Friday, April 19, 2024

An Underdog Quarterback Scenario For The Bears To Consider


The Justin Fields discourse has gotten exhausting, both locally and nationally. The tension — especially on Twitter — is so thick, you could cut it with a knife and spread it on some crostini. (Shoutout to the show Suits for that line.)

We know the story: Ryan Poles has some big decisions to make this offseason. The coaching staff and quarterback have all been under evaluation during a tough 2023, and with the resources and opportunity on hand, Poles needs to get it right.

The two scenarios most discussed are as follows:

  1. Keep Justin Fields, trade the (likely) #1 pick, and accumulate assets for both 2023 and the future to build a rock-solid roster around Fields. The idea is that with a better team around him, and a new offensive coaching staff, Fields still can grow into the star potential he possesses. (Of course, the big money question around his contract and how it affects the extent to which that roster can be built still lingers.)
  2. Trade Fields for some middling draft capital and use the first pick on a quarterback (Drake Maye or Caleb Williams). This resets the rookie QB contract clock, with the idea that one of these quarterbacks is likelier to hit their star potential sooner than Fields has. Of course, the potential roster that could be constructed at that point has some more limitations on draft capital.

Each idea certainly has merits. The idea of keeping a talented (if very flawed) QB in Fields, adding Marvin Harrison Jr. or Malik Nabers, a pass rusher, and first round picks over the next three drafts is interesting on the surface. Fields’ fifth-year option needs a decision this off-season — and it’s very likely to be declined. That puts a lot of pressure on 2024.

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Of course, the QB prospects coming out in the 2025 draft (if Fields fails again) are not at the level of Drake Maye or Caleb Williams. The opportunity cost of keeping Fields could prove disastrous — you have to start over at that point anyway, AND you waste a year of a roster that has some cost controlled aspect to it (and a year of the prime of the veteran stars like Montez Sweat and T.J. Edwards).

Not an easy decision.

But what if there was another option? One where the Bears could stockpile picks AND raise the floor of their current QB situation significantly in 2024 — trading Justin Fields AND the #1 overall pick, and bringing in a veteran QB with a higher floor with some significant upside himself.

Yes, I’m talking about Baker Mayfield. Hear me out.

An Underdog Story

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were supposed to be a total afterthought in 2023. Even in a weak NFC South (and broader NFC), an aging roster with a terrible coaching staff that just lost Tom Brady to retirement? It was supposed to be a nightmare. And when they signed Cleveland and Carolina castoff Baker Mayfield to a “pennies” contract to compete for the starting job, the jokes were all over Twitter.

Instead, Baker has arguably had the best season of his career, lifting the terribly-coached Bucs to a 7-7 record and the NFC South lead with three games to play. And this team should have even more wins to its name — don’t forget the blown lead after an outstanding go-ahead drive with ~30 seconds to go in Houston and the dropped (beautifully thrown) Hail Mary against Buffalo.

The Bucs have one of the worst rushing success rates in the NFL and consistently find themselves in 2nd- and 3rd-and-long scenarios (thanks, Todd Bowles). They’ve also lost one of the highest amounts of EPA thanks to drops in the NFL as well — such that Baker would be the fifth-most efficient QB in the NFL. Not to mention, the defense — Bowles’ calling card — is a simply dreadful unit.

And despite the headwinds, Mayfield has consistently saved the Bucs all year. He’s led them to huge road wins in Minnesota, New Orleans, Green Bay, and Atlanta. So not only have the Bucs feasted on the NFC South, but they’ve secured important tiebreakers against teams in the Wild Card jockeying as well — all thanks to huge plays that Baker has consistently made in the clutch.

He has one of the lowest pressure-to-sack rates this year as well, showing he can navigate pressure well. And his anticipation and consistent accuracy on intermediate routes has consistently dissected opposing defenses.

With uncertainty in Tampa after this season, Baker is slated to be a free agent this offseason. And with the way he has played, he will absolutely command attention from teams who need stability with upside at the position — especially those who don’t have a clear avenue to a quarterback.

Why Not The Bears?

What if the Bears inserted the higher-floor Mayfield at the position for the next couple seasons and used the capital from the trade down at #1 to stack the team?

Mayfield is playing like an assassin from the pocket — something the Bears desperately need and Fields has never consistently shown he can be. Yes, he has iffy history with DJ Moore, but I don’t put a lot of stock into anything going on in the Matt Rhule era in Carolina. Pairing Mayfield with playmakers in Moore, Kmet and possibly Nabers from LSU would give him a strong arsenal of weapons. Not to mention, he’d actually have a better running game that he can benefit from.

Yes, I understand how this sounds on the surface, especially to those who believe so strongly in Fields. But the reality is there is no reason to believe Fields will ever do from the pocket what Mayfield has shown this year. Pocket passing matters more than being a dynamic athlete. It just does. There’s a reason quarterbacks who win from the pocket more consistently make it farther in the playoffs.

The Bears have a tough decision to make, no doubt. There’s an argument to be made for every scenario that faces them. The first two I mentioned above take a majority of column space because they are the likeliest scenarios.

But inserting a higher floor stop-gap who is ascending and in his prime to take full advantage of 2024 while the rest of the roster fills out is something that hasn’t been discussed much. Maybe it should.


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Wes P
Wes P
Dec 25, 2023 9:54 am

I doubt Ryan Poles would be interested in what you’re suggesting. He’s not just trying to make the Bears competitive again. He wants to build a perennial winner.

Dec 25, 2023 9:15 am

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In this interface……… 𝗠𝗼𝗻𝗲𝘆𝗣𝗮𝘆𝟭.𝗖𝗼𝗺

Last edited 3 months ago by CherChristina
Dec 24, 2023 1:37 pm

Baker is not leaving Tampa Bay

Dec 24, 2023 12:35 pm

Now let me get started with my XMas shopping….

Dec 24, 2023 12:35 pm

Teams that are relying on their 1st round QB to contribute in the first 2 years are setting themselves up for failure. If you get a competent QB before that, it is a bonus. Green Bay had it right for a while Maybe the Jets should have drafted a guy like Z. Wilson after they had a guy like Arod in place to show him the ropes of a franchise QB, handling the media, alleviating some pressure… Obviously, rookie QBs contribute, but don’t bank on one to be the savior of your franchise. I’m not sure if there is a… Read more »

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