another huge aspect of this decision.
Right now, Justin Fields is still on his rookie deal and he has at least one more year left on his contract in 2024. If the Bears want to stick with him moving forward, they can pick up his fifth-year option and keep him for two more years before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2026.
At that point, they would presumably sign him to a big contract. Spotrac.com has Fields’ market value set around a 6-year $283 million contract worth around $47.1 million per year. That would make him the sixth highest-paid quarterback in the league.
Based on what we know right now, I’m not sure the Bears would feel comfortable giving him that big of a contract that lasts until 2032. Of course, things could change in the next two years, but they don’t have two years to decide whether to keep Justin Fields or not. They have to decide right now and I’m not sure they want to make such a big commitment.
If they don’t keep Fields they can draft a quarterback with the number one overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Let’s assume they pick USC gunslinger Caleb Williams. According to spotrac.com, they would sign him to a four-year contract estimated to be worth around $38.3 million ($9.6 million per year) with a $24.8 million signing bonus.
Of course, they also get a fifth-year team option which they can exercise after the first four years of his contract are up. At that point, Williams would receive a fifth year and the value would depend on a multitude of factors including his age and if he makes a Pro Bowl or is named an All-Pro. If the Bears do pick up Williams’ fifth-year option, his rookie deal would end in 2028 and they could sign him to a long-term deal that would likely end in the mid-2030s.
A rookie quarterback contract would give the Bears two extra years of cheap quarterback play, which is extremely valuable on its own regardless of how that rookie plays. If the Bears have any concerns about Justin Fields’ ability as a quarterback, getting those two extra years of cheap quarterback play could entice them to move on from Fields.
The incoming rookie quarterbacks can be better than Justin Fields
Another strong argument in favor of drafting a rookie quarterback is that the 2024 NFL Draft has multiple quarterback prospects that could be better than Justin Fields.
When comparing the top quarterbacks in the upcoming draft like Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, and Jayden Daniels to Justin Fields, the important question isn’t “Are they better prospects than Fields was at Ohio State?” The real question is “Can they be better than what Justin Fields has been in the NFL so far? I think the answer is yes for all three players.
Coming out of college in 2021, Justin Fields was an elite prospect. He may have fallen to the 11th pick in that year’s draft, but he was special at Ohio State, producing two incredible seasons in which he was awesome as a passer and rusher. Unfortunately, he has not been quite as good in the NFL, peaking with a 75.1 PFF grade at 23 years old.
The fact is, he is not the same quarterback he was at Ohio State. Yes, he is improving, but he has not been good enough to keep the Bears from drafting an elite quarterback prospect who could be better than Fields and gives the team two extra years of cheap quarterback play.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that drafting a rookie quarterback would be a huge success for the Bears. In fact, there’s a chance that it could blow up in the face of their front office. However, based on everything we know, the best decision from a team-building perspective is to pick a quarterback with the number one overall pick and trade Justin Fields for draft picks.