Justin Fields Trade Watch: All Sorts of Conflicting Vibes

Tuesday marks one week from Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles laying out an offseason timeline and expressing a desire to “do right” by quarterback Justin Fields, whose future is fuzzy.

All signs point to the Bears moving on from Fields and taking USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the first pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. But in order to ensure a smooth transition from the Fields era to one led by Williams, the Bears need to trade Fields — something Poles was hoping would happen sooner and not later. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. We’re in a holding pattern when it comes to Justin Fields Trade Watch. And this whole ordeal deserves a bit of nuance when discussing.

What is the hold-up in Justin Fields trade talks?

This tweet crossed my timeline last night and it raised an eyebrow:

I feel as if this is an oversimplification of what is an otherwise more complex situation. There is no disputing Fields as a limited player. As a quarterback, teams on the outside looking in likely see Fields as a running quarterback who needs a particular scheme and system in place in order to maximize his talent. Simply put, there aren’t a bunch of teams with the infrastructure in place to make that happen. The limitations, from that standpoint, are real. But those aren’t the only limitations in play.

From a contractual standpoint, Fields has just one guaranteed year left on his rookie deal, and picking up the fifth-year option is going to be pricy. Trading for Fields now essentially locks you into either a one-and-done situation or a two-year bridge. NFL teams value flexibility in contracts as much as the on-the-field stuff. More than that, NFL teams value highly the picks that would have to be sent to Chicago to make a deal happen.

The other thing the entire league (and the football community in general) knows is that the Bears’ interest in drafting Caleb Williams is real. The team met with Williams at the Combine. Plus, he debunked the “Caleb Williams doesn’t want to go to Chicago” stuff. Drafting a quarterback in 2024 has been one of the league’s worst-kept secrets. It’s only been on everyone’s radar since October. And because of that, the trade market for Fields isn’t popping off as some might’ve expected. Simply put, it limits your leverage when 31 other teams know you are going to unload a player.

As for why fans aren’t fully grasping the situation, it is this simple: Bears fans really like and feel an attachment to Justin Fields. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

What about the rumors about the Falcons, Steelers, and Raiders interest?

I don’t think the trade rumors are going away anytime soon. At least, not until some of the quarterback dominoes start falling around the league.

In case you missed it, the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Las Vegas Raiders have reportedly shown interest in trading for Fields. And while those teams still might be interested, quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield appear to be a priority for quarterback-needy teams. Maybe Fields has more upside or untapped potential than those quarterbacks. However, those signal callers have longer track records and could present more stability to whichever teams they land on. Plus, acquiring them would cost just money (and not precious draft capital). That stuff might be inconsequential to us as fans, but it isn’t to teams or the people running them.

With that being said, the picture could get clearer in the coming days and weeks. I found this update from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler to be enlightening:

The major quarterback domino that many are waiting to fall is Chicago’s Justin Fields decision. Chicago has not played its hand, and several league sources believe Fields — who has not requested a trade — could probably garner a Day 2 pick in a potential deal. There’s no firm deadline on a trade, though the start of free agency is sort of a soft one. Chicago will need multiple teams in the fray to drive a market, and after asking around, I expect Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Minnesota to be on the radar.

There’s plenty of smoke around Atlanta and Fields. Some around the league are wondering about the fit, thinking a Rams-influence offense under new offensive coordinator Zac Robinson could target a Cousins-style quarterback, while others say Fields’ immense talent will be maximized in that scheme. As one league source put it, Atlanta has done enough work on Fields, Cousins and Baker Mayfield that the chances of coming away with one of them are fairly good.

At the risk of oversimplifying matters in a complex situation, Bears fans hoping they’re favorite team can maximize a Justin Fields trade should be rooting for Kirk Cousins to return to Minnesota and for Tampa Bay to run it back with Baker Mayfield. That would leave Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Las Vegas holding the bag and potentially pivoting to a Fields trade.

bears qb Justin Fields
(Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Yes, we saw that report about the Bears being “close to finalizing” a Justin Fields trade

Troy Pauline has been covering the NFL Draft for a good while, and is starting to break out into more newsy endeavors. And this nugget from a Saturday story caught my attention:

Word in Indianapolis is the Chicago Bears are close to finalizing a deal which would send former first-round pick Justin Fields to the Atlanta Falcons.

It is not known if the deal will be finalized or even announced before the conclusion of the Combine. As I reported on Thursday, if the Falcons can’t come to terms with the Bears for Fields they will turn their attention to Baker Mayfield if he’s available when free agency commences.

Save for Pauline, there isn’t anyone reporting about the closeness of this deal getting done. And yet, it is an interesting bit of reporting because hit all circles back to what we’ve been discussing all along about how the Justin Fields trade market hinges on so many other factors — many of which have nothing to do with Fields.

As much as I’d like it to be signed, sealed, and delivered, I know better than to think this story is anywhere close to being over. Stay tuned. The waiting game continues.

written by

Luis C. Medina, who you can find on Twitter at lcm1986, has been covering the Chicago Bears at Bleacher Nation since 2017. Since then, he has written about 3 head coaches, 5 play-callers, and 11 starting quarterbacks. Previously, Luis wrote about the Cubs and MLB at BN (2015-16) and worked in the Chicago Tribune sports department (2011-16). He also co-hosted a Cubs postgame show, Outside the Ivy, in 2019.

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