Chicago Bears trade Justin Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers, paving the way to draft a quarterback with the No. 1 pick

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS

After three seasons and 38 starts, the Justin Fields era has come to an end for the Chicago Bears.

In a high-profile trade that many around the NFL were awaiting, Bears general manager Ryan Poles dealt Fields on Saturday to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a 2025 sixth-round draft pick. If he’s on the field for 51% of the offensive snaps next season, it becomes a fourth-round pick.

Column: It’s easy to criticize Chicago Bears GM Ryan Poles for the meager return in the Justin Fields trade. But his hands were tied.

The move comes six days after the free-agency negotiating window opened and after an eventful game of musical chairs occurred with quarterbacks around the league, leaving Poles in limbo as he sought a trade partner.

The deal positions the Bears to draft a potential franchise quarterback in April, with many around the league sensing Poles will choose USC’s Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick.

The Bears will continue the process of assessing and getting to know Williams better in the weeks ahead, including at Williams’ USC pro day Wednesday. They also will continue to vet the quarterback draft class, diving deeper in their evaluations of North Carolina’s Drake Maye, LSU’s Jayden Daniels, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and others.

The trade also gives Fields clarity on his future and a new start. The Steelers signed veteran quarterback Russell Wilson to a one-year contract Wednesday and then traded quarterback Kenny Pickett to the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday. Wilson will be the Steelers starter entering the 2024 season, and Fields will back him up, according to multiple reports.

Poles said in a statement that the Bears engaged in multiple trade conversations in recent weeks and believed trading Fields now “is what is best for both Justin and the Bears.” Poles said they informed Fields on Saturday of their rationale for the trade.

“We want to thank him for his tireless dedication, leadership and all he poured into our franchise and community the last three years and wish him the best towards a long and successful NFL career,” Poles said in the statement.

Fields said in a social media post Saturday evening that he is “ready for this next chapter.”

“Can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago for taking me in and embracing me,” he said. “Thank you to the entire Bears organization and ownership for allowing me the opportunity to be part of such a historic franchise.

“But most of all thank you to my all my brothers that I played with. You all were the reason I attacked each day the way I did. I can’t thank you all enough for what y’all have meant to me over the last (three) years through the ups and downs. I wish each one of you nothing but success. Ready for this next chapter!”

Wilson posted a welcome for Fields on Saturday night, writing, “QB room bout to be (fire emoji).”

Fields threw for 6,674 yards, rushed for 2,220 more and accounted for 54 total touchdowns in his three seasons with the Bears. In some regard, he became a victim of circumstance with the Bears having the No. 1 pick, which Poles acquired as part of last year’s trade of the 2023 No. 1 selection to the Carolina Panthers.

Fields, whom the Bears traded up to select at No. 11 in 2021, rode a roller coaster through his three seasons in Chicago, delivering intoxicating flashes of playmaking brilliance but also stumbling through long stretches of inconsistency that ultimately pushed Poles and coach Matt Eberflus to change directions at quarterback.

Fields didn’t have the ideal setup with the Bears. As a rookie, an early season injury to veteran starter Andy Dalton thrust him into the QB1 role far earlier than the Bears had planned. Then, after the Bears finished 6-11 and missed the playoffs in Fields’ first season, the organization opted to clean house in the front office and coaching staff, replacing GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy with Poles and Eberflus.

Fields was forced to adapt to new coaches and a new offense in 2022, a year that also saw a major roster teardown.

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In Year 3, Fields’ imperfect fit in coordinator Luke Getsy’s offense contributed to his continued struggles as a passer during another last-place season for the Bears. And while Fields improved in several key areas, his production and the Bears’ results didn’t reach an acceptable level and prompted Poles to move on.

Fields’ tenure with the Bears will be remembered for the promise he was unable to fully realize. As a runner Fields was electric, assembling a lengthy highlight reel and posting the second-highest single-season rushing total by a quarterback (1,143 yards in 2022) in NFL history. He became the league’s first quarterback with three career touchdown runs of at least 50 yards, a mark he set over a 29-day span in 2022.

Fields’ passing struggles, however, were problematic during his entire run with the Bears. He averaged just 174 passing yards across 38 starts, had only one 300-yard passing game, and threw for multiple touchdowns only eight times.

His durability also was a concern; Fields missed 11 starts due to injury or illness, including four in 2023 with a dislocated thumb. By comparison, the Bears won only 10 of Fields’ starts.

Fields also was strongly supported by his teammates, many of whom publicly declared their desire for Fields to stay with the Bears during their 7-10 season in 2023.

On Saturday night, however, some of them posted their acceptance of an outcome that had been talked about on social media for months.

“Business is business,” wide receiver DJ Moore wrote.

Guard Teven Jenkins posted a video of someone crying, and running back Khalil Herbert simply sent out the melting face emoji.

“Damn bro I wish you had a fair shake over there,” former Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “Cheers to new beginnings.”

In a quest to strive for more, the Bears now will pivot to their next big move at the position, with all eyes around the league on what Poles will do in the draft – and many keeping an eye on Pittsburgh to see if Fields can fare any better with a new team in new surroundings.