The Bears' expected transformational offseason will be filled with massive, franchise-shaping decisions.
Quarterback Justin Fields' future with the franchise is the headliner. Armed with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Bears general manager Ryan Poles must decide whether to build around Fields or trade the 23-year-old quarterback and draft a different signal-caller atop the draft.
Alabama's Bryce Young enters the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis, as the top quarterback in the class.
The Bears' big offseason starts with a question: Fields or Young?
NFL Media draft expert Daniel Jeremiah thinks there's an obvious answer to this question.
"I have a higher grade on Bryce coming out than I did on Justin, but I don't think that Bryce is a great fit in Chicago," Jeremiah said Friday on a pre-combine conference call with reporters. "And Justin, you know, obviously -- I think the evaluation is both easy and complicated. It's easy in that you can see the play-making ability and what he has done with his legs and the competitiveness and the toughness. That's easy to see. Then, it's complicated because how do you evaluate him with what he has and who he is working with?"
Jeremiah is close with several members of the Philadelphia Eagles' front office. He views Jalen Hurts' leap this past season as something for Fields to shoot for in 2023.
"So, to me, this is the only thing. In knowing the guys in Philadelphia and hearing over the last -- since Jalen Hurts got in the league, hearing the work that he was putting in and talking to coaches on that staff that said they would go down to the weight room on a Thursday night nine o'clock and he is there watching tape downstairs. He just lived there. So when you know that -- you know he has the ability, and then you know the commitment and the work ethic is there, I think it makes it easy to believe in Jalen, and he has paid off.
"I don't have the same relationships there in Chicago. I've never heard anything that would lead me to believe that Justin is not doing that. If Justin is doing what he needs to be doing from that standpoint, I would be, like, oh, this guy has so much ability, and he is committed to it. Let's give him some help and try to build around him."
The trade chatter surrounding Fields will heat up in the coming weeks. Not necessarily because Poles plans to trade him, but because he needs to make teams think he's in the quarterback market to drive up the trade price for the No. 1 pick.
"I know he didn't draft him, but I don't think now is the time to sell on Fields," a front office member for a team not expected to be in trade talks for the No. 1 pick told NBC Sports Chicago. "He showed enough last season with not a lot around him that trading him is a gamble. If he becomes a star elsewhere, that's going to be your legacy unless the guy you draft is better. I'd be shocked if they traded him."
RELATED: Jeremiah outlines three draft scenarios for Bears with No. 1 pick
In his end-of-season press conference, Poles said Fields would be his starting quarterback in 2023. However, the general manager did leave himself some wiggle room by saying he'd evaluate everyone in the draft class, including the quarterbacks. Poles did say he'd have to be "blown away" to draft a quarterback and move on from Fields.
The Bears have several holes to fill. With around $100 million in salary cap space and the No. 1 pick, Poles has the ammunition to reshape the roster for a team that went 3-14 in Year 1 of the Matt Eberlfus era.
Fields took a step forward during his second season. He showcased electric playmaking ability with the ball in his hands. He became just the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season and would have probably broken Lamar Jackson's single-season record had he not missed the final game of the season with a hip injury.
But Fields still has a lot to work on as a passer. He has admitted that he needs to be more accurate on short and intermediate throws. He also needs to get rid of the ball quicker and take fewer sacks.
Surrounding him with a better offensive line and more dynamic weapons should help accelerate that growth. Fields showed the Bears enough in 2022 to give him another season with a better supporting cast to prove he is a franchise guy to build around.
Poles will continue to create trade smoke around Fields. He wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't. But the easy decision is to fill the other holes on the roster, give Fields more to work with, and see if he can take a big leap forward as a passer in 2023.
If the same questions about his ability to win from the pocket are being asked next offseason, then it might be time for the Bears to look elsewhere.
For now, it's too early to give up on Fields.