It was a matter of when — not if — the Chicago Bears would trade the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
In order to draft their ideal quarterback for future seasons with the first overall pick, the Carolina Panthers gave up their first round pick (No. 9) and their second round pick (No. 61) to the Chicago Bears — as well as star wide receiver D.J. Moore and three other picks in future drafts. Bears General Manager Ryan Poles secured immediate help for quarterback Justin Fields in his upcoming all-important third season and acquired draft capital to bolster severely depleted offensive and defensive lines.
However, the trade’s timing was unusual. It is the earliest an NFL team has given up a No. 1 pick since 1978 — and only the third time this century.
At least for now, Poles’ decision does not look rushed, but rather efficient. A strong second half of the season for Fields led to Poles stating that he would have to be “blown away” by a prospect to select a quarterback at No. 1, a grand show of faith in Fields’ sophomore season, which saw him progress both through the air and on the ground.
Fields finished 2022 with 1,143 rushing yards, only 64 shy of the single-season quarterback record. Fields made strides through the air too, improving his touchdown to interception ratio as well as making a considerable jump from 31.4 to 53.9 in the quarterback rating (QBR).
However, where Fields succeeded last season may not be what excites Poles; instead, Poles may be excited about Fields’ failures. Fields scrambled as much as he did because of a poor offensive line, as well as a tendency to hold onto the ball for too long — caused by either receivers not getting to their spots or his own failure to make the right reads. The addition of a bona fide first option in D.J. Moore not only makes Fields’ job easier, but it should allow other Bears wideouts Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool to thrive in lower-pressure roles more suited to their skills, whether that is the deep threat of Mooney’s speed or the physical presence and catch radius of Claypool.
Although Moore is not a top ten receiver in the league, his career 5,201 yards since 2018 would make him Chicago’s all-time leading receiver, in addition to the fact that he has never had less than 788 receiving yards in a year. Regardless of whether this is a damning assessment of the Bears’ history at the position or the quality of Moore, it proves that Moore’s arrival brings something different to Fields’ offense for 2023 — and hopefully beyond. As a 25-year-old with extensive experience and a contract running through the next season, there’s plenty of time for Fields and Moore to strike up a productive and prosperous partnership.
The addition of Moore allows Poles to turn his full attention to the offensive and defensive lines, which can be addressed with the No. 9 and 61 picks — courtesy of the Panthers — as well as the free agency market. Expect the Bears to be big players, as they have a salary cap of $86,579,461 — the highest in the league. For example, Chicago has already signed former Titan guard Nate Davis to a three-year deal. The Bears have bolstered the defensive side of the ball too, signing two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Super Bowl runner-up linebacker T.J. Edwards while adding defensive end DeMarcus Walker, who is coming off a career-best year.
The Bears were the unfortunate owners of the league’s worst passing offense, at 130.5 yards per game, which led them to incorporate more designed runs for Fields in midseason. Although it led to success in the short term, allowing the Bears to average nearly 30 points per game in weeks seven through eleven, it did not allow Fields to grow as a passer.
“It’s a rushing record, and I’m a quarterback,” Fields said about almost eclipsing the all-time QB rushing record. “Of course, it would have been cool to have, but I’m not really into records like that. If there was one record I’d like to break it’d be a passing record.”
In theory, an improved offensive line will put Fields in a position to continue to develop his passing attributes while not losing his skill on the ground, especially coupled with his own development.
Poles has made his job easier with this trade, as it gives him versatility in his approach to one of the biggest rebuilding projects in the NFL. This is no worry, as Poles has shown so far that he has the skills to make the right decision at the right time.
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