INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Bears' season ended, general manager Ryan Poles stated he planned for Justin Fields to be his starting quarterback in 2023 while leaving himself a few yards of wiggle room to draft a new signal-caller at No. 1 overall.
Poles hasn't moved off his stance despite the mountain of trade whispers surrounding Fields and the Bears. If anything, it sounds like the wiggle room has shrunk.
"No. Nothing has changed there," Poles told Chicago media Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I saw the [report] from yesterday in terms of leaning one way or the other. That's always been the case. We've always leaned [toward keeping Justin and trading the pick]. Justin did some really good things. I'm excited about where his game is going to go. But at the same time, when you sit in our situation at one overall, you have to do your due diligence, you have to investigate everything. You got to spend time [with the top draft QBs]. Just to make sure you are making the right decision. It's important.
"That's the plan, right now," Pole said of Fields being the starter in 2023. "Like I said, we are going to do our homework on this class and if something changes, and I'll use the same statement, we have to be blown away to say 'You know what? I think this is what is best for our organization.'"
Poles has had "starter conversations" with teams about potential trades but "nothing specific" about Fields or the No. 1 pick. Poles said teams have not asked him if Fields is available.
The Bears' general manager has been in constant communication with his 23-year-old quarterback, keeping him apprised of the franchise's moves during a critical offseason.
"We anticipated this a while ago so we have been in communication with him," Poles said. " There's going to be a lot of noise and I let him know that 'I'm going to keep you up to date with what we are doing and why we are doing it.' I think that's important for him to know what we are doing."
Poles now has stated several times that he'd have to be "blown away" to trade Fields and draft a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick.
The criteria for being "blown away" is exhaustive.
"When you watch it over and over and go, 'wow,'" Poles said when asked what being "blown away" entails. "This is like different. It's the collection of anticipation, arm talent, arm strength, accuracy. It's all the categories you look for in a quarterback. Then, it's like we talked about here. It's the person. You need to be a unique human being to play this position in this league with this pressure. Just to be able to keep coming game after game after game. And just to be able to critique yourself year after year.
"It's huge checklist. But we'll go down that and make sure we are doing the right thing."
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Fields' second season also plays a major role in the Bears' calculus. Fields was one of the most dynamic players with the ball in his hands in the NFL. He's a special playmaker. The passing has to improve, but Poles saw enough in 2022 to make it hard to move on from Fields.
"Those are those moments that did blow you away," Poles said of Fields and how he plays into the long checklist to draft a quarterback at No. 1. "His athletic ability and ability to create explosive plays were special. Now, what we’ve had discussions about, and I talked about it openly, like, he’s got to take the next step in his game and I’m excited to see that because I think he’s going to."
It's the right move for the Bears at this point in time. Fields has an elite skill. He can bail the Bears out on third-and-9, turning disaster into a momentum-shifting first down. That's imperative in today's NFL.
The passing has to get better. Fields has been open about his need to be sharper when it comes to short and intermediate passes. The "gimmes" have to be "gimmes." The Bears are smartly betting that Fields' passing will take off with a better offensive line and better weapons.
The Jalen Hurts comparison has been thrown around a lot with Fields, but it's instructive because of how the two young quarterbacks are wired. Both are known for their tireless work ethic. Fields was in the weight room at Halas Hall days after the season ended. Quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko was often late for his media availability because Fields wanted to keep studying film. Janocko would sometimes go back and keep going through film with Fields.
Poles and the Bears are betting on the person. That the combination of his drive and their improved talent will blend seamlessly, and things will take off.
It's a bet they have to make. If it doesn't start to pay next season, then they can look to move on. For now, Fields is too talented to give to another team to polish and turn into a star. If he's going to be great, it needs to be in Chicago.