PHOENIX – Heading into the offseason, the Chicago Bears’ brass made two declarations that would guide their decisions throughout free agency and the draft.
The first was that Justin Fields made significant strides in his second season, enough to prove he’s worth building around in 2023 while hoping he becomes the franchise’s long-term option at quarterback.
The second was that Fields needs to keep improving, especially as a passer, and the Bears have been trying to do their part to help facilitate that goal.
“Justin took a step in the right direction,” coach Matt Eberflus said at the NFL’s annual league meetings. “He made some dynamic plays that the whole league was talking about.
“Just like our whole football team, it’s a young team, and he needs to take that next step as the rest of us do.”
Along with general manager Ryan Poles and Chicago’s scouting staff, Eberflus spent the early part of the offseason evaluating all draft-eligible quarterbacks. Ultimately, the Bears’ decision to trade the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers backed their belief that Fields could reach their expectations, as long as the team adds weapons around him.
Eberflus believes the additions the Bears made in free agency with the likes of wide receiver DJ Moore, tight end Robert Tonyan, guard Nate Davis and running back D’Onta Foreman will help overcome the struggles Chicago’s offense experienced last season.
“We’re solidifying the offensive line and we’re getting the skill sets around that we need to move the ball down the field and score points,” Eberflus said, “and we’re excited about where we’re going.”
Shortly after Carolina sent picks No. 9, No. 61, a 2024 first-rounder and 2025 second-rounder to Chicago along with Moore in exchange for No. 1, Eberflus dined with the new wide receiver and his family. Moore’s energy lit up the room and foreshadowed the impact Eberflus believes it will have on the rest of the team, most notably on Fields.
“His relationship with Justin is going to be huge,” Eberflus said. “They're starting to build that already. And it's going to be exciting to see.”
Despite catching passes from eight different quarterbacks since 2018, Moore ended his time with the Panthers as the franchise’s fourth-leading receiver (5,201 yards). He recorded at least 1,100 receiving yards each season from 2019 to 2021 and scored a career-high seven touchdowns in 2022.
It’s no coincidence that a focal point of the Bears’ trade demands included Moore, a 25-year-old receiver whose career arc syncs up with Fields'.
“That’s certainly weighted,” Eberflus said. “It’s like with [free agent addition at linebacker Tremaine] Edmunds [who is also 25 years old]. All those things are weighted. You look at a guy who’s young and comes into the league young. This is a young man’s game. Those guys are at the soon-to-be apex of their careers.”
Eberflus said the Bears will emphasize the passing game more heavily in OTAs this spring with longer 7-on-7 periods as the offense acclimates to its new additions. Despite the intrigue over Moore and others, the Bears know there’s still work to be done, notably along the offensive and defensive lines.
A closer look at the reason for some of the 55 sacks Fields took in 2022 was the play along the interior of the line. That led the Bears to add Davis, who started 54 games at right guard for Tennessee in the past four seasons. The expectation is that Teven Jenkins will move to left guard and Cody Whitehair will slot at center. But the work is far from over. The lack of sturdiness up front means Chicago will need to be active in adding linemen, particularly at offensive tackle.
Poles’ evaluation of the current offensive tackle group available in free agency may foreshadow how the Bears use the ninth overall pick to better support their young quarterback.
“When you get to this point of free agency, it drops off,” Poles said. “The salaries drop off, talent, experience drops off. You do have a wave of players offensively and defensively that will go through the draft because they kind of want to see how everything settles. So we’ll keep an eye on those players. But right now, to improve our team, I think we got to look to the draft.”