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Bears' evaluation of Justin Fields kicks into gear with QB back as starter

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Just like last offseason, the Bears will face a multi-pronged evaluation of their quarterback prior to the 2024 NFL Draft.

The Bears currently hold the No. 1 overall pick by virtue of March's trade with the Panthers. The decision to either move on from Justin Fields or potentially select a top passer will go a long way toward shaping the QB picture this offseason.

Fields is back in the starting lineup today against the Lions after missing the previous four games with a dislocated thumb. He was a full-go in practice this past week and has no injury designation.

"It feels good to throw, my arm feels fresh," Fields told reporters on Wednesday. "Of course, I'm really excited. I feel like the longer I was out, the more I wanted to play."

Whether or not Fields remains the Bears' QB into the future will, in part, be determined by what happens in these next seven games. The Bears' owning two first-round picks -- their own and the Panthers' -- makes it all the more interesting for Chicago.

Here is the situation the Bears face:

Do the Bears move forward with Fields as their franchise starter, pick up his fifth-year option and consider a big-money contract extension that some former first-round starting quarterbacks get with two years total remaining on the contract? If so, they would use the high picks to build around and support him.

Or do the Bears look to trade Fields to a QB-needy team and potentially select a QB with one of their picks to forge forward with a new face of their franchise at a lower price, while only having one other first-round pick to build around a rookie signal-caller?

Before his injury, Fields was playing his best football, and he looked the part of a franchise QB.

Against the Broncos and Commanders, Fields' passer rating was over 125, and he threw for over 280 yards with four touchdowns in each game. That was Fields at his best.

The Bears faced a similar scenario this past March and opted to trade the No. 1 pick of the 2023 NFL Draft to the Panthers for multiple picks and wide receiver D.J. Moore, giving Fields at least one more year and giving themselves more resources to build their infrastructure with. Chicago needed to be blown away by a quarterback to select one in the 2023 draft and instead traded the pick.

Sources say it's the same view heading into the 2024 draft. The Bears would need to be blown away by a rookie QB to move on from Fields three years after selecting him No. 11 overall in the 2021 draft.

What does Fields need to show in order to remain Chicago's QB1?

Sources offered insight into the decision, noting that this year's roster is stronger and more developed than last year's. In other words, it presents the opportunity for a much fairer evaluation of Fields.

Here's what the organization wants to see: Is this a QB who can win multiple championships? Can he be consistent enough, especially in key moments like red-zone and two-minute offense? Can he execute with the game on the line? Can he avoid turning the ball over and keep drives going?

All standard ways organizations generally evaluate signal-callers.

There have been times in Fields' career during which it looked like there were attempts to turn him into more of a pocket passer. The hope down the stretch is he plays his game, running when necessary and using his legs to create. That's when Fields becomes a game-breaker.

Life becomes easier for the organization if Fields can thrive because then they don't need to start over with a new quarterback and can simply build around Fields to win. These next batch of games will help determine that.

This week, head coach Matt Eberflus was asked what he saw of Fields at practice.

"I thought he got his footwork back where it needed to be," the coach said, "And I thought the accuracy was good, got better as the week went. I thought he was good."

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