Justin Fields trade grades: Steelers pounce on opportunity; did Bears bungle deal?


The Chicago Bears traded quarterback Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday for a conditional draft pick, league sources told The Athletic. It’s a sixth-rounder that could bump to a fourth- based on playing time.

Why they made the move

The Bears own the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, so they’re the presumptive favorites to select USC quarterback Caleb Williams, who is probably the highest-regarded prospect at the position since Trevor Lawrence.

While there surely could be benefits to keeping Fields on the roster, the Bears recognized two important aspects. First, Fields has been a popular figure in the locker room, and no team would want to invite any potential for a splintering if the rookie quarterback got off to a rough start. Second, Fields did all the right things for the Bears over the last three years, so the organization did right by the player to move him to a more advantageous spot.

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The Steelers signed quarterback Russell Wilson this week and subsequently traded two-year starter Kenny Pickett, who fell out of favor lately. So the Steelers needed a second quarterback, and they also needed a younger player to complement the 35-year-old Wilson.

Trade grade (Steelers): A

Well-run organizations know how to take advantage of opportunities, and that’s what the Steelers did here. Fields’ trade market had diminished due to other quarterback moves earlier in the week, so the Steelers pounced.

They’ve set up the most intriguing quarterback battle in the league between an aging Super Bowl champion and a former first-round pick with electric potential and room to improve. Wilson didn’t get enough credit last season for his performance (26 touchdowns, eight INTs), as the fallout from the 2021 and 2022 seasons still hung overhead. But he could still find success within the Pittsburgh offense.

Fields brings a different dynamic as a strong runner who is still improving as a passer. But that style could fit the Steelers’ personnel. The question is how they’ll divide the offensive schemes between different types of quarterbacks.

Also interesting, both Wilson and Fields (pending his fifth-year option) have one year remaining on their contracts. Both are entering pivotal seasons in their careers, albeit on different ends of the spectrum, so each QB needs to play well.

This is going to be a fun setup.

Trade grade (Bears): B-minus

Seems like a high grade, right? Well, let’s run through it.

Last month, a panel of coaches and executives largely believed Fields was worth a second-round pick — or maybe a third-rounder. So by that logic, the Bears didn’t get nearly enough.

The Bears deserve plenty of criticism for one major element. They didn’t anticipate the market as well as they should have to maximize Fields’ return value. When Kirk Cousins joined the Falcons and higher-end backups started flying off the board in free agency, it was clear Fields’ suitors were diminishing at a rapid pace.

If Fields wins and maintains the starting job, the Bears will get a fourth-round pick, so they’ll have lost a round or two of value. If he doesn’t, maybe the perceived value wasn’t as high as initially anticipated, which would have been proven by his performance in the competition with Wilson.

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The Bears’ grade gets a boost on sentiment. No, general manager Ryan Poles can’t feed his family on sentimentality, but that does go a long way with players.

Fields’ time with the Bears had come to an end. They’re going to draft his replacement, and it would have been awkward for everyone in the building if they kept him just because the trade value wasn’t there.

They did right by Fields, and players will take notice and appreciate that. It may not pay immediate dividends in the win-loss column, but players notice when they’re treated like humans and not assets. If the Bears’ upward trajectory continues and remains sustainable, that’ll be something that gets referenced as they work to establish a new culture. The Bears deserve some credit for that.

More trade grades:

• Steelers end Kenny Pickett era, send QB to Philadelphia

• Bears scoop up star WR Keenan Allen from Chargers

• Seahawks add some QB competition for Geno Smith in Sam Howell deal

• Falcons deal QB Desmond Ridder to Cardinals for WR Rondale Moore

• Steelers send WR Diontae Johnson to Panthers for CB Donte Jackson

• Giants bring in star pass rusher Brian Burns from Panthers

• Lions land top CB Carlton Davis III from Bucs

• Jaguars buy low on Patriots’ Mac Jones

(Photo of Justin Fields: Emilee Chinn / Getty Images)





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