The Chicago Bears' intentions with the No. 1 overall pick for the 2023 NFL draft are as clear as cellophane. The current setup could be just as sticky, too.
General manager Ryan Poles must walk the line of trying to drive up value with the top selection while not estranging his current starting quarterback, Justin Fields.
The latter seems far less likely, since Fields appears set to lead the franchise well into the future. Though Poles tried to play it off like a quarterback remains a possibility to the team during Tuesday's end-of-season review press conference.
When prodded by local media about the possibility of another quarterback, Poles responded, "We're going to do the same as we've always done. We're going to evaluate the draft class, and I would say this: I would have to be absolutely blown away to make that type of decision."
The door hasn't been slammed completely shut.
"I thought we changed a lot, we adapted, we tried to put him in a position to be successful, he showed the ability to be a playmaker, be impactful," Poles added when discussing Fields' progression within the offense. "He can change games quickly. Does he have room to grow? He does. He has to get better as a passer, and I'm excited to see him take those steps as we move forward."
Fields is an electric athlete who just finished with the second-best rushing effort (1,143 yards) by a quarterback in NFL history. In fact, he's the only professional quarterback to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau and rush for eight or more scores.
Yes, Fields needs to improve and become a more consistent passer. The fact that Chicago's front office and coaching staffs have done very little to help him with his overall development must be baked into the previous statement. Fields is asked to almost single-handedly carry the Bears offense, because Chicago lacks a quality offensive line and weapons.
The organization's primary directive this offseason is to properly build around the the 23-year-old. The best way to do so involves maximizing the leverage of the No. 1 overall pick, gaining a windfall in a trade and using those assets to finally construct a better cockpit around Fields.
Poles' comments are the first step toward realizing what comes next.
Four franchises currently situated among this year's top 10 selections should be regularly calling the Bears over the next couple of months until some type of deal is reached—and one will almost certainly materialize with multiple quarterback-needy teams looking to land Alabama's Bryce Young, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud or Kentucky's Will Levis.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard enters the offseason's negotiations with no leverage whatsoever, and he knows as much. Hence why he isn't even trying to hide the fact.
"I'd do whatever it takes," Ballard responded when asked by reporters if he'd move heaven and earth to acquire a franchise quarterback after cycling through Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles. "If we thought there's a player that we're driven to get, that makes the franchise and the team better, that's what we do."
Indianapolis completely bottomed out this season and finished with a 4-12-1 record. Thanks to its Week 18 loss and the Denver Broncos' surprising victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the Colts settled into the fourth overall pick, which is the ideal landing spot for the Bears in any trade scenario.
Chicago can add extra draft picks while staying in the range to still land an elite prospect among this year's class. A quarterback is almost certainly earmarked for the second overall pick, with the Houston Texans standing pat to land one. The Colts don't want to be leapfrogged by any other franchises while simultaneously sticking it to a rival by jumping over their AFC South counterpart to land their choice of prospects.
"You've got to be right," Ballard added. "We understand the magnitude of where we're at in the draft, and we understand the importance of the position. To get one that, actually, you can win with, and to be right, is the most important thing."
Interestingly, the Bears are the last team to make a short leap from inside the top five to land their preferred quarterback. Granted, Mitchell Trubisky didn't work out in the team's favor, though the move provides a little insight into what could happen.
The Colts can offer a similar deal including this year's fourth overall selection, as well as third- and fourth-rounders and a future pick—maybe even a 2024 first rounder, if Ballard becomes truly desperate—allowing the Bears to move down a few slots and still land Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. or Georgia's Jalen Carter.
Las Vegas Raiders
The "black hole" designation in Las Vegas is currently reserved for the spot behind center.
The Raiders' decision to bench Derek Carr after giving him a three-year, $121.5 million contract extension this past spring shows a mismanagement of funds and talent evaluation that's pretty tough to top.
"I think there's going to be some time here that we need to go back through everything that we've done," head coach Josh McDaniels told reporters Monday. "It's going to start with him. We're going to look at the games we've played, our performance at every position, and try to just look at it objectively now. We're just looking at what we've done. At the end of the day, we'll need to make some decisions about everything."
McDaniels and the general manager Dave Zeigler can't repair what they've done. Anytime a team shows it lacks confidence in its longtime starter, the relationship is instantly broken beyond repair.
Potential suitors may emerge in a possible trade scenario. If dealt, the Raiders will save $29.3 million toward the 2023 salary cap, according to Over The Cap. The organization may be forced to show some patience, much like the San Francisco 49ers tried with Jimmy Garoppolo. If there's not enough interest and the Raiders are ready to move on, Carr's release with a June 1 designation will save the team $33 million.
For all intents and purposes, The decision to move on is already made. The Raiders can turn their attention toward free agency and possibly reunite McDaniels with Tom Brady or Garoppolo, if either is interested. Maybe neither wants to play in Sin City. The possibility can't be overlooked, and the Raiders must consider every contingency.
When the Philadelphia Eagles traded up from the eighth slot to No. 2 overall and drafted Carson Wentz six years ago, general manager Howie Roseman gave up first-, third- and fourth-round draft picks in that class, as well as a future first- and second-rounder.
A six-slot difference currently exists between the Bears and Raiders, who sit in the seventh hole.
Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers
The further down the draft order we go, the asking price increases exponentially. That's if the Bears even want to consider such a move.
Atlanta chugged their medicine this year by taking on the most dead money in NFL history, including Matt Ryan's record-setting $40.5 million dead-cap hit upon his trade to the Colts. Long-term planning will allow the Falcons to be in a much better position this year after performing better than expected with a competitive team that finished with a 7-10 record.
But Atlanta's roster doesn't have an answer at quarterback. Neither Marcus Mariota nor Desmond Ridder showed enough to make their claim as the guy for next season. Maybe the Falcons can finally build toward something of substance under Arthur Smith's vision for the first time in two-plus years.
The Panthers, meanwhile, had a vision from Day 1 of David Tepper's ownership. The organization simply failed in its effort to acquire the most important piece of the puzzle through five seasons.
Carolina went from Cam Newton to Kyle Allen to Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold and back to Newton, before acquiring Baker Mayfield this year and recycling Darnold to end the 2022 campaign. If any team is desperate enough to make gigantic move for a quarterback, Carolina just may be the best bet.
As owners of the eighth and ninth selections, respectively, the Falcons and Panthers have their work cut out for them.
While a trade with Chicago may not be as drastic as the Los Angeles Rams moving to No. 1 from the 15th slot in 2017, a premium can be placed on this year's top spot, especially with how much interest could be coming from other teams. The Rams ultimately surrendered a first-round pick, two second-rounders and a third-round selection that year and added first- and third-rounders the following year. It just might take three picks in the opening frame just to draw the Bears' interest.