Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential

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The talk that is going on in the NFL circles about the future of Caleb Williams and Justin Fields, who are both quarterbacks for the Chicago Bears, is confidential.

There is only one game left for the Chicago Bears, and it is a fun finale that will take place on Sunday at Green Bay. This game presents the Bears with the opportunity to cap off their late-season surge while also removing the rival Packers from playoff contention. As the players and coaches inside Halas Hall continue to embrace their opportunity to finish strong, the attention continues to be on the game that is now being played.
As a result of the several high-profile and high-stakes decisions that lie ahead, the National Football League (NFL) community is filled with a great deal of curiosity regarding the Bears’ ability to navigate a potentially historic offseason in 2024. Some people believe that this choice is the ultimate “Choose Your Adventure” for General Manager Ryan Poles and President/CEO Kevin Warren. This is because the defense is gradually developing, the offense has some serious firepower, and yes, the No. 1 draft pick is included in this choice.
“Fascinating,” stated one general manager of the league. Regardless of the course of action that they decide to pursue, they have choices. Also, there isn’t a single option that isn’t good. They are in a terrific position right now.”

At the time that organized team activities begin in May, will quarterback Justin Fields still have a locker stall at Halas Hall? Instead, will the Bears decide to start over with a new quarterback that they select in the April draft?

In what manner will the Bears decide whether or not to continue coaching Matt Eberflus? And what about the current state of the roster, as well as the potential to improve through free agency, the draft, and possibly even another deal that attracts a lot of attention?

In order to gain a sense of where the Bears may be leaning and to better understand everything they need to take into consideration at this pivotal juncture in the history of the franchise, the Tribune carried out interviews with over a dozen different sources over the course of the previous three weeks.

In the first of a two-part summary of everything that we have learned, we will begin with fifteen items to think about regarding the quarterback dilemma.
This coming Friday, we will take a more comprehensive look at the situation by analyzing the future of Eberflus and gaining insight into the fundamental components of the existing roster.

The Bears possess considerable knowledge regarding Justin Fields, which could potentially complicate a quarterback reboot.

Table of Contents

Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential

1. The Bears already have a lot of information regarding quarterback Justin Fields, which might make it challenging for them to start over at quarterback.
Let’s begin with Fields’ playmaking sorcery as a scrambler, the most recent example of which being his absurd third-and-8, 13-yard magic performance that occurred during Sunday’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Cole Kmet, a tight end, expressed his belief that he is the only player in this league who is capable of the aforementioned feat. “That is what makes him so captivating,” the speaker said.

During the course of this season, Fields has been showered with an abundance of praise from his teammates, and this serves as just one example. It would be irresponsible to take that support for granted.

Furthermore, the Bears are unable to ignore Fields’ exceptional arm skill, high-level athleticism, or passion for the game she plays.
Perhaps most amazing is the fact that Fields has demonstrated exceptional mental toughness over the course of three seasons in Chicago, demonstrating a rare ability to ride the roller coaster of the NFL’s quarterback position with grace and composure.

All of that stuff is important, according to a former executive of the AFC. There is no doubt that it is a component of their appraisal. With a sense of perspective, Fields has managed to handle his highest highs. Following his worst performances, he has rapidly reset his behavior. He is unaffected by the never-ending arguments regarding his performance and potential, both in Chicago and on a national level, and he has shown that he is capable of withstanding the spotlight of a major metropolis with maturity.

The explosive speed, powerful arm, and deep-ball talent that Fields possesses may combine to create pyrotechnics show that is captivating. When it comes to Fields’ future, Poles and his staff will need to engage in in-depth investigation and thoughtful consideration before making a final decision.

Those who are involved in league circles are looking at Chicago with a great deal of interest.

“It is extremely uncommon for a team to have a quarterback who demonstrates signs that he is capable of playing like Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, and yet the team is still contemplating moving on from him because they have the opportunity to do so,” said the former executive of the American Football Conference. When it comes to quarterbacks, the majority of teams that have experienced those kinds of flashes do not have the No. 1 pick. As a result, this is about as uncommon as it gets for Chicago.

2. The Bears’ ability to auction the No. 1 pick is one of the biggest arguments for sticking with Fields.

Such a decision, though, would have to start with full conviction that Fields is a no-doubt franchise quarterback worth building around beyond 2024.

“It has to start there,” the GM said. “Your starting point is comparing Justin to what’s coming out (in the draft). It’s a very direct question: Is anyone in this class that much better than him? That’s the discussion.

Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential

“Now, if you determine that one of these quarterbacks (in the draft) is a franchise quarterback coming in on a rookie contract, you’re probably going to pick that quarterback. But if there’s some doubt? And if you think — knowing Justin now as well as they do — that he is your franchise guy, then you grab all those picks and keep building.

2. The possibility of the Bears to auction the first overall pick is one of the most compelling arguments in favor of continuing to work with Fields.
In light of the fact that Poles were able to turn the No. 1 pick from the previous year into an incredible haul consisting of wide receiver DJ Moore, right lineman Darnell Wright, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, this year’s top pick, and a 2025 second rounder, it is possible that they will choose to sell once more if they have the opportunity to greatly increase the beginning bid.

One of the current general managers told me, “You are going to get all of those extra picks.” “There is no doubt that you are absolutely required to give that significant attention. Those early picks are likely to be highly sought after by someone.

3. Fields’ production as an extended-play passer has been one of his most notable leaps in 2023.

3. The production that Fields has provided as an extended-play passer has been one of the most significant leaps that he has made in 2023.
His touchdown pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis in Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals was a good example, demonstrating his enhanced awareness of how to deceive defenders with his scrambling abilities and then smash them with a big-play ball. The Cardinals went on to win the game.

In addition, Fields passed for 268 yards against the Falcons on Sunday, which was another example of his stellar performance. That expansion continues to bring Eberflus a great deal of satisfaction.

“He is beginning to work out of the pocket and look downfield, and he is making some big strikes,” Eberflus said. “He is making some big strikes.” “The most recent couple of weeks are a fantastic illustration of that. To put an end to a defense, you do that.

The Bears have been encouraging Fields to find a good balance between maximizing his tuck-and-run opportunities and finding more scramble-and-throw opportunities since the beginning of the spring season. This encouragement has continued through training camp and right into the season.

“First and foremost, that makes him more dangerous,” said Andrew Janocko, who is the defensive coordinator for the quarterbacks. We are all aware of the things that he is capable of doing with his legs. Currently, he is also able to perform it with his arm. In other words, if a defense is concerned about him rushing, he can now pull up and make that throw into a one-on-one matchup, which will allow him to give his guy a shot.
Since Day 1, Fields has shown a willingness to listen to the coaching comments that have been made and has been determined to improve that element of his game.

The statement that Janocko made was as follows: “Every time we talk to him about something, I try to show him evidence and (explain) the why.” The same can be said of Luke (Getsy), who is the offensive coordinator. The explosives that can be made were demonstrated to Justin by him. All of us had a look at the bombs that were in the league. In a given week, if you observe every single huge play that occurs throughout the league, you will see that some of them are slants, some are go routes, and others are broken plays. For the most part, that covers everything.

How therefore can we make ourselves more explosive? That is one of the approaches, and this is something that he unquestionably agreed with.

Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential

4. The Bears are also aware of Fields’ limitations, which might stymie his career progression for the rest of the decade.

Many of those weaknesses are discussed openly within league circles. Fields is seen as overly hesitant on throws across the middle and suffering from what one league source labeled “delayed vision” — not getting his eyes to open targets with proper timing and rhythm and instead allowing defensive backs added time to react.

Fields has shown improvement with his overall pocket feel this season but only to a run-of-the-mill level.

One source who has studied Fields’ game extensively remains bothered by the quarterback’s “lack of feel” and inability to consistently manipulate defenses at the end of Season 3.

5. Fields’ glimpses of playmaking brilliance, according to a former AFC executive, are intoxicating.

“The highlights are hard to get out of your head,” he went on to say. “And I have no emotional attachment to the situation.” I’m not sure how that feels on the inside.”

The same source was reportedly concerned about Fields’ poor throwing performance in 37 starts, with an average of 15.1 completions and 174.5 yards.

“The volume of completions and passing yards just isn’t matching up with the top offenses in the league,” the coach added. “You don’t ignore that.”

The San Francisco 49ers have the highest yards per passing play (9.05), followed by the Baltimore Ravens (7.55) and the Buffalo Bills (7.04). The Bears are ranked 25th (5.99).

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”” said the former executive. “Justin isn’t the same as Josh Allen. He ain’t no Lamar Jackson. Yes, he shares characteristics and abilities with his size and playmaking ability. However, the down-in-down-out production, as well as the game-in-game-out performances, are not that.”

Fields would have to be rewired for the NFL after playing 22 games at Ohio State with an amazing supporting cast, according to one league source whose team extensively studied quarterbacks throughout the 2021 draft process.

Fields made his final start for the Buckeyes — in the national championship game in January 2021 — behind four selected offensive lineman and a fifth, Matthew Jones, a two-time All-Big Ten selection who might be drafted this spring.

Trey Sermon, a third-round pick of the 49ers in 2021, was Fields’ running back. Luke Farrell, his tight end, was taken in the fifth round that year. And what about the starting wide receivers? Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Jameson Williams were all first-round picks, with rising sensation Jaxon Smith-Njigba serving as a reserve.

“You don’t have to throw into tight windows or play with elite anticipation when you’re with that crew,” a source close to the situation stated.

The interpretation: The rewiring of fields is still ongoing. But he also has weaknesses, such as holding the ball too long, not seeing things quickly enough, feeling uncomfortable versus zone coverage, and appearing agitated in the pocket, that were obvious when he first entered the league.

6. One veteran personnel executive assessed five vital characteristics for NFL quarterbacks on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most crucial.

Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential

He scored a 7 for off-script playmaking, an 8.5 for processing skills, and a 9 for pocket presence.

“This league makes you make critical plays from the pocket,” the executive was quoted as saying. “And they’re going to make you do it. Yes, you can do a variety of things. But there will be times when (defenses) will say, ‘No, no, no, you are not leaving the pocket.’ And if you aren’t a guy who can create enough plays from the pocket to keep them honest, you’re in danger.”

What are the two tens on his list? Thick skin, which he believes has a 10-plus value for starting quarterbacks, and clutch performance late in games.

“That’s where you win your championships,” he went on to say. “You can get your team into the playoffs without being a 10. That’s something we’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks do.

“But what if you don’t have that?” You’ll never be able to raise the Lombardi Trophy. You’re not going to make it through the playoffs if you don’t have that.”

Concerning that…

7. Fields has a shaky track record in the fourth quarter.

He has 19 fourth-quarter turnovers in three seasons and 37 starts. His fourth-quarter passer rating is 61.0, including a season low of 52.0 this year.

Fields had only three touchdowns in the last eight minutes of games in which the Bears possessed the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead: one in each season.

This season, his fourth-quarter passer rating is 36th out of 37 quarterbacks with at least 50 fourth-quarter attempts, trailing only the New England Patriots’ Bailey Zappe (48.3).

This, according to one former coordinator, is a red indicator. The color is bright red.

“It’s damning,” he said. “That tells you he’s just not a good passer, that he’s not processing well.” … Certain things are either in your DNA or they are not. You can certainly improve. Just a tad. But those things are who you are.”

Another NFC offensive assistant said fourth-quarter playmaking is essentially a crystal ball into how a quarterback would fare in the playoffs.

“Because you’re talking about known passing situations,” that’s what he stated. “The track record of a quarterback in that area should tell you a lot.” When you’re in known passing situations, can you drop back, consistently make the right decisions and win the football game throwing the ball?

“We’re in the fourth quarter.” This is the NFL. It’s set up to be close in the fourth. And you’re going to have to throw the ball well to win the games. … That’s what this league is. And it ain’t changing. You’re going to have to win games in two-minute (offense).”

8. So what if the Bears choose to pivot by trading Fields and drafting a quarterback in April?

The most obvious arrow points toward selecting USC’s Caleb Williams at No. 1. From a talent perspective, Williams has jaw-dropping abilities.

ESPN’s Jordan Reid is among many draft analysts who rate Williams as the top prospect in the 2024 class while seeing potential NFL stardom in his future. And “potential” is the operative word.

Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential

“He can make every single throw on the field that you’d want,” Reid said. “He’s a very good processor of information, a good read-and-react type of quarterback. Then you add on top of that the high-level improvisational skills he brings to the table, and he’s really everything you want at the position with what we’re seeing in today’s game.”

Particularly as it relates to Williams’ natural pocket feel and how that will translate to the NFL, Reid doesn’t see that as a work in progress.

“That’s another special trait he does have where it’s an innate feel of being able to play inside of the pocket,” Reid said. “He just has a feel and awareness of everything going on around him and he’s always in control.”

As one current GM said, the Bears could easily stick with Fields and feel comfortable he will be a solid single, possibly a double, as a starting quarterback. But the goal is to hit a home run.

“And they don’t even have to swing for the fences with this one,” the GM said. “They’ve got the (bleeping) No. 1 overall pick.”

9. One league source joked that the evaluation of Williams’ college tape can be completed in half a day.

That’s how easy it is to fall in love with Willams’ playmaking flair, pocket poise and arm talent. Another executive agreed.

“The tape is beautiful,” he said. “Better than I expected actually.”

That exec took a critical eye to Williams’ tape initially, skeptical that it would live up to all the outside hype. He was wrong. He loved it.

“He’s just calm,” he said. “He’s cool. It’s like watching a smooth basketball player. It’s fun to watch.”

No, Williams isn’t a flawless prospect. He’s on the shorter side and might measure right around 6 feet at the combine next month. His off-script playmaking brilliance also has created bad habits in which he occasionally relies on that strength as a crutch and, in turn, gets unnecessarily reckless.

“He has to better understand when he needs to keep the Superman cape in the closet,” Reid said. “Because he plays a lot of hero ball.”

Williams also has had fumbling problems throughout his college career and will need to polish his ball-security fundamentals.

One GM was upfront in asserting that Williams’ play can be erratic. “There is some tape where you go, ‘Man, what is going on?’ No rhythm. No structure. You’re not sure where he’s looking,” the GM said. “But with that, you also recognize immediately that he is a freak talent. He can do it all.”

10. A former league executive stressed it’s important to remember where Ryan Poles came from.

Thirteen seasons in Kansas City. Current home of Patrick Mahomes.

The Chiefs drafted Mahomes in 2017 when they already had a solid starter in Alex Smith, who in 2016 helped propel the team to 12 wins and a division title.

With Poles serving as the team’s director of college scouting during that draft cycle, the Chiefs made a collective decision that Mahomes was an all-in, must-get talent at the most important position.

Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential

The Chiefs traded up 17 slots, drafted Mahomes at No. 10 and never looked back. Over Mahomes’ first five seasons as a starter, he won 63 regular-season games and 11 more in the playoffs. He has gone to the conference championship game in every season he has started, advancing to the Super Bowl three times and bringing home two Lombardi trophies.

As pie-in-the-sky as that may seem as a target, that’s the world the Bears should be actively trying to unlock.

Even in this season of well-documented struggle and frustration in Kansas City, Mahomes has surpassed 4,000 passing yards and led the Chiefs to their eighth consecutive AFC West championship.

“And this,” the former exec said, “is in his down year, their panic year. That’s a different world, man. It really is. But that’s the destination.”

11. The consensus around the league is that the most important pre-draft homework to be done on Williams will focus on how he is wired.

As it relates to the Bears specifically, the DNA test will be crucial.

Said one GM: “How is he going to be inside the stress of Chicago? That’s a football town with grand expectations. How is he going to handle that? This isn’t like Brock Purdy, the last pick in the draft on a good (49ers) team with nothing to lose. This is like an entire city is going to be depending on him to be the guy.

“And if he winds up there, he’ll also be replacing a guy (in Fields) that the fan base seemingly really liked. Man, that’s a lot to take. It’s a lot to handle.”

Would those dynamics prove too much for Williams? Or is he built with the resilience and mental fortitude to thrive under that pressure? That will be a huge component of the vetting process.

The Bears’ deep dive into Williams’ journey likely will require them to meet with people at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.; with those who were with Williams at Oklahoma in 2021; and with others who have known him the last two years at USC.

“You dig in as far as you can,” the GM said. “What do his teammates think of him? How is he in the locker room? What is his personal character? What is his football character? How does this guy handle adversity? What is he like when he’s succeeding? Work ethic. Leadership. Mental capacity.

“The football part is easy in evaluating a guy’s strengths and weaknesses. Everything else you have to dig in on.”

Added another coach: “There are alphas who are legitimate alphas because of who they are as a person. And there are guys considered alphas simply because they were the best player on their college team. Teams have to feel that out. Are you an alpha? Or were you just the best player on your team and that’s why everyone was looking to you?”

12. To that end, Williams’ rocky 2023 season may be a blessing in disguise for NFL teams striving to learn what he’s made of.

The 2022 Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t even a finalist for that award in 2023. His team lost five games. His own struggles were magnified by an outside world looking to cast aspersions. When Williams’ Trojans lost to Washington and he subsequently cried in the stands with his mom, it triggered a weeklong national debate on whether he was soft or just passionate.

When Williams declined to speak to reporters after USC’s November loss to rival UCLA, critics piled on again. The roller-coaster ride was fast and, frequently, disorienting.

Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential

But NFL teams are always trying to understand and project how a prospect — particularly a highly touted quarterback — will handle the ups and downs. Williams’ 2023 season will remove some of the guesswork.

Said an NFC assistant coach: “Just talk to the right people. You’ll know pretty quickly how he handled all of it.”

The same coach stressed that gauging and predicting a prospect’s maturity is key.

“What’s hardest to know is how they will interact and how they adapt to the responsibility of leading other grown men,” the coach said. “With some of these guys, the biggest challenge you face is teaching them how to lose. In our league, you can lose seven games and still go win the Super Bowl. So every week you have to reload.

“In college they can sometimes get by with getting upset or feeling down. People frame it as, ‘He cares.’ In the league? Guys don’t feel that way. Some of these guys have kids who are 10 and 12 years old. They’re like, ‘Get out of your feelings, bro. Come on. We don’t have time for all of that.’ You have to get in the huddle and be in the locker room every day and lead grown men.”

13. What about North Carolina’s Drake Maye?

Maye is widely considered the No. 2 quarterback prospect in the draft class. He has prototypical size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), a live arm and quality football awareness. ESPN’s Reid is impressed with Maye’s deep-ball prowess and the flashes he shows when he trusts what he sees.

“There are about five or six moments every single game where you’re like, ‘Man, yeah, this dude looks like a top-three pick,’” Reid said. “So what’s your hope? Eventually, when he has better support around him and consistency with a play caller, you’re hoping those flashes turn into consistency.”

Reid also has LSU’s Jayden Daniels, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy in his next tier of quarterbacks in this class. The latter two will face off on the national championship stage Monday in a game that could affect both players’ pre-draft trajectory.

14. No matter what the Bears decide to do, they must continue to strengthen the infrastructure around their quarterback.

No one has the exact formula for devising a developmental launching pad for a young quarterback, but there is a long list of best practices. A sturdy offensive line is an obvious plus. So is a stable of established pass catchers.

Other suggestions to catalyze a prospect’s growth are a strong quarterback room that includes a wise and respected veteran who can be an everyday resource and a devoted quarterbacks coach with the ability to teach, push and encourage.

“That quarterback room has to be sturdy,” one current GM said. “That’s where your guy goes to learn. It’s where he goes to lean. That’s where he creates his habits. It’s really important.”

Naturally, a strong connection between the quarterback and his play caller also is considered vital.

“That is the key piece,” the former exec said. “That has to be synced up. There better be great rapport.”

A former AFC coordinator suggested that egos have to be checked when a team drafts a quarterback, especially in the top 10.

“When you draft a quarterback that high, that’s not the GM’s pick. It’s not the coach’s pick. It’s an organizational decision,” he said. “From Minute 1, the whole organization has to understand that they work for that kid. So what’s best for that young man?

“You have to learn the kid first. But no matter who it is, there’s a certain way to treat them and a certain way to foster their growth.”

Chicago Bears QB confidential: The chatter inside NFL circles on Justin Fields’ future and Caleb Williams’ potential


15. Last year’s users of the No. 1 pick — the Carolina Panthers — are seen as a case study of what not to do when drafting a quarterback.

Said one GM: “Their o-line sucks. They don’t have any receivers who can get open. That can’t happen. You’re not even giving your guy a chance. Then you throw in immediate instability in the coaching staff and it’s just a disaster.”

Another league source expressed disbelief that the Panthers, in their trade up to get Bryce Young, gave the Bears DJ Moore, a proven top-tier receiver who would have been a friendly go-to playmaker for a rookie quarterback. Moore’s exit came 4 1/2 months after the Panthers dealt running back Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco.

Fifteen starts into his career, Young already faces a steeper climb while listening to a chorus of criticism. The lesson for the Bears? Don’t do that.

“You better create stability,” the GM said. “And a lot of it. Within your coaching (staff). With the roster. Something that gives the kid a chance to have some early success and not just get the (crap) beat out of him every play, every game.

“All these guys are playing earlier than ever. You want them to have a chance to have a chance.”

The 2021 Bears also are seen in league circles as a cautionary tale after GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy were encouraged to find a new quarterback but then were put into a “win or else” season that ultimately cost them their jobs after Fields’ rookie year.

“Justin Fields? My God!” the former AFC executive said. “That’s another example of being set up for failure. ‘Hey, kid, we’re getting rid of the guy who loved you and believes in you to bring in people who may not want you. Now you have to prove yourself to them.’

“Nothing like a young quarterback being worried about having to prove himself to a (new) staff. That’s the last thing a new quarterback should have to worry about.”

The lesson for the Bears? Again, don’t do that.

That same source said the outside fascination with the Bears’ quarterback plans is growing. The stakes are high for the team’s decision makers.

“This is their moment. With this decision,” the source said. “This is their chance to either go forward or move out of the league by choosing which quarterback they want.”


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