Bears Sign Ex-Panthers Starting QB as Justin Fields’ New Backup

Fields PJ Walker Signing

Getty Bears quarterback Justin Fields will have a new backup behind him for the 2023 season.

The Chicago Bears have found a new backup option for starting quarterback Justin Fields as they continue building their roster for the 2023 season.

According to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the Bears are signing former Carolina Panthers quarterback PJ Walker for 2023 after the Panthers declined to place a restricted free agent tender on him at the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 15. The 28-year-old quarterback spent the past three seasons with the Panthers, playing in 15 games and making seven starts with a 4-3 record.

Walker has a pre-built connection with new Bears wide receiver D.J. Moore, who played with Walker over the past three seasons in Carolina and hauled in a play-of-the-year worthy touchdown pass from him near the end of regulation in Week 8’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The play in question saw Walker scramble from the pocket, keep his poise and heave a 62-yard bomb downfield directly into Moore’s hands as he breached the end zone with seconds left on the clock.

Unfortunately, the excitement got to Moore and he took off his helmet, which resulted in a penalty that pushed back the extra-point try back and ended with a miss. Still, the connection is noteworthy given Walker will be working with Moore again in Chicago.

The Bears will have three quarterbacks on their roster again once they officially announce Walker’s signing. Chicago also has Fields in place as their 2023 starter and veteran Trevor Siemian as a backup contender, but it seems likely that Walker’s arrival could push Siemian out of town in the near future — for more reasons than one.

Bears Now More Likely to Release Trevor Siemian

The departure of Siemian from the Bears’ roster has seemed likely for some time now. While he is a veteran backup under contract for the 2023 season, he didn’t show much to inspire confidence in his limited reps for the Bears last season. And when they did need him to fill in for an injured Fields for a bit, he didn’t last long before suffering a season-ending oblique injury. The last thing the Bears need in the midst of their rebuild is a backup quarterback with lackluster talent and legitimate availability concerns.

According to Over the Cap, the Bears can also avoid paying out the bulk of Siemian’s contract if they release him anytime between now and the start of the 2023 season. Cutting him would eliminate his $2.465 million cap charge for 2023 and leave the Bears with just $500,000 in dead cap, creating about $1.965 million in savings.

Walker hasn’t exactly proven himself to be significantly better than Siemian, having completed just 59.4% (63 of 106) of his passes for 731 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions over his five starts for the Panthers in 2022. But with money to be saved and younger talent to develop as Fields’ backup, the move makes enough sense.

What Comes Next for the Bears in 2023 Free Agency?

The Bears have addressed a handful of needs, both large and small, for their 2023 roster over the first three days of free agent negotiations. They have substantially upgraded their linebacker corps with the additions of Pro Bowler Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. They have found a new interior offensive lineman who could potentially step in at left guard if the Bears part ways with veteran Cody Whitehair. They have also secured some more depth for their running back room (Travis Homer) and defensive line (DeMarcus Walker) while locking down long snapper Patrick Scales.

What might come next, though, for Bears general manager Ryan Poles?

The Bears could still stand to add a veteran offensive tackle, but the market is shrinking. Most recently, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Orlando Brown Jr. is signing a four-year, $64 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals that comes with a $31 million signing bonus — the highest ever for an offensive lineman. Unless Poles decides to take a chance on someone like Isaiah Wynn, the best course of action for the Bears could be using the ninth overall pick in next month’s draft to take one of the top two offensive tackles in the 2023 class: Paris Johnson Jr. or Peter Skoronski.

The Bears also still need a couple more pieces for their defensive line. An experienced veteran pass rusher like Yannick Ngakoue — who played for Bears head coach Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis — would make sense given their remaining cap space. They could also explore Frank Clark, Derrick Nnadi or Poona Ford as options, too.

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