How the Chicago Bears Can Save the Justin Fields Era
It's safe to say the Justin Fields era is not off to an ideal start for the Chicago Bears, who dropped to 3-4 with a 38-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday as Fields threw three interceptions.
The No. 11 overall pick out of Ohio State has now tossed six picks and taken 22 sacks while throwing just two touchdown passes, and the Bears have averaged just 13.4 points per game in his five NFL starts.
However, it's too early to call Fields a bust. The Bears might not be a Super Bowl contender this season, but there are steps the team can take in the months to come to get the Fields era back on track before his sophomore season arrives.
Let's break it down.
Shop Allen Robinson II
Obviously, trading top receiver Allen Robinson isn't likely to help Fields or the Bears in 2021. In fact, it could make the second half of the season even more painful for both team and quarterback. But there's a strong chance the franchise-tagged 28-year-old gets away this offseason anyway, and next week's trade deadline could present an opportunity for the Bears to get something substantial in return for him.
While Robinson's production (he has just 23 catches and one touchdown) hasn't lived up to his $17.9 million salary this season, a contender like Cleveland Browns or New Orleans Saints could figure he has the talent and experience to put them over the top.
That doesn't mean the Bears should give Robinson up for just anything, though. There's still an outside chance he returns to the team in 2022 and beyond, and they'd have a shot at landing a compensatory draft pick should he walk. Those realities have to be weighed against what Chicago can get in return. It won't be a first-round pick, but it probably has to be a second- or third-rounder.
That would help a lot considering that they already lack first- and fourth-round picks next year as a result of the trade up for Fields in the 2021 draft.
Replace Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy
Will general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy want to part with Robinson? Probably not, because doing so would make the team temporarily weaker, increasing the chances that ownership decides to clean house and move on from both.
Their fate should already be a done deal.
Team chairman George McCaskey should insist that if Pace can get a Day 2 pick for Robinson, he pulls the trigger on a deal. And then, he and team president Ted Phillips should begin the process of identifying potential replacements for both the GM and the head coach.
The Bears have posted just one winning season and have won zero playoff games since hiring Pace in 2015, while Nagy's offenses have ranked 21st or lower in every one of his four full seasons in Chicago.
It's time for a major change, especially since Nagy's offense has done very little to support Fields so far. He failed with Mitchell Trubisky, and he hasn't shown close to enough scheme flexibility to help Fields succeed. The current system was generally built for other quarterbacks, including Week 1 starter Andy Dalton, and it has left Fields out to dry far too often.
Though it's understandable why the team brass might have trepidation about barking up the Kansas City Chiefs' tree again, Chiefs director of football operations Mike Borgonzi and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy could form an ideal partnership in a spot like Chicago.
Add Veterans at Center and Offensive Tackle
In defense of both Nagy and Fields, the Bears offensive line is in horrendous shape. It doesn't help that rookie second-round pick Teven Jenkins and veteran right tackle Germain Ifedi are on injured reserve. However, the former hasn't had a chance to play a single snap during the regular season, and the latter is merely a borderline starter anyway.
The Bears' top priority in the offseason should be to land at least one more potential starter at offensive tackle. In a perfect world, he could team up with Jenkins, and they could demote or part ways with Ifedi.
Without a first-round pick, a team projected by Spotrac to enter the 2022 offseason with nearly $50 million in salary-cap space has to make a run at an established free agent there and potentially at center as well. Current starter Sam Mustipher has been a mess, earning just a 44.7 grade from PFF.
Since it's easier to find a center beyond Round 1, the Bears can address that position later in the draft. For tackle, though, top targets entering March should be impending free agents Orlando Brown Jr. (who could follow Bieniemy) and Terron Armstead (who could be tough for the New Orleans Saints to retain considering their annual cap crunch).
Acquire a No. 1-Caliber Wide Receiver
Full circle here. They'll want to upgrade on Robinson, ideally with a receiver who can grow with Fields.
This could change to an extent if promising sophomore Darnell Mooney can take a significant step forward in the next few months, but the cupboard is practically bare beyond that anyway.
Keep in mind that former Fields teammates Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are expected to be early-round picks at receiver in the 2021 draft. Adding either would be wise, but Arkansas product Treylon Burks and Drake London from USC are extremely intriguing potential Day 2 targets as well.
Alternatively, they should consider going YOLO with a hot free agent like Davante Adams, Mike Williams, Courtland Sutton or Chris Godwin. They're going to have to spend some cash, or the gamble on Fields might never pay off.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.