INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL combine marks the true start of the NFL offseason. The confetti has fallen after a championship parade, and all 32 teams are full steam ahead in their quest to get to the mountain top next season.
It’s also a time for the entire league to gather in one place and swap information, thoughts, and whispers from across the landscape of The Shield.
The Bears were a hot topic in Indianapolis. General manager Ryan Poles spoke Tuesday, reaffirmed his commitment to Justin Fields being his starting quarterback in 2023, detailed his strategy for trading the No. 1 pick, and explained what would have to happen for him to be “blown away” by one of the top quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Fields and the Bears weren’t the only items on the docket in Indianapolis.
Here’s what we heard in the whisper circles from a week in Indy:
High asking price, high interest
The Bears opened the offseason with the expected smokescreen around the possibility of trading Fields. Poles did that to create leverage as trade discussions for the No. 1 pick ramp up.
That leverage is no longer needed.
Word around the combine is that several teams are showing interest in the pick, with the Bears looking for a first- and second-round pick in this year’s draft as well as a first-round pick in 2024 and 2025 to move outside the top five. There’s the potential for that price to come down a tick if the trade partner is still in the top five.
“Poles did his job. He did enough to make it seem like he might be willing to trade Fields and now he has at least three teams inquiring about the pick,” one NFL front office member told NBC Sports Chicago. “He now has all the leverage he needs to get what he wants for the pick. I’m not sure he’s going to get everything he wants – the price is extremely high – but I think he’ll get most of it.”
The most prevailing thought thrown at me over the past week was the idea that the Bears will have to trade down twice to get the kind of return Poles is said to be coveting. Several people pointed to the Colts as the pivotal team in this scenario, with owner Jim Irsay being viewed as a wild card who could be willing to surrender more than necessary to move up a couple of spots to No. 2 after a potential Bears trade with the Texans.
Richardson suitors lining up
One of the most-uttered tidbits during the past week revolved around Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson and his rising stock.
Many around the league believe Richardson will be one of the pre-draft process' biggest risers and think he might not make it out of the top four.
A team believed to be heavily interested in Richardson is the Seattle Seahawks. Head coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday that his team is deeply connected with all the quarterbacks in the class. Richardson is enough of a project that Seattle could re-sign Geno Smith and let Richardson sit for a year or two until he’s ready.
The Seahawks weren’t the only team linked to Richardson in Indianapolis, though.
The Las Vegas Raiders are also seen as a team that will have interest in the Florida quarterback as well as …
Dark horse trade-up candidate
Very few people saw the San Francisco 49ers jumping up nine spots two drafts ago to take Trey Lance. One of the things I was curious to find out at the combine was who people thought could be this year's surprise trade-up team.
I got a few answers, but the most common one was the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons drafted quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round last year and have needs across their roster.
But members of multiple NFL organizations pointed to the Falcons as a team to keep an eye on as the draft nears.
“They like Ridder but is he good enough to pass on a guy you really like? I don’t think so,” an NFL coach told NBC Sports Chicago. “Arthur wants the ideal guy to run his system. It’s easy to see them making a go at one of the top guys.”
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The Bears aren’t the only team in the top five interested in moving down. The Arizona Cardinals are thought to be actively shopping the No. 3 pick, and the Seahawks, despite their views on Richardson, are seen as a team who could move down for the right price.
No clear pecking order
After the edge rushers popped early at the combine, the final few days were all about the quarterbacks.
Bryce Young checked in at 5-foot-10, 204 pounds, and automatically drew comparisons to Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. That’s a comparison that many didn't love.
“No, he’s a much more talented and mature player that [Kyler],” one NFL coach told NBC Sports Chicago. “He’s a better pure passer. He doesn’t have Kyler’s athleticism, and that’s where maybe the durability issue comes in, but he’s a better player in my eyes.”
What was evident in Indianapolis is that the quarterback rankings of a good class vary by team.
While many teams have Young atop their board, C.J. Stroud and Richardson have their fair share of backers.
“I could easily see Richardson going No. 1 depending on who has the first pick,” the same coach told NBC Sports Chicago. “When you see the traits in person, it’s easy to fall in love with the best-case scenario. Everyone is chasing the big-armed quarterback with elite athleticism who can make ‘wow’ plays. In this class, he’s the one who is going to hook someone into believing the best-case scenario over the most-likely outcome.”
Varying thoughts on the top-four quarterbacks could play into the Bears’ hands, especially if Poles is interested in trading down twice.
Richardson and C.J. Stroud put on a show in Indianapolis, which should only increase interest for the No. 1 pick as teams look to ensure they get the guy atop their board.