Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. But when it comes to the Chicago Bears and quarterbacks, there hasn’t been much “lucky” or “good” over the years. Perhaps those tides are finally shifting.
I think every Bears fan knows how much good fortune had to go in the Bears’ direction just to get the opportunity to draft Justin Fields. And in the coming days, weeks, months, and (probably) years, we’ll start seeing stories pop up laying out how exactly Chicago’s football team was able to land Fields in the first place. Indeed, the first round of those stories is already popping up.
Courtney Cronin (ESPN) and Adam Hoge (NBC Sports Chicago) have some in-depth reporting on how things that were out of the Bears’ hands fell into place. Meanwhile, Grant Gordon (NFL.com) shares an explanation as to how one QB started team passed on drafting a quarterback despite questions about who its QB1 is. I would encourage you to read all of them. In the meantime, let’s follow the trail that led us to where we are today.
Step 1: Carolina Commits to Sam Darnold
Trading for Sam Darnold seemed to put the Panthers out of the quarterback mix. But after they sent Teddy Bridgewater to the Broncos, all bets were off. You didn’t need a great imagination to envision Carolina plucking Fields as their quarterback-of-the-future while Darnold played the role of sacrificial lamb in 2021.
But it turns out the threat of Carolina taking a quarterback wasn’t much more than that. Because rather than go with a quarterback, the Panthers showed a commitment to Darnold by taking South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn. It’s quite possible that this is the single-most-important move that led to Fields falling in the Bears’ lap. Even still … there’s a ways to go before we get to that point. Which brings us to the second step in the process.
Step 2: The Fangio Factor
It’s not Carolina choosing a cornerback got the ball rolling. Instead, it’s whom the Panthers picked. Selecting Jaycee Horn left Patrick Surtain II on the board. And for the Broncos, it was a game-changer.
In other draft classes, Surtain II is a top-5 pick. He has a high level of skill, a premier prospect pedigree, strong genetics (fans of a certain age remember his dad locking down opposing receivers), and big-game experience at Alabama. But when three quarterbacks and a unicorn tight end go with the first four choices, it pushes other talent down the board. To that end, the Broncos saw an opportunity to take advantage and draft a player who was the best on their board rather than the best quarterback available. It’s a subtle difference, to be sure. But one large enough that (1) we have to differentiate and (2) Denver felt it was the right move to take a cornerback over a quarterback.
Had Carolina thought differently (i.e. seen Surtain II as the class’ top corner), and left both Fields and Horn on the board, the Broncos’ board might have looked different when they went on the clock.
Frankly, part of me thinks I shouldn’t be surprised by Vic Fangio choosing the cornerback on his board over the top quarterback available. Think about what Vic has seen over the years. He saw Alex Smith win 13 games in San Francisco, then saw Colin Kaepernick quarterback the Niners to a Super Bowl appearance. Fangio then went to Chicago, where he saw a Mitchell Trubisky led team win 12 games. After living through that, I’m pretty sure Fangio believes he could win double-digit games with that defense and a tackling dummy wearing a quarterback’s number.
Step 3: A Run at Cornerbacks Changes Cowboys Course
I’m not sure any team entered NFL Draft weekend as CB-thirsty as the Cowboys. But when the top two corners in this class went off the board with the two picks in front of them, it changed everything. Dallas certainly wasn’t entertaining drawing a QB — Not after giving Dak Prescott gigantic wads of cash earlier in the offseason.
This was destined to be the first possible option for a trade-up. And it was … just not for the Bears.
For the first time, nerves are really kicking in.
Step 4: Philly Helps Hurts
The Eagles sent Carson Wentz packing, but never fully found itself committing to Jalen Hurts. So seeing the Eagles slide up draft boards put butterflies in my stomach.
Briefly, I thought about the oddity of two NFC East rivals trading with each other. Surely, the Cowboys wouldn’t make a deal to give a team it sees twice a year a franchise quarterback. Right? Thankfully, from a Bears perspective, that’s precisely how it played out. Philly was trading up to take receiver DeVonta Smith. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner had a connection with Hurts from their Alabama days. And if the Bengals believe the Ja’Marr Chase-Joe Burrow thing could work, and the Dolphins felt Tua Tagovailoa with Jaylen Waddle could be a thing, then why not Hurts-Smith?
This was the penultimate hurdle to clear. And the best was yet to come for Chicago.
Step 5: A Giant Leap of Faith
Giants GM Dave Gettleman is notorious for not wanting to trade back in drafts. In fact, it was something he had never done before. But because there’s a first time for everything, it was only fitting the Bears and Giants were linking up.
The process began well before New York went on the clock:
Ryan Pace said the Bears established a potential plan to trade up with the Giants this morning, citing his 20-year relationship with Dave Gettleman. They pulled off a deal to draft Justin Fields.
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) April 30, 2021
And then business picked up once everything fell into place:
Dave Gettleman said he spoke with Ryan Pace earlier today before the draft, then Pace called again around the 7th pick. Then, Gettleman said Kevin Abrams took over further negotiations. #NYG
— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) April 30, 2021
Waiting it out until draft day was always going to be the best-case scenario for the Bears. Chicago didn’t have the pick capital to pull off what the 49ers did to get the third pick. And it was tough to imagine a team falling out of the top-5 to take on the 20th pick. But in the end, it works out for Pace and the Bears. Chicago didn’t have to mortgage too much future capital to trade up, while the team it was doing business with didn’t have to fall too far down draft boards.
It’s wild to think of how many different things had to happen in order for the Bears’ best-case scenario to play out. The rollercoaster of feelings was unlike anything I’ve ever felt on draft night. And based on the result, I wouldn’t change a thing. Now, this is where the fun begins.