Ryan Poles explains why Bears made hard decision to trade Justin Fields

Ryan Poles explains why Bears made hard decision to trade Justin Fields originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Bears general manager Ryan Poles knew what the right move for the Bears was but that didn’t make the decision to trade quarterback Justin Fields any easier.

“Justin, probably one of the harder things I had to do,” Poles told reporters Monday at the annual NFL league meeting in Orlando “ I always kind of touch on the empathy part, having that conversation with my own was hard. His jersey’s up in his room. So it kind of puts that into perspective of how difficult those moves are. But I really felt like that was best for our organization and best for Justin. I said that at the combine. I wanted to do right by him. We did that.”

The Bears traded Fields to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick on March 16.

Once Poles had the deal locked up, he and head coach Matt Eberflus called Fields to inform him of the trade.

“We had a really good conversation. Actually went to Flus’ house and we had that conversation together with him over the phone and again one of the harder things we had to do but I thought it was necessary for us to head in the right direction.”

Poles said there were other teams involved in the Fields trade discussions but he ultimately sent him to Pittsburgh because of the opportunity to potentially become the starter for the Steelers.

“There were other teams, Poles said. “The Steelers were just an opportunity where it was almost like more of a … they have a starter with Russ, but there was more of an open competition it felt like from my perspective where there were other opportunities where there were some quarterbacks that were either veteran guys or young guys that had already been paid, so it would have been a tougher situation for him to get on the field.”

Poles said the trade talks around Fields were quieter than he expected due to the small number of teams whose need matched Fields’ experience and contract situation. Poles noted that a lot of teams in need of a starting quarterback are either slated to draft high or are maneuvering to do so.

“As you do research and we have conversations you have to kind of adjust to the market, Poles said. “But I think just with how other teams are built, because if you look at the beginning, there are probably teams that are looking at the draft for guys to fill in. On the back end, playoff teams probably have someone in place. So really it was a smaller pool of teams.”

Poles and his team looked at every possible scenario, including the potential of keeping Fields and drafting a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick.

In the end, the Bears’ decision-makers decided it was best for all parties if the slate was clean for the incoming face of the franchise.

“I know there was a lot of talk about having Justin there and drafting a quarterback as well,” Poles said. “We had a lot of deep conversations and I got some really good guys on my staff to really dig into how that would play out in terms of the locker room, how would that play out with a young guy that needs a lot of reps, how would that play out with just the command and leadership that you need in that position and we felt like it was best to probably move on and allow a young quarterback to come in and work into that role.”

Poles has made it clear how much he and Eberflus love Fields as a person and respect the work he did over the past two seasons. Poles said Fields was “positive” when he was informed of the trade.

Poles and Eberflus also made sure to call key Bears leaders to inform them of the trade. The Bears’ general manager said he wants to be transparent with his players and wants them to do the same.

“You could tell they really appreciated that. It was ‘you don’t need to do this,’ but we feel that we should. I feel that goes a long ways with our guys.”

Poles and the Bears are now singularly focused on drafting a quarterback — likely USC’s Caleb Williams — with the No. 1 pick while a Fields gets to start over in Pittsburgh.

There are a myriad of reasons things didn’t work out for Fields in Chicago. But in the end, Poles’ decision came down to progress made, progress still to be made, and the cost to see if potential is reached.

“I feel like he was making strides and improving, Poles said of Fields. “The problem is, and that’s what I try to explain, it wasn’t Justin vs. one of these rookies. It’s really the timeline and how much runway you have. To get a guy up off the ground, you need to support them with as much talent as possible. Then that fits. It takes so much cap space, which is a good thing if you get to that point.

“But they have to be the reason you start winning. Then it’s harder to add the talent around them. You can look around the league, and it happens a lot. The teams that can sustain success through that period I think do a really special job.”

Fields is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He has a $25 million fifth-year option that the Steelers can pick up or they can decline it and try to work out a short-term extension.

Resetting the quarterback contract clock, coupled with the rare talent at quarterback atop this draft class, led Poles to make the hard but right choice for the Bears’ future and close the book on the Justin Fields era.

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