As he did four years ago when he traded up for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Bears general manager Ryan Pace once again pulled off a trade to nab the team’s quarterback of the future.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is the newest member of the Bears.
Pace executed a trade with the New York Giants to move up to the No. 11 overall pick from their original spot at No. 20. The Bears gave up their 20th overall pick, their 2021 fifth-round pick, as well as their 2022 first-round pick and their 2022 fourth-round pick to move up.
Paired with veteran quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Nick Foles, Fields gives the Bears a young QB on a team-friendly rookie contract, and he also gives them a direction at the quarterback position beyond 2021.
“I’m the kind of guy that thinks that everything happens for a reason,” Fields said Thursday night. “So I think this is God’s plan for me to be a Bear, so I’m more than excited and I’m more than ready.”
Fields helped Ohio State win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff national championship game last season. In eight games in 2020, Fields threw for 2,100 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. He guided the Buckeyes to a national semifinal win over Trevor Lawrence and Clemson before ultimately falling short against Alabama in the national championship game.
In three college football seasons (one with Georgia and two with Ohio State), Fields threw for 67 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He had a career completion percentage of 68.4% and threw for 5,701 yards. He also ran for 1,133 yards and 19 touchdowns during his college career.
Fields, 22, said he received a call from Bears head coach Matt Nagy moments before his selection. Fields didn’t see the trade coming.
“I don’t think I had any hints,” Fields said. “I had no idea, to be honest with you. So I was confident in myself, I guess, wherever I ended up, I was going to be in the right place for me.”
The Bears paid a hefty price to move up from No. 20 to No. 11. But Pace and Nagy clearly felt strongly about Field’s potential. Many fans wondered if Pace would make such a move after his trade for Trubisky in 2017 failed so spectacularly.
Back then, Pace traded three picks to move up from No. 3 overall to No. 2. In drafting Trubisky, he left Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson on the table. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Mahomes, the future NFL MVP, 10th overall in that year’s draft.
Now, Pace is at it again.
If this move doesn’t work out, it almost certainly will spell the end of Pace’s tenure in Chicago. Many fans thought Pace’s job might be in jeopardy at the end of the 2020 season, when the Bears finished 8-8 and failed to show much development with Trubisky. Ultimately, Pace and Nagy were given the OK from chairman George McCaskey and handed the reins to the team for another year.
Trading up in Thursday’s first round made it clear that McCaskey trusted Pace and Nagy to make the team’s next big selection at quarterback.
With Dalton and Foles on the roster, it gives Nagy the flexibility to sit his new rookie quarterback as long as necessary to get him up to speed. Fans will be eager to see Fields in action, but there’s no guarantee when that might happen.
Pace said late Thursday night that Nagy called Dalton and assured Dalton that he is the starting quarterback. Pace and Nagy appear to have a plan in place to develop Fields in a manner similar to what the Chiefs did with Mahomes in 2017. Under Nagy as offensive coordinator, Mahomes sat his entire first season behind veteran Alex Smith.
“They did an awesome job with Patrick coming into Kansas City and Matt and I have talked about that a lot,” Pace said. “That year and how it was handled. He kind of has a blueprint on how that whole situation went down.”
Pace said the Bears are excited to develop Fields “at the right pace.”
Nagy watched Fields’ second Pro Day in person. Between Fields’ two Pro Days, the Bears sent several coaches to watch him this spring. Fields said he has had a chance to get to know Nagy over Zoom calls.
“It’s just talking, getting to know him, not only as a coach but as a person,” Fields said. “I’m pretty big on having great relationships with my coaches. I think that’s the most effective way to be great and be cooperative as a team.”
Pace said trading up for a quarterback was his draft Plan A. But the right situation had to arise. As Fields slipped out of the top 10, Pace’s ideal scenario emerged. He had sent out feelers earlier in the day with teams in that area of the draft, and the Giants made a perfect trade partner.
Pace noted Fields’ touch on deep passes, his athletic ability, and his toughness as reasons why he likes the Ohio State QB.
“We feel really fortunate to be able to get Justin in the area of the draft we were able to select him,” Pace said. “The excitement throughout our whole building, you could feel it.”