When the Chicago Bears signed Andy Dalton last month, it was pretty clear he wouldn’t be the only quarterback they added this season — not with head coach Matt Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace on thin ice after not producing a playoff win in three seasons working together.
There were no guarantees about adding a pick-and-play option in the draft but Pace made sure he did, sending two first-round picks and two lesser picks to the New York Giants for the 11th pick, which they used to land Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
The Bears started the night with the 20th pick in the first round but sent it and their fifth-round pick (164 overall), along with their first-rounder and a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft, to the Giants after watching Fields slide out of the first 10 picks. They had balked at the price of moving up higher after San Francisco sent Miami three first-rounders for the third pick, which the 49ers used to make North Dakota State’s Trey Lance the third quarterback off the board.
Pace and Nagy were no doubt delighted when Fields and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones remained available while one tight end, three wide receivers, two cornerbacks and an offensive tackle came off the board. The rebuilding Giants believe they have their quarterback with 2019 first-rounder Daniel Jones, and looked for quantity over quality in building a team that went 6-10 last season. They took University of Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney with the 20th pick.
Pace was under the gun because of the disappointment that followed his selecting Mitchell Trubisky ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft. He traded for Nick Foles a year ago rather than drafting a quarterback but the quarterback carousel continued spinning.
Fields, who never lost a Big Ten game at Ohio State, is expected to step in almost immediately. “I honestly believe they’re taking a quarterback similar to the ones they passed on not so long ago — Mahomes and Deshaun Watson,’’ ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said.
Kiper had Fields ranked as the second best quarterback in the draft, behind only Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. He pointed out that Fields and Lawrence were the top two quarterbacks in their high school recruiting classes.
Fields started his college career with the University of Georgia but transferred to Ohio State after playing behind Jake Fromm in 2018. He was third in Heisman Trophy voting for the Buckeyes in ’19 and seventh a year ago, even though the Big Ten started play later than the SEC and Big 12, citing Covid-19 concerns.
In his two seasons at Ohio State, Fields threw for 63 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. He averaged 244 yards per game passing while also rushing for 867 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Buckeyes were 20-2 behind him.
They lost only to Clemson in the College Football Playoffs semifinals and to Alabama in the College Football Championship Game. Fields threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns in an eye-popping 49-28 win over Lawrence and Clemson in the 2020 semifinals.
He joins Dalton and Foles on the Bears’ roster but probably won’t play behind them for long. He may even be the Bears’ starter when they open next season.
Kiper noted that Aaron Rodgers appears to be near the end of his run in Green Bay, which may soon allow Fields to become the best quarterback in the NFC North. Detroit is counting on Jared Goff after trading Matt Stafford and Detroit quarterback Kirk Cousins will be 33 next season. “Justin Fields could be the best quarterback in the division,’’ Kiper said.
The Bears probably would have added an offensive tackle or a wide receiver if they had not moved up to grab Fields. They will focus on targets for Fields, as well as linemen to protect him, on the second and third days of the draft. But they expect Fields to be mobile enough to make some magic on his own, sort of like the two Pro Bowl talents they passed on when they took Trubisky.