The Chicago Bears have seemingly endless options to improve this offseason, and another sensational one has emerged just a week ahead of free agency.
Lamar Jackson is officially free to negotiate prospective deals with all 31 competing teams in the league after the Baltimore Ravens applied the non-exclusive franchise tag to the quarterback on Tuesday, March 7. That doesn’t guarantee Jackson plays for a new team in 2023, as the Ravens can match any offer sheet he signs. But the team and player are a good distance away from a long-term agreement, which complicates the marriage moving forward. If Baltimore finds the right deal, the team can’t afford to ignore it, and the Bears have as much to offer as just about anyone.
The rules of the non-exclusive tag award the Ravens two first-round draft selections from any team who signs Jackson should Baltimore decide not to match the offer. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell noted on Tuesday that Chicago would presumably be unwilling to part with the top overall pick straight up for Jackson, meaning the deal would require a trade that would, in turn, require a third team.
Barnwell’s sample trade proposal sees the following deal materialize between the Bears, Ravens and Indianapolis Colts.
- Bears acquire Jackson, No. 22 overall pick in 2023 (via Ravens), 2024 second-round pick (via Colts), 2025 third-round pick (via Colts)
- Ravens acquire QB Justin Fields (via Bears), No. 4 overall pick in 2023 (via Colts), 2024 first-round pick (via Colts)
- Colts acquire No. 1 overall pick in 2023 (via Bears), 2024 fourth-round pick (via Ravens), 2025 fourth-round pick (via Ravens)
Bears Among Top Fits in NFL For Ravens Quarterback Lamar Jackson
Barnwell’s proposal was something of an exercise, as he laid out the pros and cons for all 16 NFL franchises potentially in the market for Jackson, listing the Bears eighth among those prospective destinations.
However, in the interim, ESPN’s Field Yates reported that none of the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Las Vegas Raiders, Miami Dolphins or Washington Commanders are interested in pursuing Jackson. Those teams hit Barnwell’s list as the No. 1, No. 2, No. 5, No. 7 and No. 11 options, respectively — narrowing the overall field to 11 teams down from 16, and pushing Chicago up from the eighth-most viable option for Jackson to the fourth.
There’s a universe in which the Bears can have some version of their cake and eat it too. … Jackson won’t be cheap, but the Bears have plenty of cap space, and he’s a much more reliable option than Fields, or whichever quarterback they would take at the top of the draft.
The Bears are early in a rebuild, but is there any team in the league more desperate for a franchise quarterback? They have had their quarterback post an above-average adjusted net yards per attempt just nine times in 53 years since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 (with a 250-attempt minimum). They’ve never had a quarterback post an above-average mark in back-to-back seasons over that stretch. Jackson has done that three times in his four full years as a starter, let alone considering what he offers as a runner.
Bears’ Youth on Offense Argues Against Pursuit of QB Lamar Jackson
The strongest argument against the Bears’ pursuit of Jackson is two-fold:
- That Fields could one day develop into the player that Jackson is, or something close to it.
- That Fields, or a quarterback selected No. 1 overall this year, offers a better fit with the Bears’ rebuilding timeline and offers between 2-4 more years of affordability at the quarterback position.
“Chicago is a couple of years away from having the sort of infrastructure needed to get the most out of Jackson. It has its pick of the quarterbacks in April’s class and its own mobile quarterback in Fields, who might develop into Jackson if the team ever gets him more help,” Barnwell wrote. “Like the [Houston] Texans, are the Bears really better off paying Jackson $50 million a year than they are to go with a quarterback who will cost a fraction of that amount and better align with their rebuilding time frame?”
The concerns are legitimate, but Jackson is a proven entity in the NFL as a former MVP. Fields showed flashes of brilliance last year but has a long way to go before he’s considered an elite passer in the league, and may never achieve that status.
Any draft pick, regardless of how accomplished or how high of a ceiling, is a relative unknown and requires the Bears to assume considerable risk. That said, Jackson’s injury issues that have derailed the last two Ravens’ seasons present significant risks of their own.