The Chicago Bears and general manager Ryan Poles will likely have the opportunity to select their next franchise quarterback of the future in April, which in all likelihood means the end of the Justin Fields experiment in the Windy City.
In the aftermath of the Carolina Panthers firing head coach Frank Reich — and the continued struggles of their rookie quarterback, Bryce Young — Poles and the Bears stand to be the biggest winners after acquiring Carolina's 2024 first-round pick in last year's trade for the No. 1 overall selection.
If the season ended today, Chicago would be picking No. 1 (via last spring's trade with the Panthers), and No. 4 overall, with their own selection.
North Carolina's Drake Maye and USC's Caleb Williams are widely viewed as the kind of quarterbacks who can significantly alter a franchise's trajectory. So Poles will likely be shopping Fields ahead of the draft to clear the path for his next quarterback and add to Chicago's draft capital.
"From everything we have seen," former NFL Executive of the Year Randy Mueller told FanBuzz. "Caleb Williams is somebody the Bears can't afford to pass up on."
For Fields, who was the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, a fresh start might be just what the former Ohio State standout needs to resurrect his career.
"Justin has to come somewhere, with a coach that is dedicated to building an offense around his skill set," an AFC scout told FanBuzz. "Kind of like what the Eagles did with Jalen Hurts. If you're going to win with Justin, you have to use his legs as well as his arm."
Through the first 35 games of his career, Fields has completed 61 percent of his passes for 5,699 yards with 36 touchdowns to 27 interceptions, while adding 1,963 rushing yards with 11 scores.
Presuming the Bears wind up securing the No. 1 overall pick, here's a look at Fields' best trade fits this upcoming offseason:
There might not be a better fit for what Fields does best than the Falcons. And it was a bit of a surprise after quarterback Desmond Ridder's early-season struggles that Atlanta didn't make an attempt to acquire Fields prior to the trade deadline.
"Arthur Smith's play-action RPO [run-pass option] system is a pretty good fit," Mueller explains. "Fields is an explosive athlete who can throw on the run and excel with predetermined targets and less processing of coverage. Seems to me that that's exactly what Atlanta does."
Neither Ridder nor veteran backup Taylor Heinicke have managed to consistently generate sustained momentum on offense, despite the presence of dynamic playmakers including rookie running back Bijan Robinson, wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts.
Fields' mobility could throw open Smith's playbook while also creating opportunities for the running game because of the respect that defenses will need to pay to his ability to take off and make a big play with his legs.
Adding Fields is the type of move that could elevate the Falcons as the team to beat in the AFC South for years to come.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If the Buccaneers trade for Fields, they would easily offer the best supporting cast of weapons that he's had at his disposal since his collegiate career in Columbus.
Presuming that Tampa doesn't undertake a full-fledged rebuild this offseason — given that releasing wide receiver Mike Evans before June 1 would create $12.2 million in new cap space — Fields would have the likes of Evans, Chris Godwin and emerging running back Rachaad White at his disposal.
There have been some rumblings that head coach Todd Bowles could be on the hot seat; and if the Buccaneers do move off Bowles in favor of an offensive-minded head coach, Fields could be the kind of quarterback who helps Tampa compete immediately.
Similarly to Tampa Bay, the Seahawks might be a Fields away from legitimately challenging the San Francisco 49ers for NFC West supremacy.
Playing some of the best football of his career, Geno Smith guided the Seahawks back to the postseason in 2022 by maximizing the likes of dynamic receivers D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett with a heavy dose of rookie running back Kenneth Walker. This season, Smith has battled through a shoulder injury that has limited his upside — although Walker is averaging 4.1 yards per carry with six touchdowns and is on pace for a second consecutive 1,000-plus yard season.
The Seahawks could turn the clock back with Fields and add a quarterback whom the young playmakers on offense can grow and win with well into the future.
Pittsburgh could wind up being a bit of a wild card in any upcoming Justin Fields sweepstakes.
Kenny Pickett hasn't exactly made the requisite strides the Steelers had hoped he would in his second NFL season; and offensive coordinator Matt Canada was fired because of his unit's ineffectiveness this season.
Much of Pittsburgh's offensive identity is going to depend on the impending hire of Mike Tomlin as offensive coordinator. But playing behind an improved offensive line from what he's had in Chicago — with George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth to throw to along with bruising running backs Jaylen Warren and Najee Harris alongside him in the backfield — could be exactly what Fields needs in order to reach his star potential.
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