Chicago Bears Q&A: Did Ryan Poles wait too long to trade Justin Fields? Could an extension for Keenan Allen be coming?

A flurry of activity by the Chicago Bears in the first week of the new league year included a trade for wide receiver Keenan Allen and the trading of quarterback Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Tribune’s Brad Biggs breaks it all down in his weekly Bears mailbag.

Why did Ryan Poles wait to trade Justin Fields? By doing so he backed himself into a corner and was forced to sell low, ridiculously low. Rookie error by a general manager entering his third season. I expect better. — Antoine L., Chicago

I’m not sure why this misconception is circulating that the Bears sat on their hands and waited for quarterback slots to be filled around the league — first starting jobs and then QB2 slots — before acting. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The league knew since the end of last season the Bears likely would be moving on from Fields.

If there was any lingering doubt, Poles eliminated it at the start of the scouting combine when he said that, in the event the Bears were to trade Fields, they wanted to “do right” by him. You don’t talk about the possibility of trading your starting quarterback without planning to do just that.

Poles told everyone right then and there he was open for business. The message was clear: “You want Justin, come get him.” With decision makers from the other 31 teams in Indianapolis, guess what: There wasn’t a lot of interest in Fields.

It’s not like the Bears waited until Saturday to start working the phone lines and gauging interest. The Pittsburgh Steelers prioritized Russell Wilson, who was available after the Denver Broncos released him. They didn’t get in the market for Fields until after they shipped Kenny Pickett to the Philadelphia Eagles, who, by the way, didn’t have interest in Fields to play behind Jalen Hurts.

Fields’ trade value was super low — maybe lower than that of Desmond Ridder, whom the Atlanta Falcons traded to the Arizona Cardinals — because teams have seen him play for three seasons. Fields displayed all sorts of untapped potential, but in 38 career starts he also never showed the upside to take over a game as a thrower. That made him a tough sell in a passing league. Thirty-eight starts gave teams overwhelming evidence.

Maybe it will click for Fields in Pittsburgh or another stop in the future. But it didn’t happen here and a list of quarterbacks who struggled through three consecutive seasons with ample playing time to begin a career and then took off is extraordinarily difficult to compile. Sure, it’s hard to comprehend some of the quarterbacks who found new homes before Fields. Yes, he seems to have more talent and upside than many of them. But not everyone views his ability through the same prism.

The Bears didn’t get a paltry return for Fields because their timing was off. They got a low return — a sixth-round pick in 2025 that can become a fourth-rounder if he takes 51% of the snaps this season — because the league knew the Bears had to deal Fields and he’s on a one-year contract. There’s almost no way the Steelers would pick up his fifth-year option.

Look at the stunningly mediocre list of quarterbacks who were signed or acquired via trade and understand this wasn’t a transaction the Bears were going to win. Where they can win is with the quarterback they draft at No. 1.

Help me make sense of the trade for Keenan Allen. Paying him $23 million for one season and giving up a fourth-round pick to do so seems like a lot. How does this fit into the grand plan at Halas Hall? Does this signal the Bears are all-in on the 2024 season? — Khalil, Darien

Good questions about what was certainly an eye-opening move last week, when the Bears traded for the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver with the Los Angeles Chargers. I would not look at this transaction as a sign the Bears are going for broke this season, knowing they will have a rookie starting at quarterback. Instead, it shows they’re committed to putting that quarterback — and there’s a good chance it’s USC’s Caleb Williams — in position to have a smooth introduction to the NFL.

Allen was effective in 2020 when Justin Herbert was a rookie with the Chargers, catching 100 passes for 992 yards with nine touchdowns in 14 games. Pairing him with DJ Moore, provided Allen doesn’t experience a quick drop-off in performance at 32, gives the Bears one of the better 1-2 wide receiver combinations in the league.

I agree the Bears are paying Allen a lot this season. He earned a $5 million roster bonus Sunday and has an $18.1 million base salary in 2024. Knowing how the Bears have operated in the last year or so, this strikes me as a very calculated decision. I don’t think this move was made on a whim. Given the investment — and the Bears still have ample cap space — it leads me to believe Allen will be more than just a statistical producer.

More likely, it’s a situation in which GM Ryan Poles, his staff and the coaches (wide receivers coach Chris Beatty was with Allen the last three seasons with the Chargers) view Allen as a multiplier. I use that term because it’s what Poles called Montez Sweat after acquiring the defensive end from the Washington Commanders. The Bears felt Sweat would help them by being very productive and by raising the profile of the players around him.

If Allen is that kind of player — and there is an element of risk involved with a receiver going into his 12th season — the move makes sense. I can tell you the trade, the contract and Allen’s age raised eyebrows in league circles. Some folks I chatted with who work for other teams questioned it. On paper, though, it looks like an instant hit for a rookie quarterback.

As far as how Allen fits into the bigger picture, I think the focus is on 2024. It’s hard to look beyond this season for a player entering a contract year who has been in the league as long as he has. The Bears need to see how he fits in and then how he plays and how his body holds up. If he proves to be a multiplier for a rookie QB, it will turn out to be a shrewd gamble.

It also gives the Bears more flexibility when looking ahead to the draft and what will happen with the No. 9 pick. They’re not pigeonholed into having to select a WR2 from a terrific crop of prospects at the position.

Keenan Allen mentioned the possibility of a contract extension. Don’t the Bears have to make that move after trading a fourth-round pick for him? — Kevin D., Schaumburg

Let’s slow the roll on that one. I imagine the Bears would be open to exploring something with Allen in the future, but a lot of things have to happen between now and then. This isn’t a scenario like the Montez Sweat trade in which the team forked over a second-round pick and you knew a new contract was coming in short order. Their situations are different.

Allen was asked Saturday if he could see himself playing for the Bears beyond 2024.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he replied. “You know, we wouldn’t be here right now, obviously. Yeah, we’ll get there down the line.”

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Down the line is the key here. First, the Bears need to see how he performs at age 32. Second, GM Ryan Poles and his staff probably would have to knock out some other business first before contemplating an extended run with Allen.

Specifically, I don’t know if the Bears would want to extend Allen before reworking wide receiver DJ Moore’s contract. There’s nothing pressing right now in terms of an extension for Moore, but one would imagine at some point in the future — that could be during the summer, during the season or next offseason — the sides will be motivated to explore the possibility.

Moore came to the Bears in the trade with the Carolina Panthers last March on a team-friendly deal. He’s due a $15.85 million base salary this season with a $200,000 roster bonus. He’s also under contract for 2025 with a $14.85 million base salary, a $1 million roster bonus (due on the fifth day of the league year) and a $200,000 workout bonus. So the Bears have Moore for two more seasons at a total of $32.1 million.

Moore ranks 12th among wide receivers with an annual average value of $20.68 million on the contract he signed with the Panthers, according to He turns 27 in April and is a foundational piece for the roster. There’s a hierarchy to the locker room and an order teams generally need to follow on the business side. I firmly believe the Bears would have to do business with Moore before considering something with Allen, and there could be other players they would need to address as well.

Money is always a sensitive issue, and I’d expect Poles to be mindful of that.

No suspense with the No. 1 pick. But where do the Bears go at No. 9 now that they’ve got Keenan Allen on board? — Owen R., Bloomington, Ill.

I hate to use one of the most overused terms we hear during draft season, but it has a chance to apply here: best player available. I say it’s overused because we hear BPA with so many picks and decisions that are made, and so often it’s actually a team’s BPA at a narrow focus of positions. Draft grades can be inflated for positions of need, while positions where teams are stocked can lead to lower grades for those players. BPA sounds great, but the reality is it actually happens a lot less than you would be led to believe.

In this instance, after a series of moves in free agency and on the trade market, the Bears have methodically lowered their number of needs. Edge rusher strikes me as the greatest when you look at the depth chart. Offensive tackle is either a need or a want — and there’s a difference — depending on how the team evaluates left tackle Braxton Jones.

I think WR2 is a need when you project ahead, knowing Allen is 32 and on a one-year deal. You can make a case center is a need if you’re not high on the combination of Ryan Bates and Coleman Shelton, but No. 9 is certainly not territory to draft a center. Defensive tackle feels like it’s on the border of need/want as well, and No. 9 might be too rich for any of the prospects at that position.

So, where does that leave Ryan Poles as preparation ramps up for the April 25-27 draft? I laid out four scenarios for the No. 9 pick in a column last week after the trade for Allen. The fourth option would open a host of additional possibilities as it would involve a trade down.

I would not rule out the possibility of a wide receiver at No. 9. I also would not say that trading down from No. 9 is a slam dunk. In terms of the latter, it’s unlikely that pick will be in the hot spot for a quarterback. It’s a decent bet four quarterbacks are off the board before this pick, and it’s unlikely a fifth quarterback would be in play that high in the draft.

Brad Biggs’ NFL mock draft 2.0: Which team is in position to trade up for a QB?

What really drives teams to trade up in Round 1? The opportunity to draft a quarterback. If the right deal isn’t in place, the Bears have to be prepared to use the selection. They traded down one spot from No. 9 last season with the Eagles.

Having a small draft class — the Bears own only four picks currently — isn’t a death blow to roster construction. They had one of the youngest rosters in the league in 2023, and nine players remain from last year’s 10-man draft class. It’s not like they all of a sudden would have a shortage of young players to develop.

Do the Bears address any other needs during free agency or will they now focus on the draft? — @joetusio

The Bears brought in defensive lineman Byron Cowart on a one-year contract Monday and there are more moves to come, but it would be difficult to pinpoint any that would attract big headlines in free agency. The Bears have 65 players on their 90-man roster right now, and with only four draft picks, that leaves plenty of spots to fill. They could have a large class of undrafted rookie free agents. Let’s use a big number like 15. You’re still six short of reaching 90. So there will be plenty of moves.

Generally teams slow down after the first two waves of free agency, and it’s a good idea for players to take a wait-and-see approach as well. Let’s say a linebacker is looking for a team to sign with. He doesn’t want to get a contract from a team that drafts two linebackers in the top five rounds. So both sides slow down and see what’s available after the draft.

I also would point out that post-draft you always see some veterans released who have effectively been replaced by draft picks. Some names will pop at that time that could be interesting depth additions.

The Bears are far from done, but I wouldn’t sit around waiting for some major name. One thing we’ve learned about this regime is GM Ryan Poles always will explore every possible avenue to add players. That means trades, bringing in players who recently were cut and traditional free agents.

Are the Bears high enough on Malik Nabers/Rome Odunze to still take them at No. 9 if they are there? They should be. — @jakebeetus

It’s my hunch that Nabers and Odunze will be high enough on the Bears board to be very much under consideration if either slides to the ninth pick. In fact, they’re so attractive that my guess is Ryan Poles would not pull the trigger on a trade of the ninth pick until he’s on the clock unless he has an offer in front of him that is simply too good to pass up.

I understand the upside in trading down if the deal is right, but I can make a good case for staying put. The Bears need more difference makers on their roster, and you can name a couple of positions where that would be particularly helpful. Wide receiver is one of them when you consider Keenan Allen is entering a contract year. It’s a good draft for the top half of the first round. There’s nothing wrong with staying put and getting a guy you think will be an impact player right away.

What are your thoughts on Caleb Williams refusing to sign his rookie contract to reset the market? — @edmundburkeiii

I have no thoughts on this because I don’t believe it will happen. Let’s review what Williams said about the Bears when asked about them at the combine.

“The Bears were a 7-10 team,” Williams said. “That is pretty good for a team that has the first pick. And they’ve got a good defense. They’ve got good players on offense and it’s pretty exciting if you can go into a situation like that.”

That situation has gotten better since after a series of moves, including the trade for Keenan Allen. I don’t think the Bears would risk some type of contractual hang-up by drafting Williams.

Do you think the Bears consider an edge on a one-year deal before the draft? Maybe even bringing back Yannick Ngakoue on a cheaper deal than last year? Where are they with current cap space? — @jtbarczak

Not all of the deals are in, but the Bears have plenty of operating room with roughly $30 million in available cap space. They added a defensive end Saturday in Jake Martin. The 28-year-old is a scheme fit whose best NFL season came in 2021 with the Houston Texans under Lovie Smith as defensive coordinator. Martin had four sacks, six QB hits and two forced fumbles in 17 games (14 starts). I don’t think the Bears view him as a starter, but he could be in position to compete as a rotational player.

I’m not sure there is a free agent who makes sense. Maybe a trade could emerge but don’t hold your breath. At some point, the Bears need to hang on to picks for this year and the future. Ngakoue didn’t show me enough last season to warrant consideration. He looked like he was near the finish line of a darn solid career.

What are some possibilities to improve the pass rush? — @scol1683

A handful of veteran edge players remain on the market, including Jadeveon Clowney, Bud Dupree, Kyle Van Noy and Randy Gregory. Chase Young was taken off the market Monday when he got a one-year deal from the New Orleans Saints. Would any of those guys move the needle for you? They’re still on the market because no team has been willing to pay them what they’ve been seeking.

I was not big on Young, whom some folks asked about before the deal with the Saints. He wasn’t playing particularly well in Washington before being traded to San Francisco. He was iffy with the 49ers before he did play pretty well in the Super Bowl, and there are medical concerns.

It’s a need for the Bears, but they don’t seem hard-pressed like they were last summer, when they had to pay Yannick Ngakoue. The draft would be the best shot. We’ll have to see what shakes out at No. 9 and in Round 3.

Trenton Gill is still the team’s punter. He struggled last year. Any chance Ryan Poles adds some punter competition? — @shootermcconlon

I fully expect the Bears to — at minimum — put Gill in a position where he has to compete for the job this season. It’s possible they would outright replace him at some point. I’m super intrigued by Iowa’s Tory Taylor, who dazzled at the Senior Bowl. He could be an early Day 3 pick. That might be a luxury for a team with only four draft picks, but Taylor is really talented.