INDINAPOLIS, Ind. (670 The Score) -- With the No. 1 overall pick and more than $100 million in salary cap space, the Bears control a great deal of this NFL offseason.
As the league gathered in Indiana’s capital city for the NFL Combine last week, what had previously been assumed about general manager Ryan Poles’ intentions was further cemented in place.
The Bears are moving forward with 24-year-old quarterback Justin Fields with the hope that he can continue to emerge as a star, and the team plans to trade the top overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Now, it’s just a matter of how the most lucrative trade offer presents itself and when the Bears believe it’s best to strike in a deal.
“We have flexibility,” Poles said last week. “We have opportunity. We can gather all of that information, and I know our entire front office, our entire organization is pumped, just with the opportunity that we have to do something special.”
The Texans own the No. 2 overall pick after pulling off a crazy 32-31 comeback win over the Colts in their regular-season finale, a victory that dropped Houston out of the No. 1 spot.
Should the Texans covet Alabama star Bryce Young, considered the top quarterback prospect in this class, they could also use their No. 12 overall pick in a potential deal. Houston could also continue its rebuilding process in 2023 with third-year quarterback Davis Mills and perhaps look to position itself to chase Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Caleb Williams (USC) in the 2024 NFL Draft.
If the Bears landed the No. 2 pick, they could then either seek another trade back or perhaps select Alabama star outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr., who has solidified his standing as a top prospect.
“The culture is great there,” Anderson said of the Bears. “I can tell they’re on to something special.”
The Colts, who own the No. 4 overall pick, seem to be the most likely trade partner for the Bears. While general manager Chris Ballard played coy about his pursuit of a quarterback, Indianapolis’ desperate situation at that position is abundantly clear – especially as Colts owner Jim Irsay has strengthened his influence in roster decisions.
However, the value of the No. 4 pick for the Bears took a hit last week when news broke about Georgia star defensive lineman Jalen Carter's legal troubles. He was booked on misdemeanor charges for reckless driving and racing in a fatal high-speed crash in January.
Now, it’s unclear where Carter stands on the Bears' draft board inside Halas Hall and if they'd be comfortable selecting him at No. 4. If Chicago did trade down with Indianapolis, it could be the first step to make another deal and stockpile more draft capital.
Fortunately for the Bears, the strength of the quarterback class – and the dozen or so teams seeking a solution at this position – bodes well in their effort for a deal. Young is viewed as the top quarterback prospect, but Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and Kentucky’s Will Levis could all land in the top half of the first round. That would compare similarly to the 2021 class, which featured five quarterbacks being selected in the top 15 – including quarterbacks being taken with the top three picks.
Looking further down the draft board, the Raiders (No. 7 pick), Falcons (No. 8) and Panthers (No. 9) and Titans (No. 11) are in need of a long-term solution at quarterback and could be potential trade partners.
While Young will almost certainly be the top quarterback selected, there’s also intrigue in Stroud, Richardson and Levis, who each made a strong impression at the NFL Combine.
“If you have a conviction on a guy, you go get him,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said.
"You better be right. You better have conviction if you do move up."
The Bears trading down would be an acknowledgement of their great needs across the roster and a step toward addressing them, as they'd acquire extra draft capital and still be positioned to take a premium prospect in the first round.
Northwestern's Peter Skoronski could be the top offensive lineman selected and has one of the highest floors of any prospect in this draft class. Ohio State offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., who spent time with the Bears' brass in Indianapolis, could also represent an important addition for Chicago.
But the Ohio State product who might be the most enticing option for the Bears if they trade down is wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a former teammate of Fields.
“We definitely had a little connection back in the day,” said Smith-Njigba, who had 10 catches in 2020, when Fields was last under center for Ohio State. “Hopefully we can do it again.”
The Bears find themselves in a rare position by owning the top pick in a draft loaded with talented arms while they're also confident in their own quarterback. In 2016, the Titans dealt down from the No. 1 overall pick because of their confidence in quarterback Marcus Mariota, whom they selected No. 2 overall one year earlier.
For moving down from No. 1 overall to No. 15 overall, the Titans landed a haul that included an extra first-round pick a year later, two second-round picks and two third-round picks. The Rams then selected quarterback Jared Goff with the top selection in 2016.
Poles has utilized the term “flexibility” often since the end of the 2022 season, which saw the Bears go 3-14. That luxury is afforded because of the promise that Fields has revealed.
The Bears now hope to utilize their advantage to build around their rising quarterback.
“He’s got to take the next step in his game,” Poles said. “And I’m excited to see that, because I think he’s going to.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.