After Falcons pass, Justin Fields once more goes to a place that needs him more

Showing off his other dimension, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields runs the ball against Clemson during the College Football Playoff semifinal game in January. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/TNS)
Showing off his other dimension, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields runs the ball against Clemson during the College Football Playoff semifinal game in January. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Since 2008, the Falcons have had Matt Ryan. With him, you get no drama, no gnawing debate. In fact, he has lent an old-jeans kind of comfort to the past 13 seasons. So, this franchise went into the first night of the NFL draft Thursday with no desperate need of a facelift at the most important position in sports.

Over that same period, look at the poor, poor Chicago Bears. Those who started at least five games at quarterback for them since ’08 include Kyle Orton, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. There’s a blues song somewhere in that bunch. The city of the big shoulders still aches for an arm it can trust.

Johnny Lujack in 1950 was the Bears’ one and only first-team All-Pro quarterback. Jim McMahon made the Pro Bowl during the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl season. Trubisky was invited there in 2018. There is the brief and unspectacular history of quarterbacking in Chicago, soon available in pamphlet form.

There also is the reason why Justin Fields is today a Chicago Bear and not a Falcon.

For the Falcons, a new quarterback would have been something of a luxury, the opening of a positional 401(k) for the day Ryan can’t throw for 4,000 yards in his sleep or can’t get up again after one of numerous sacks.

For the Bears, Fields represents an immediate necessity, like food on the table and next month’s rent. The Bears’ GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy have staked their future employment upon him. Bears fans are already – unfairly – measuring Fields as a venerable franchise’s savior and the chromosome that their team has been missing since forever.

Asked Thursday night about why he might be the one to change the narrative on Bears quarterback play, Fields had a supremely self-confident response.

“Just the way I carry myself, the way I care about the game, the grit I have, the determination I have to be great,” he said in a Zoom call from his family’s home in Kennesaw. “Nobody has the story I have – just everything inside of me wants to be a great quarterback, wants to be a franchise quarterback. I’ve been dreaming of this moment my whole life. All those intangibles, my work ethic, and all of that together, will be different with me.”

While Fields went undrafted longer than many suspected – he was the fourth quarterback taken, at No. 11, and just ahead of Alabama’s Mac Jones at No. 15 – he did not come inexpensively. Trading up from the No. 20 slot, the Bears gave up that pick and a fifth-rounder this year as well as first- and fourth-round picks in 2022.

Not the first time they did some rabid quarterback shopping. To get Trubisky in 2017 with the No. 2 overall pick, they traded away the Nos. 3, 67 and 111 picks that year as well as a third-rounder in 2018. And in the process overlooked both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Surely this move will have to pay off better. No single franchise is that forlorn.

Fields’ experience playing in two College Football Playoffs and winning a pair of Big Ten titles is a suitable down payment on the pressures he’ll face in Chicago.

“I know Bears fans are very passionate about football, and of course, so is Ohio State’s. I think it will translate well,” he said.

“Whatever is in my path in the near future, I’ll be ready for it.”

Back here at home, Fields will have another set of eyes on him as he settles in with the Bears.

Georgia fans, of course, will forever wonder what they missed out on after the Bulldogs stayed with Jake Fromm and Fields transferred to Ohio State. (Still, Fields commands the comparison. He was taken 11th overall in the NFL draft while Fromm went 167th overall to Buffalo a year ago. Fields will push Andy Dalton for the starting role, Fromm spent 2020 as a third-stringer in isolation as a COVID-19 emergency player).

And now, also those who support the Falcons will have cause in years to come – if Fields grows into something special – to rue the missed opportunity of 2021.

None of that is terribly productive, nor does it account for all the realities of the moment. Like the fact that because of Ryan’s presence, Fields was of far lesser short-term value to the Falcons. And the fact that the player they did choose first – tight end Kyle Pitts – just might be the mutant pass-catcher that everyone says he is.

Regrets are a fundamental part of every NFL draft. What’s hardest for Falcons fans to digest now is that they can’t have everything they want and that Fields has a knack for afflicting those who are comfortable with the quarterback they have.

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