At his end-of-season press conference a year ago, Bears general manager Ryan Poles said that he'd have to be "blown away" to spend the No. 1 pick on a quarterback who would presumably supplant Justin Fields.
Entering a second straight offseason with the No. 1 selection in the draft, Poles expressed a similar sentiment Wednesday at Halas Hall.
"I've got to stay open-minded about it," Poles said. "Not to use the same quote, but when I say, 'I need to be blown away,' it's the same setup because seeing the things that Justin did this year, his ability to make plays … keeping his eyes down the field, taking less sacks, you see a lot of growth there where he can continue to get better. So I'll have the same mindset."
Poles revealed that the Bears are in "information gathering mode right now."
"We are going to turn every stone to make sure that we are going to make a sound decision for our organization," Poles said. "I did think Justin got better. I think he can lead this team. But at the same time, there is a unique situation. I have to look and our staff has to look at everything, and that's exactly what we're going to do."
Making 13 starts in 2023, Fields threw for 2,562 yards with 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions and an 86.3 passer rating. The third-year pro established career highs in completion percentage, yards and passer rating. He also rushed for 657 yards and four touchdowns on 124 carries.
"We love where Justin is right now," said coach Matt Eberflus. "He's done a good job growing in the interceptions, keeping those down, the sack totals, he's doing a good job with that, having his eyes down the field, he's done a wonderful job with that, of being able to deliver some strikes down there, and he'll continue to grow as we grow as a football team."
The one area where Poles would like to see improvement from Fields is in operating the two-minute drill.
"That's a critical part that we've got to continue to get better at because that's where you win games and close games," Poles said. "And a lot of times when you look at the playoffs and championships, that's where you close it out. That's one big part."
If Fields remains with the Bears, he'll be working with his third offensive coordinator in four NFL seasons after Luke Getsy was relieved of his duties Wednesday. But Eberflus isn't concerned.
"Justin's very smart, very intelligent," Eberflus said. "He's able to adapt and adjust, so I don't see that being a problem at all."
Poles was asked if he'll allow the unwavering belief that Bears teammates have in Fields influence the GM's decision concerning the quarterback position.
"I have to separate it a little bit, but I absolutely love it," Poles said. "I mean, when you talk about building a team, I want that type of support in the locker room. I want those guys, when they go take the field, I want them to believe in the player that they have at that quarterback position. I want them to believe in the person to the right and to the left, so I absolutely love that. With any decision, I've got to take the emotion out of it and look at the whole deal there."
Poles understands that his evaluation of quarterbacks in the draft must extend beyond how they perform on the field.
"The person; that's the biggest part," he said. "I've got a lot of confidence in our ability to see talent on the field. The human being we've got to figure out, especially to be a quarterback in this city. You've got to have it right. You've got to have toughness to you. You've got to have mental toughness. You've got to be able to block things out."
Last year Poles traded the No. 1 pick to the Panthers in exchange for receiver DJ Moore and draft choices in the first and second rounds last year, the first round this year (which turned out to be No. 1 overall) and the second round in 2025.
Asked if the No. 1 pick is for sale, Poles said: "Again, I'm wide open to anything. If somebody wants to call me with an idea, that's fine. I'm open to it."
While Poles was motivated to deal the No. 1 selection in March last year, he plans to hold onto the 2024 top choice a little bit longer, telling reporters: "In my mind right now, I'm going to take this all the way to April."