Bears trade Justin Fields to Steelers, clearing way for likely No. 1 draft pick of QB Caleb Williams

Chicago's reported return: A 2025 sixth-rounder that could improve to a fourth-rounder

The Chicago Bears have the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, and they're going to use it.

Quarterback Justin Fields was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday, the team announced. Going back to Chicago will be a sixth-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, which could become a fourth-round selection depending on Fields' playing time in Pittsburgh.

Russell Wilson, who the Steelers signed this offseason, will be Pittsburgh's starter and Fields the backup, ESPN's Brooke Pryor reported Saturday.

Not long after the trade was reported, Fields tweeted a farewell note to the Bears organization and fanbase.

Meanwhile, the trade got an interesting reaction from Fields' leading receiver DJ Moore:

It's an offseason of total upheaval in the Steelers' QBs room, as every passer from last year's 10-7 squad is now on another team. Kenny Pickett was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, Mitch Trubisky signed with the Buffalo Bills and Mason Rudolph signed with the Tennessee Titans.

Like Wilson — who required only the league minimum salary after getting released by the Denver Broncos — Fields was an inexpensive addition for the Steelers. And as long as Wilson is healthy and competent, it's hard to see Fields receiving enough playing time to make the Bears' new draft pick become a fourth-rounder.

The meager return on Fields in the trade market reflects the poor overall showing for the first-round QB draft class of 2021. Mac Jones, who was selected No. 15 overall by the New England Patriots, got dealt to Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick. The San Francisco got rid of Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick, for a fourth-round selection from Dallas. Zach Wilson, that draft's second overall pick, is looking at being released outright by the New York Jets this offseason.

Bears' Justin Fields era was frustrating, to say the least

The Bears trading their starting quarterback is the clearest signal possible that they plan to use their No. 1 overall draft pick on a quarterback. USC quarterback Caleb Williams is widely expected to be the first pick.

Some of the Bears' decision can be chalked up to Williams' skills and strength as a field marshal, but Fields' time with the Bears had a lot to do with it as well. He struggled over two-plus years as a starter, accruing a 10-28 record and breaking 200 yards passing in only 13 games.

There's no question Fields was affected by the coaching in Chicago. Head coach Matt Eberflus couldn't seem to figure out what to do with Fields on a weekly basis, consistently trying to get Fields to do things that aren't his strengths. Near the end of the duo's first season as a head coach/starting QB duo in 2022, Fields broke out, looking like a video game character as the Bears allowed him to use his legs more. That late-season surge had fans feeling hopeful and positive about their starting QB for the first time in years.

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 07: Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears looks on after the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 07, 2024 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
Justin Fields won't be a Chicago Bear in the 2024 season. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) (John Fisher via Getty Images)

Yet in 2023, Eberflus went away from what worked, leading to widespread frustration. Fields wasn't nearly as mobile as he should have been, and it stifled the Bears' offense. And Fields didn't seem to know why it was happening any more than fans did. At one point during the season, he called out the coaching staff for being in his ear too often, giving him information that he didn't feel was helpful or that took him further away from his strengths. Fields said that in late September, and from then on it became only more obvious that Fields and the Bears were not a good fit.

Also not helping was the thumb that caused Fields to miss four games in the middle of the season, a stretch that saw the Bears go 2-2 with undrafted rookie Tyson Bagent starting.

There were some positive moments for the team down the stretch, including victories against the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, but the Fields question became only more urgent. Keep him and trade the No. 1 overall pick, or trade him and draft a franchise QB at No. 1 overall?

The Bears have chosen door No. 2. They've shipped Fields out and will use that No. 1 pick to give their franchise another new face.