Bears hint at Justin Fields Caleb Williams decision at combine

Bears hint at Justin Fields-Caleb Williams decision at combine – NBC Sports Chicago

INDIANAPOLIS – The Bears claim they arrived in Indianapolis for the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine early in the intelligence gathering phase of their franchise-defining quarterback journey.

Both general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus spoke in Indianapolis on Tuesday, painting a picture of a franchise that wants everyone to believe that things are up in the air. Poles said he has “no master plan” and acknowledged that the time frame for a final decision could be longer than expected based on how long it takes him to get to know the top prospects as people. Eberflus said the Bears are still evaluating everything as they chart a course moving forward.

Poles said he plans to be transparent with quarterback Justin Fields and will “do right” by Fields and trade him quickly if the Bears decide their best course of action is to move on from the 24-year-old quarterback.

Everything the Bears said Tuesday was about making it seem like they hadn't decided whether Fields was part of their future. But things started to slip when Poles and Eberflus talked about the qualities they look for in a quarterback, giving a big hint as to the direction they're currently trending.

“I look at situations. I look at the guys who can handle third-down, two-minute and end-of-the-game situations,” Eberflus said on Tuesday. “For me that is a separator. And then you look at the toughness. A quarterback's toughness is really about the mental toughness, being able to stand in the pocket and play the ball, and also having the judgment to get out of it be creative when necessary. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It was always fun to try them out.

“I know what a good quarterback looks like, and what's difficult for a defense is a guy who has the ability to create, a guy who has the ability to throw with timing and accuracy, and the guy who can move the ball across the field when.” These are the critical moments. So on third down, two minutes, all those critical moments.”

Fields' inability to deliver in the fourth quarter has been a scarlet letter for quarterbacks over the past two seasons.

Of 40 quarterbacks who threw at least 50 passes in the fourth quarter last season, Fields ranked 39th in passer rating with 53.4. Only Bailey Zappe was worse. He ranked 28th in passing yards, 26th in touchdown passes and had the second-most interceptions in the final quarter. Thirty-one quarterbacks threw at least 20 passes while playing for four minutes or less this season. Fields ranked 29th in passer rating and 28th in completion percentage and tied with Jordan Love and Aidan O'Connell for the most interceptions.

Where Fields checks the boxes is as a person and leader.

Poles has repeatedly stressed the importance of getting to know each top candidate personally. Poles said Tuesday that “time to work” with each candidate will be critical as the Bears try to figure out what kind of leader each is, what makes them tick and whether they are the right man to lead the Bears franchise in the future.

“They look for examples of reliability, selflessness, leadership and ownership,” Poles said. “It's hard these days to find people who will say, 'Hey, that was wrong.' “Yes, it was wrong, and here’s what I need to do to correct it.” Instead of just messing around.”

Eberflus reiterated that the most important part of the Bears' process will be taking the time to find out things about Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels that they already know about Fields.

“The wiring of a quarterback — obviously No. 1 — is leadership,” Eberflus said. “You have to be a great leader, you have to be resilient.” You have to be able to handle criticism, and then of course the physical characteristics. That's a big part of it. The accuracy, the timing, the platform, all the things you're talking about with it. And then to be a winner. That's what matters. All of these teams that do things at the end of the season have winners at the quarterback spot.”

Fields checks the “Leadership” box. There's no question that his teammates will gravitate toward him and play hard behind him.

But Fields has also worked on refining his rhythm and timing in the pocket over the past two seasons. Things got better last season, but he also spent the least amount of time in the pocket last season. According to tracking data from Next Gen Stats (H/t Tom Bliss of, Fields spent only 80.5 percent of his dropbacks and design runs in the pocket. For comparison, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson were just over 85, while Patrick Mahomes was just under 87. CJ Stroud and Jordan Love were 90.2 and 91.9 respectively.

Fields showed a better pocket presence in 2023. He did a better job of fighting with a passerby's mentality and keeping his eyes up looking for explosives.

But the Poles know all this. He has spent the last two years at Fields. He knows what he is and what he is not.

The next step in the process involves Poles and the Bears learning about the unknown.

The Bears are scheduled to face Williams, Maye and Daniels for the first time this week. These 20-minute sitdowns serve as the starting point for a deep dive that will determine the Bears' future at the quarterback position.

Poles said he hopes to complete the process soon, but is aware it could take longer depending on how long it takes to get the time needed for each interested party.

The Bears will spend 30 visits with prospects in Indianapolis during their pro days and may hold private workouts if the timing works out.

The Bears may not have a “master plan,” but it certainly sounds like they know which direction they’re leaning toward.

“Free agency would be good before that,” Poles said on Tuesday. “Like I said, if we were going to do something with Justin, I want to please him, and I know since we live in this gray area, we would want to do something sooner rather than later.”

Last year, Poles said he would have to be “blown away” to leave Fields.

A year later, he talks about Fields “doing the right thing” while his coach lists boxes that Fields doesn’t necessarily check.

By trying to say nothing Tuesday, the Bears said more than enough.

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