Bears provide hint for Justin Fields-Caleb Williams decision in NBC Sports Chicago matchup

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears confirm they have arrived in Indianapolis for the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine still early in the information-gathering phase of the franchise-defining quarterback's journey.

General manager Ryan Bulls and coach Matt Eberflus both spoke Tuesday in Indianapolis, painting a picture of a franchise that everyone wants to believe is up in the air. Poles said he had “no master plan” and admitted the timeline for a final decision could be longer than expected based on how long it takes to get to know the top candidates as people. Eberflus said the Bears are still in the process of evaluating everything as they plan a path forward.

Poles said he plans to be transparent with quarterback Justin Fields and will “do the right thing by” Fields and trade him quickly if the Bears decide their best course of action is to move on from the 24-year-old quarterback.

Everything the Bears said Tuesday was about putting up the front and they haven't decided if Fields is part of their future. But things started to creep up when the Poles and Eberflus spoke about the traits they look for in a midfielder, giving a big hint as to the direction they are currently leaning in.

“I look at situations. I look at guys who can work third down, two-minute, end-of-game situations,” Eberflus said Tuesday. “For me, that's the separator. Then you look at the toughness. The toughness of a quarterback is really about the mental toughness to be able to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball and also having the acumen to be able to get out of the pocket and create it when it's necessary. It comes in shapes and sizes.” Different. It's always been fun to evaluate them.

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“I know what a good midfielder looks like and what's difficult in defense is the guy who has the ability to create chances, the guy who has the ability to throw with timing and accuracy, the guy who can move the ball down the field when it's the crucial moments. So, on third down, for two minutes, all those crucial moments.”

Fields' inability to deliver in the fourth quarter has been a scarlet letter at quarterback over the past two seasons.

Among the 40 quarterbacks who threw at least 50 passes in the fourth quarter last season, Fields ranked 39th in passer rating at 53.4. Only Billy Zappi was worse. He ranked 28th in passing yards, tied for 26th in touchdown passes, and was tied for the second-most interceptions in the fourth quarter. Thirty-one quarterbacks have thrown at least 20 passes this season while trailing by four or fewer minutes in the game. Fields ranked 29th in passer rating and 28th in completion percentage and was tied with Jordan Love and Aidan O'Connell for most interceptions.

Where Fields checks the boxes as a person and a leader.

Poles have consistently emphasized the importance of getting to know each of the best candidates as a person. Poles said Tuesday that “time on task” with each prospect will be vital as the Bears try to decipher what kind of leader each person is, what makes them special, and whether or not he or she is the right guy to lead the Bears franchise into the future.

“You're looking for examples of dependability, selflessness, leadership and ownership,” Bowles said. “It's hard these days to find people who say, ‘Hey, that was a mistake.’ ‘Yes, it was a mistake, and this is what I need to do to make it right.’ Instead of just being BSing your way through it.”

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Eberflus echoed that the most important part of the Bears' process is spending time finding out things about Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels that they already know about Fields.

“The quarterback’s style — obviously No. 1 is leadership,” Eberflus said. “You have to be a great leader, you have to be flexible. You have to be able to handle criticism, and then the physical attributes. That's a big part of it. The accuracy, the timing, the platform, all the things you talk about. And then he's a winner. That's what it comes down to.” All of these teams that do things at the end of the season, they have winners at the quarterback position.

The fields define the control box. There is no doubt that his teammates are drawn to him and will play hard behind him.

But Fields has also spent the last two seasons working on improving his rhythm and timing in the pocket. Things got better last season, but he also spent the least amount of time in the pocket last season. According to Next Generation Statistics tracking data (H/t NFL.com Tom Bliss), Fields spent just 80.5 percent of his dropbacks and designed runs in the pocket. For comparison, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson were just over 85, while Patrick Mahomes was just under 87. CJ Stroud and Jordan Love were at 90.2 and 91.9, respectively.

Fields showed better pocket presence in 2023. He did a better job of scrambling with a passer mentality and keeping his eyes up top for explosiveness.

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But the Poles know all that. He has spent the past two years with Fields. He knows what he is and what he is not.

The next step in the process is for the Poles and the Bears to learn about the unknown.

The Bears are scheduled to meet Williams, May and Daniels for the first time this week. These 20-minute sit-downs are the starting point for the deep dive that will determine the Bears' future at the quarterback position.

Poles said he hopes to complete the process soon, but realizes it could take longer depending on how long it takes to get the required time on the mission with each eventuality.

The Bears will spend time with the prospects in Indianapolis, in their pro days, on 30 visits and potentially hold private workouts if the timing works out.

The Bears may not have a “master plan,” but they certainly seem to know which direction they are leaning in.

“Before free agency was a good thing,” the Poles said on Tuesday. He added: “Like I said, if we're going to do something with Justin, I want to do right by him, and I know again, we're living in that gray space, and we want to do something sooner rather than later.”

Last year, Poles said he would have to “f*** off” to move on from Fields.

One year later, he talks about Fields “doing the right thing” while his coach lists boxes that Fields doesn't necessarily check.

In their attempt to say nothing on Tuesday, the Bears said more than enough.

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