Justin Fields is best choice among realistic quarterback options for Falcons

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) breaks away in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) breaks away in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

A better quarterback is a low bar for the Falcons. They need a good quarterback if their goal is to do more than slip into the playoffs by winning the weak NFC South. It’s just not clear how they are going to get one.

Using the No. 8 overall draft pick on a QB likely would mean settling for what’s left after five are off the board. The Falcons may not be able to trade up without giving away the farm. The Falcons don’t have enough salary-cap space to sign Kirk Cousins, the top pending free agent (assuming he makes it to market). We’ve already seen the Falcons fail with the strategy of selecting a QB later in the draft and adding a decent veteran.

The Falcons could get better results by trading for a young quarterback who’s fallen out of favor with the teams that drafted them. That list could end up including Justin Fields (Bears), Kyler Murray (Cardinals) and Daniel Jones (Giants). The Falcons also could try to sign a veteran who’s cut loose. Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson might be the only one this year.

I say Fields is the best option among those players. The factors I’m considering are talent, production, acquisition costs (both trade capital and money) and fit with the Falcons. Fields, a former Harrison High star, has been a polarizing player since the Bears drafted him with the No. 11 overall pick in 2021. Chicago’s loss could be the Falcons’ gain.

Fields obviously has the talent to be a good NFL starter, and he could be had at a reasonable cost. Fields has come up short in production. Throw out his rookie season because hardly any quarterback is good in Year 1. Fields has been a below-average starter for the past two seasons, too.

I think he’d have better success with the Falcons. He’d surely have better skill players to work with in Atlanta than he did in Chicago. Fields might get better coaching with the Falcons, too.

Even the most jaded Bears fan would agree the team didn’t put enough talent around Fields for his first two seasons. The general manager who drafted Fields in 2021, Ryan Pace, was fired the next season. As for coaching, Fields’ first offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, hasn’t gotten another OC job since the Bears fired him after the 2021 season. Chicago fired his successor, Luke Getsy, in January.

I was there when the Bears blew out the Falcons in Chicago on New Year’s Eve. Fields looked great on that day. He sliced up the Falcons with passes on crossing routes to DJ Moore, who had his best season after joining the Bears. Fields zipped accurate throws in the intermediate range. He made plays out of nothing by escaping from defenders.

Fields also was slow to make throws to open targets. He didn’t see open teammates for what might have big gains because he was focused on one side of the field. Easy for me to say from the press box, I know, but those are plays that NFL quarterbacks are expected to make.

Fields’ success with the Falcons wouldn’t be guaranteed just because he’d be playing with a deeper group of skill players and a top-tier offensive line. Falcons coaches would have to help him refine his craft. Newly hired offensive coordinator Zac Robinson would have to build appropriate game plans for Fields. As Falcons team owner Arthur Blank said, there are “a million things that go into” quarterback play.

It’s worth it for the Falcons to see if they can help Fields get better. The potential payoff is a dual-threat quarterback with the talent to elevate the offense. The cost probably wouldn’t be high.

The Bears aren’t likely to get a first-round pick for Fields in a trade. His new team would be responsible for roughly $3.7 million in salaries and bonuses this season. There’s a contract option for 2025 for about $20 million. So, the Falcons could get Fields for two years at the cost of a second-day draft pick and $24 million in salary.

I’d like Murray over Fields if not for the cost. If he’s traded, his new team would be on the hook for base salaries of $37 million in 2024 and $18 million in 2025. Restructuring the deal would be risky. Murray was NFL Rookie of the Year in 2019 and a Pro Bowler the next two years. Injuries and inconsistent play have tanked his stock since then.

Wilson is an intriguing option if, as expected, the Broncos release him and take a massive cap hit. Wilson turns 36 in December. He’s had two down years in Denver. It’s possible he’d be rejuvenated by getting away from coach Sean Payton. Better to take a chance on Fields improving than expecting Wilson to regain his Pro Bowl form.

At this point, you may be thinking it’s not ideal for the Falcons to pick a quarterback from the scrap heap. I get it, but that’s how it usually goes in a league where it’s rare for good starting quarterbacks to become available. Blank decided not to break ranks with his peers and pay Lamar Jackson what he’s worth, and so here we are.

The Falcons already tried half-measures to replace Matt Ryan. We saw how that worked out. The Marcus Mariota/Desmond Ridder Falcons finished 7-10, same as the Ridder/Taylor Heinicke Falcons. The sorry state of the South is the primary reason why the Falcons still had a shot to make the playoffs this season.

Drafting an elite quarterback could mean giving up the farm. The Falcons own the No. 8 overall draft pick. At least four of the teams with higher picks need a quarterback. That doesn’t include the Bears, who presumably will draft a QB with the No. 1 pick if they’ve given up on Fields.

The Bears need to decide on that soon. Teams angling for veteran quarterbacks ideally will want one in place not long after the new league year begins March 13. Chicago would lose leverage with each team that chooses a different QB. The Falcons make sense as a trading partner. Fields is the best choice among their realistic options.