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Bears offer hint at Justin Fields-Caleb Williams decision while trying to say nothing

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears maintain that they arrived in Indianapolis for the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine still early in the information-gathering stage of their franchise-defining quarterback journey.

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

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

Everything the Bears said Tuesday was about putting on the facade that they haven’t decided whether Fields is part of their future. But things started to slip through as Poles and Eberflus talked about the traits they look for in a quarterback, giving a big hint at the direction they are currently leaning.

“I look at situations. I look at the guys that can operate third down, two-minute, and the end of the game situations,” Eberflus said Tuesday. “To me, that’s a separator. And then you look at toughness. Toughness for a quarterback really is about the mental toughness to be able to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball and also to have the discernment to be able to move out of the pocket and create when it’s necessary. They come in all different shapes and sizes. It’s always been fun to evaluate those.

“I know what a good quarterback looks like and what’s hard on 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 down the field when it’s the critical moments. So on third down, two-minute, all those critical moments.”

Fields’ inability to deliver in the fourth quarter has been a quarterback scarlet letter over the past two seasons.

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

Where Fields does check the boxes is as a person and leader.

Poles has continually harped on the importance of getting to know each of the top prospects as a person. Poles said Tuesday that “time on task” with each prospect will be vital as the Bears try to decipher what kind of leader each guy is, what makes him tick, and whether or not he’s the right guy to lead the Bears franchise going forward.

“You’re looking for examples of dependability, selflessness, leadership, and ownership,” Poles said. “It’s hard these days to find people that are like, ‘Hey, this was wrong.’ ‘Yeah, it was wrong, and here’s what I have to do to correct it.’ Rather than just kind of being BSing your way through it.”

Eberflus echoed 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’ve gotta be resilient. You’ve gotta be able to handle criticism, and then obviously the physical traits. That’s a big part of it. The accuracy, the timing, the platform, all the things you talk about with that. And then being a winner. That’s what it comes down to. All these teams that do things at the end of the season, they have winners at the quarterback spot.”

Fields checks the leadership box. There’s no question that his teammates gravitate toward him and will play hard behind him.

But Fields has also spent the last two seasons working to refine his rhythm and timing in the pocket. It got better this past season, but he also spent the least amount of time in the pocket last season. According to Next Gen Stats tracking data (H/t’s Tom Bliss), Fields spent just 80.5 percent of his dropbacks and designed runs in the pocket. For comparison, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson were just above 85, while Patrick Mahomes was a shade under 87. CJ Stroud and Jordan Love were at 90.2 and 91.9, respectively.

Fields showed better pocket presence in 2023. He did a better job of scrambling with a passer’s mentality and keeping his eyes upfield looking for explosives.

But Poles knows all of that. He has spent the last two years with Fields. He knows what he is and what he isn’t.

The next step of the process is about Poles and the Bears learning about the unknown.

The Bears are slated to meet Williams, Maye, and Daniels for the first time this week. These 20-minute sitdowns serve as the jumping-off point for a deep dive that will determine the Bears’ future at the quarterback position.

Poles said he hopes to get the process done soon but is aware that it could be more drawn out depending on how long it takes him to have the required time on task with each prospect.

The Bears will spend time with the prospects in Indianapolis, at their pro days, on 30 visits and potentially hold private workouts if the timing works out.

The Bears might not have a “master plan,” but it sure sounds like they know which way they are leaning.

“Before free agency would be good,” Poles said Tuesday. “Like I said, if we were to do something with Justin, I want to do right by him and I know, again, living in that grey space, we would want to do something sooner rather than later.”

Last year, Poles said he’d have to be “blown away” to move off Fields.

One year later, he’s talking about “doing right” by Fields while his coach lists off boxes that Fields doesn’t necessarily check.

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

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