PHOENIX -- Thomas Dimitroff was the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons for 13 seasons. He was the architect of the roster that got them to Super Bowl LI, where they famously blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots.
Dimitroff made countless difficult decisions as the lead man in Atlanta. He sees the big decisions Bears general manager Ryan Poles is facing and has heard the chatter about potentially trading quarterback Justin Fields.
Dimitroff, now the CEO of Sumer Sports, an analytics company helping teams build better rosters, knows Poles didn't draft Fields. But in his opinion, that doesn't mean Poles should move on from the 23-year-old quarterback. If he were in Poles' shoes, Dimitroff wouldn't want to be the guy who traded away Fields.
"To think about starting over again, in my mind Ryan Poles, coming into that second year, usually in that first year you are given a little bit of leeway," Dimitroff told NBC Sports Chicago at Super Bowl LVII's Radio Row. "It's really important. The clock is ticking. The clock is ticking now faster than ever. I don't care where you are. I know [Fields] wasn't his draft pick, but the decision to move on or keep is his. He will be judged on that up and down, left, right, and center, no question about it. So it's easy to say, let's just move on. But who are the loyalists in the locker room and around the building? There's other little funky things. Your owners are telling you, 'Look, he's selling a lot of tickets, and he's also selling jerseys.' There are other elements that come into play that make it a little more complicated.
"The idea of having the No. 1 pick where they are and with a quarterback that I think they can grow with, this would be my opportunity to trade back [and not draft a new quarterback]."
Dimitroff and his partner Eric Eager, formally of Pro Football Focus, differ in their opinion. Eager believes the time might be right to move on from Fields because he only has three years left on his rookie contract, and the Bears aren't close to contending. "Re-setting the clock," in his opinion, is the right move for Poles.
But Dimitroff knows that trading Fields is a "put your job on the line" move. He sees no reason for the Bears to make that decision. Having a quarterback is everything in the NFL, and the Bears have one they can build around.
"A GM, yes he's gauged on building the team, but it's about the quarterback he brings in, quarterback he maintains, and how many contracts he can get him," Dimitroff told NBC Sports Chicago. "That is a big, big deal."
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But quarterback evaluation is an imperfect science. It's why teams missed on Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft and the reason a large portion of first-round picks don't pan out.
Dimitroff and Eager are working on metrics to help teams properly evaluate quarterbacks. But the former GM believes the pitfalls come in areas that are hard to quantify.
"I just think, in the end, you can't measure, at least as we want to measure: How do you measure leadership? How do you measure passion? How do you measure the true intelligence and anticipatory side of what's important for a quarterback?" Dimitroff told NBC Sports Chicago. "Those are things that are really, really vital for us to know. The total leadership side -- you can get all these guys that are massively athletic or massive in what they are offering. But [if the] innate leadership ability [isn't there], then you could have a situation on your hands that is very, very funky."
Fields' biggest area of growth in Year 2 came in his leadership of the team and ownership of the offense. It's something that has those around Halas Hall excited about his future.
The intangibles and hard-to-measure traits, well, Fields has those in spades.
"He wants this to be his franchise. He wants this to be his city," quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko said of Fields before the end of the Bears' season. "Just the way he works. Spend five minutes with the kid, and you know it. He’s a dude. He’s a dog. He’s an alpha. Spend a little bit of time with him, you know he wants to be it."
Fields must improve as a passer. He identified short passes, the gimmes, as an area he needs to clean up this offseason.
But the overwhelming consensus from current and former players and those around the league is that the Bears should and will keep and build around Fields. To give up on him now, when the arrow is pointing straight up, would be incredibly foolish.