The Chicago Bears are eagerly anticipating quarterback Justin Fields’ third year in the NFL, hoping the offseason upgrades they have made on offense will set him up for a breakout campaign as a passer in 2023. As far as Fields’ future with the franchise goes, though, their next decision with him figures to be “easy.”
Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame recently evaluated all of the first-round selections from the 2021 draft class and made predictions for who among them — 19 of 32 — are expected to have their fifth-year options picked up when decisions are made next May. For Fields, he projects Bears general manager Ryan Poles to have an “easy decision.”
“There’s a world where Fields flops this year, and then the Bears have a tough call on their hands,” Verderame admitted in his May 29 article. “However, considering all the progress Fields made in his second season, the more likely scenario is that general manager Ryan Poles has an easy decision in front of him. As a second-year quarterback, Fields accounted for 3,385 yards and 25 touchdowns, finishing ninth in MVP balloting.”
Can Justin Fields Take Next Step for Bears in 2023?
An exercised fifth-year option for Fields might become a foregone conclusion if he can make even modest strides as a passer in 2023, but the third-year quarterback will need to prove it in the regular season before the Bears can get too eager about his future.
Unlike the 2022 offseason, the Bears have gone to great lengths to improve the supporting cast around Fields for the 2023 season. They insisted upon getting D.J. Moore from Carolina in their deal for the No. 1 overall pick, getting a true top receiver for Fields to depend on alongside Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool.
The Bears also added two new offensive line starters in right guard Nate Davis and first-round right tackle Darnell Wright and restocked their running back stable with fresh legs, replacing David Montgomery with D’Onta Foreman, Travis Homer and fourth-round pick Roschon Johnson in a rotation that still features third-year Khalil Herbert.
Perhaps equally as important are the defensive upgrades the Bears acquired for 2023. They completely reinvested their linebacker corps, adding T.J. Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds and fifth-round rookie Noah Sewell to a returning group that Jack Sanborn headlined. They also used their Day 2 selections to acquire two standout defensive tackles (Gervon Dexter Sr. and Zacch Pickens) and a perimeter cornerback (Tyrique Stevenson), trading up to ensure they got Stevenson for their 2023 defense.
While there are still holes — a veteran pass rusher would still be nice — the Bears have a far better roster now than they had when they finished the 2022 season.
Can Fields capitalize, though? He did unreal things with his legs in 2022, breaking off several 50-plus-yard runs and finishing with the second-most quarterback rushing yards in NFL history (1,143). There were times, though — when forced to pass — that Fields either held onto the ball too long or missed easier short-to-intermediate passes that killed the momentum of their drives.
That’s not to say all of the shortcomings in 2022 fell squarely on Fields’ shoulders, but there are undoubtedly questions he needs to answer if he wants to solidify himself as the franchise quarterback that the Chicago franchise has been awaiting for decades.
Option Could Be Irrelevant if Justin Fields Breaks Out
One thing worth considering about Fields’ 2025 fifth-year option: If he breaks out for the Bears in 2023, the option itself could become irrelevant with the priority then switching to extending Fields rather than dragging out his time on a rookie contract.
Fields stated during the first week of OTAs that he is not worried about a contract extension and remains focused on “wins” for the upcoming season, but the ever-increasing quarterback market could make his future contract situation interest for Chicago as it navigates his long-term future. Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert figure to be the next quarterbacks to sign market-shifting contract extensions with their respective teams, but Fields and his class could be the next in line — so long as he improves.
At this point, it is a little too early to predict what the Bears might have to pay to retain Fields beyond his rookie contract, but Jalen Hurts’ recent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles could be a solid jumping-off point. After Hurts’ breakout year in 2022 that saw him contend for the MVP award, the Eagles extended him on a five-year contract worth $255 million with $110 million fully guaranteed, per Over the Cap.
The Bears — who are projected to remain in cap heaven for at least another offseason — should be able to afford a similar price if Fields follows a similar trajectory, but it is nonetheless a major decision for Poles and his crew to evaluate in the coming years.