The hypothetical trades started flying the moment the Bears secured the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. With a young ascending quarterback in Justin Fields, the belief was that general manager Ryan Poles could deal the highly-coveted draft asset for a transformational return.
But reality is often disappointing.
Last week, ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller said that, based on his conversations with people around the league, the Bears are unlikely to "get a king's ransom" for the No. 1 pick.
The pie-in-the-sky idea of landing a deal similar to the one the Miami Dolphins orchestrated with the San Francisco 49ers in 2021 is likely not in the cards.
Poles likely knows that. It's why the "trade Fields" chatter will likely increase as the pre-draft process ramps up. If there's no real threat of the Bears using the No. 1 pick on a quarterback -- be it Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, or Will Levis -- then why would teams feel the need to overpay to move up to that spot?
The Houston Texans (No. 2) and Indianapolis Colts (No. 4) seem to be the two likeliest trade partners for the Bears. While the Colts appear to be a lock to draft a quarterback in Round 1, it's no sure thing that the Texans and new head coach DeMeco Ryans will push their chips all-in on Young or Stroud when they have holes all over the roster.
That the 2024 QB class -- led by USC's Caleb Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye -- is loaded also could tamp down interest in the No. 1 pick this season and lead the Texans to hold off on taking a quarterback until 2024.
The Colts have been open about their plan to draft and develop a quarterback after years on the veteran quarterback carousel.
But they know the Arizona Cardinals, who sit at No. 3, aren't going to take a quarterback. The chances the Bears trade Fields and draft a quarterback are slim to none, based on my conversations with people around the league. So that leaves the Texans as the only team ahead of the Colts in the quarterback market.
"What's going to make the Colts sell off future draft assets if there is no one, or just the Texans, to bid against?" an NFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago. "I'm not sure any of the quarterbacks in this class will generate a [Jared Goff] offer."
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Now, there might be a bigger haul out there for the Bears, but it will come at a price -- sacrificing the chance to add one of the elite players in the class.
Could the Las Vegas Raiders (No. 7), Carolina Panthers (No. 9), or Tennessee Titans (No. 11) wind up taking a big swing to move up to No. 1? It's not inconceivable. A trade that sees the Bears move down to seven or lower will surely net them a first-round pick in 2024, along with other draft assets. But the Bears would also miss out on Jalen Carter and Will Anderson. Given the Bears' defensive issues last season, it's hard to see them being OK walking away from the 2023 draft without one of Carter or Anderson.
For the Bears to do that, they'd have to be extremely confident in the depth of the class and their evaluation of its top 12-to-15 players.
"Whether it's Carter or Anderson, the Bears have to get one," an NFC scout told NBC Sports Chicago. "They don't have difference-makers upfront right now. When you have the No. 1 pick, the goal is to not pick there again. Not picking one of the two best players in the class is a good way to end up back [near the top] next year."
The dream of landing two future first-round picks was always going to be unlikely. Perhaps it materializes, but it's OK if the Bears end up trading the No. 1 pick to the Colts for No. 4, No. 35, a fourth-round pick and a 2024 second-rounder. Maybe there's enough leverage for them to get the Colts' 2024 first. If not, the Bears still added two extra valuable picks and will be able to build their defense around either Anderson or Carter. The thought of doing the latter was seen as a win until Davis Mills hit Jordan Akins in Week 18 to hand the Bears the No. 1 pick. Then, it became not enough for a team that went 3-14 and has needs at just about position.
The Bears might not leave the 2023 NFL Draft with a transformational package of future draft assets. But if they pick up Anderson or Carter and a few extra valuable Day 2 picks in 2023 and 2024, that will keep them on the path back to relevance Poles started to pave during his first year on the job.
The goal for the Bears in the 2023 NFL Draft is to add as much talent to a roster bereft of it as possible and keep the arrow trending up. Chasing extra picks at the expense of that goal is a surefire way to halt progress. That's something the Bears can't afford to gamble on.