General manager Ryan Pace swung for the fences and seemingly belted a home run in the first round of the NFL Draft Thursday night.
After trading up nine spots with the Giants, the Bears selected Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick. As Pace headed downstairs from the draft room following Round 1 to conduct a virtual press conference, he felt the buzz throughout Halas Hall.
"Obviously, a lot of excitement throughout our building tonight," Pace said. "We feel really fortunate to be able to get Justin in the area of the draft we were able to select him. The excitement throughout our whole building, you could feel it as I walked down here tonight; what he's going to do for the future of our organization."
Pace gushed about Fields the player and the person, lauding the quarterback's toughness, impressive physical traits and burning desire to be great.
"It's just the combination of factors that he has," Pace said. "It's the arm talent, it's the accuracy, it's the athleticism. When you see a guy with that kind of arm talent, with that kind of quarterback makeup that he has, with that kind of work ethic that he has, that's played in really big games and really big moments and performed in big moments, that's extremely tough … I was at the Michigan game a couple years ago when he came back in from a knee [injury], and we know about the ribs and the hip, and this guy's toughness on a scale of 1-10 is an 11. And you just love that about him. Oh, and then by the way, he runs a 4.44. You throw all that in together and it just feels good."
Pace revealed that the Bears have discussed Fields "for a long time now," and that coach Matt Nagy has a good relationship with Ohio State coach Ryan Day. The Bears were impressed with Fields' performance in games and loved what they saw from him during his two pro days.
With NFL teams only allowed to send three individuals to pro days due to COVID-19, Pace, Nagy and director of player personnel Josh Lucas went to Fields' second workout in Columbus after offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly attended the first one.
"We were able to go to both of them and get a lot of eyes on him," Pace said. "I think just seeing the ball come off his hands, the velocity, the way the ball comes off this hand and how natural that is. I think seeing him up close in person, too, you see just how he is built, the muscular stature and how dense he is. I think that explains the durability that he has and the toughness that he has.
"And then just being out there hanging at the pro day and spending time with their coaches as he is working out. Matt had a lot of good conversations with Ryan Day—like I said, he knows him well—but seeing the ball come off his hand live was important for us. I had seen him play live a couple times, but I think being there, Matt and I, side-by-side, that was really valuable."
“The excitement throughout our whole building, you could feel it … what he’s going to do for the future of our organization.” Bears GM Ryan Pace on first-round pick Justin Fields
Pulling off the trade
Pace told reporters that he entered the first round with three different plans.
"The first plan was, 'Hey, is there going to be an opportunity to go up and get a quarterback? Let's see if we can make that happen,'" Pace said. "If that doesn't happen, we had another one for some movement maybe for some other positions that would be valuable positions for us that would also hit some needs and match our board. And then the third one was to stay put, and luckily, plan one executed."
The Bears spent Thursday morning and afternoon laying the groundwork for a potential trade up, speaking to several teams who were slated to pick before and after the Giants at No. 11.
"We knew there was going to be a sweet spot for us to be in that quarterback world, and right in this area was kind of it," Pace said. "It just required a little bit of patience to get to that point, and kind of what's fair for us and what's fair for the other club. You have to be realistic to do these trades, and I thought this one was very fair.
"It kind of played out that way. We started making a lot of those phone calls this morning with those teams in that area and just trying to find out what was a reality, and this one was. So it worked out. But we were making phone calls all along there, that whole area, all in that range."
Quarterbacks were selected with the first three picks in the draft for just the third time in the Super Bowl era. The Jaguars chose Clemson's Trevor Lawrence No. 1, the Jets followed by taking BYU's Zach Wilson No. 2 and the 49ers selected North Dakota State's Trey Lance No. 3.
When Fields remained on the board at No. 11, the Bears were happy to deal first- and fifth-round picks this year and first- and fourth-round selections next year to the Giants.
"The way the board was falling, we got excited when the quarterbacks came off that way and Justin continued to fall," Pace said. "For us, it was just executing our plan at the right spot in the draft and being patient with that, which sometimes can be difficult.
"Fortunately, with the Giants, I've known Dave Gettleman for 20 years. He's an amazing person and amazing general manager and we go way back, so that communication started really this morning about something like that happening, and when we were able to execute it in the draft, I just feel real fortunate."
With the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bears select Ohio State QB Justin Fields.