THANKS BUT NO THANKS
OHIO STATE QB STROUD STICKS UP FOR FIELDS, MAKES IT KNOWN HE DOESN’T WANT FRIEND’S JOB
INDIANAPOLIS — Having the No. 1 pick is supposed to be fun, but it’s turning into a complicated, awkward dance for the Bears as they try to keep afloat the idea of drafting a quarterback and trading Justin Fields.
That’s almost certainly a bluff, meant only to drive up offers in talks to trade down. The Bears could use a defensive star such as Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson, and it would be ideal to accumulate extra picks and still get one. Taking a quarterback, especially in a year in which there’s no overwhelming prospect, is extremely unlikely.
Nonetheless, the clumsiness of this situation has spilled into the NFL Scouting Combine. When Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, one of Fields’ teammates in 2020, was asked Friday about the Bears, he gave a resolute defense of Fields and made clear he has no interest in taking his job.
‘‘I mean, no, I don’t want to go there,’’ Stroud said. ‘‘That’s his team. I can do my thing. I can go build my legacy [elsewhere]. Me and him are brothers for life.’’
Fields has been at the center of predraft speculation since late last season, when it became evident the Bears had a chance at picking near the top of the draft. Ending up with the first pick only exacerbated it.
But Stroud pushed back on the notion that this even should be a conversation. While it has been a choppy first two seasons for Fields because of his own uneven development and the Bears’ top-to-bottom turbulence, Stroud was proud of how he has persisted.
Last season, Fields became the third quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards but finished last among qualifying quarterbacks in yards passing (149.5 per game), 25th in passer rating (85.2) and 31st in completion percentage (60.4).
General manager Ryan Poles has backed him and indicated the plan, as of now, is to stick with him, but he hasn’t closed the door definitively on drafting his replacement.
‘‘There’s so many times when you get knocked down ... and he’s gotten up every time and he hasn’t blamed nobody, he hasn’t pointed no fingers or anything,’’ Stroud said. ‘‘That just shows you what type of man he is and what type of family he comes from.
‘‘You get hit so many times in the face, and you have to make plays using your feet. And he ain’t no damn running back. He’s a quarterback; he can sling that rock . . . . He’s gonna do great things in his career.’’
As the Bears ponder their options (or at least give the appearance of doing so when it comes to quarterbacks), the top prospects — Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Kentucky’s Will Levis — are competing not only against each other but, theoretically, against Fields. The Bears must weigh whether their projection of Fields outclasses what they envision from Stroud, Young or Levis.
More likely, however, they are waiting for another team to fall in love with one of those three.
Seven of the eight teams after the Bears in the draft need a quarterback. It only takes one for the Bears to get a haul of draft capital and trade back, but given that they seriously need elite talent, it would be unwise to trade out of the top four. They’re hoping the Texans (second) or Colts (fourth) will come forward with a strong trade package.
All the confusion about which teams are pursuing a quarterback and what the final draft order will be has the prospects in a haze.
‘‘I don’t know what’s going to happen,’’ Young said. ‘‘I’ll be surprised either way.’’
That mystery plays to the Bears’ advantage for now. Even if they aren’t fooling anyone, speculation among the teams behind them should spur some desperation. And when it does, Poles will be happy to take the call and end the uncertainty by making a trade that has seemed inevitable from the start.