That’s it? A sixth-round pick that might become a fourth, depending on playing time? How was that all they were able to get for Justin Fields? These were the first thoughts that came to my mind when I saw the notification, and I’m sure I am not alone in that regard. I was not surprised by the trade (or the destination), but the compensation completely caught me off guard. Did Ryan Poles fumble the opportunity to receive significantly more for his services?

The writing has been on the wall all offseason. Poles fielded questions about the quarterback situation at the Scouting Combine, where he vowed to ‘do right’ by Fields and emphasized the importance of doing so quickly. That left little doubt about how the team planned to move forward at the position. Could it theoretically have been a smoke screen? Sure, but was he really going to pass up three Heisman-winning quarterbacks in a two-year period for a quarterback who has yet to arrive as an elite passer? Probably not.

I have been an avid supporter of Poles since he became the team’s general manager two years ago. He has done a great job of turning the team around and creating a great situation for a rookie quarterback to thrive (especially one with as much potential as Williams). However, I am fully capable of admitting when he makes a mistake, and I believe that’s the best way to describe his handling of this situation. While there was some upside to moving forward with Fields and receiving a haul for the top pick, I ultimately expected them to land on Williams as soon as they were guaranteed the top pick. Even if the decision-makers around the league held the same belief, Poles did himself no favors by tipping his hand at the Combine, as he had nothing to gain in doing so.

I want to be clear: I do not blame Poles for choosing to move forward with Caleb Williams. That is the decision that most would make if they were in his shoes. It’s also the decision that roughly 75% of the GMs around the league would probably make if they held the top pick. Williams has a rare ceiling for a quarterback prospect, and it’s hard to blame them for shooting for the stars at the most important position on the field. However, he does deserve some criticism for the timing of the move.

There is still a lot of gray area on the Fields front due to the slew of conflicting information (much of which was almost certainly misinformation for engagement) we got on the matter this offseason. Despite Poles showing his hand at the Combine, early reports indicated he was not being dealt. If that’s true, then that is a massive miscalculation on the part of the Bears brass, as they likely knew they would select Williams as long as he didn’t choose to skip the Combine entirely.

Personally, I think what is most likely is Poles had an idea of what Fields was worth, and he wasn’t willing to budge on the matter early in the offseason. Everything we have heard about his contract negotiation tactics indicates that has a set price on players and is often unwilling to budge on it. That’s why Roquan Smith is no longer a Bear, and Jaylon Johnson didn’t get a new deal until having a massive breakout season. However, when it comes to this situation, he seemingly overlooked the fact that teams don’t like uncertainty at the quarterback position, and those who may have been interested in him early in the process addressed the need through free agency or deals for lesser options.

I refuse to believe that Chicago did not receive significantly higher offers for Fields ahead of/during the early stages of free agency. There is simply no way that a fourth-round selection (the high-water mark for the trade to Pittsburgh) wasn’t on the table. In fact, I’d be shocked if they didn’t get offered a mid-to-late day two pick at that point. With that said, as the offseason progressed and previously highly-touted quarterback prospects were on the move at an unprecedented rate, the demand dropped significantly.

I understand the Bears brass’ desire to rip the band-aid off and get a deal done for Fields, but they already hurt him by waiting as long as they did (even if he eventually landed in a good spot in Pittsburgh). From a value perspective, they could not have picked a worse time to pull off the move. If they waited until draft day to move him, they definitely would have gotten more than they did, on top of getting a rookie to help right now rather than next year. Likewise, while I feel that keeping both him and Williams on the roster would have created a potentially awful environment (I’m certainly not advocating for that), the fact that they would have received a fourth-round compensatory pick for him if he left via free agency is also something to consider when evaluating the compensation received for the player he is and can be.

Say what you will about Fields’ lack of consistency, but he is still an ascending player. There is no chance in hell he is only worth a sixth-round pick (or a fourth, for that matter). If he doesn’t play 50% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps, they will receive the same compensation that New England got for Mac Jones, who hasn’t shown nearly as much promise as Fields over the last two years. Likewise, Jones was traded to Jacksonville to be a clear backup to Trevor Lawrence, while Fields has a legitimate shot to start in Pittsburgh.

‘Be positive, we’re getting Caleb Williams!’ Yeah, how about no. Am I excited to get Williams? Absolutely. I will be just as excited as I was when we got Fields. However, I refuse to be excited about giving away an extremely talented player for pennies on the dollar. This situation was not handled well at all. I’ll give Poles his flowers for building a roster that looks ready to compete, but I won’t commend him for making the easy decision of picking an elite quarterback prospect.

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