LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP)As much as he would have liked to set the NFL single-season rushing record for a quarterback, Justin Fields seemed only mildly disappointed he didn’t get the opportunity.
A strained hip kept him out of the Chicago Bears’ season-ending loss to the Minnesota Vikings. That ended his pursuit of Lamar Jackson’s QB rushing mark.
”It’s a rushing record and I’m a quarterback,” Fields said Monday. ”Of course it would’ve been cool to have but I’m not really into records like that. If there was one record I’d like to break, of course it’d be a passing record, so we’ll see if we can get that done in the near future.”
General manager Ryan Poles is now on the clock after the Bears (3-14) wrapped up one of the worst seasons in franchise history. They set a franchise record for losses in a season and extended one by dropping their 10th game in a row on Sunday.
They also got a big assist from former coach Lovie Smith and landed the No. 1 pick in the draft for the first time since 1947 when Smith led Houston to a last-minute win at Indianapolis. That put Chicago in the top spot and dropped the Texans to No. 2. Smith was fired hours after the game.
The Bears also figure to have about $118 million in salary cap room and they’ll need every penny to address their needs.
Those include adding playmaking receivers and beefing up the line to give Fields the protection he needs and balance the offense. The Bears led the league in rushing while finishing last in passing, and Fields was sacked 55 times – tied with Denver’s Russell Wilson for most in the NFL. And as glaring as the Bears’ needs are on offense, they also have big issues to address on the defensive line.
One big positive this season was Fields’ progress.
Though he still needs to develop as a passer, the former Ohio State star emerged as one of the NFL’s most exciting players in his second season.
Fields threw for 2,242 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 1,143 yards and eight more scores. He finished 63 yards shy of Jackson’s QB rushing record of 1,206 set in his 2019 MVP season.
As for Fields’ hip, he said Monday it felt ”pretty good.”
Quarterbacks Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Will Levis are among the top prospects available in the draft, but it would be surprising if the Bears selected a QB to compete with Fields, a first-round pick in 2021.
The Bears could trade down a few spots in the draft to a QB-needy team and still get a blue-chip player such as Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. or Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter with their initial pick.
The Bears had a league-worst 20 sacks, the fewest for Chicago since the 2003 team had 18. The Philadelphia Eagles, by contrast, led the NFL with 70 this year.
A safety – Jaquan Brisker – led the Bears with four sacks, and no lineman had more than three.
Running back David Montgomery took time to soak it all in after he played what could be his final game for the Bears. His rookie contract is set to expire after four seasons in Chicago.
”The city and the fans are crazy in a great way,” Montgomery said. ”As you know we haven’t been the hottest in the last four years, and the fans and the support around this team and the way that they still show love – it’s crazy.”
Montgomery has run for 3,609 yards and 26 touchdowns since the Bears drafted him in the third round in 2019. He had a career-low 801 yards and five TDs in 16 games, with Fields emerging and Khalil Herbert sharing the load at running back.
NEW LEADER … NEW HOME?
The Bears are looking for a president/CEO to replace the retiring Ted Phillips.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren has spoken to the team about the vacancy and is a candidate for the job, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press last month.
The Bears also hope to complete the purchase of a 326-acre property in suburban Arlington Heights, Illinois, that could become the site of a new enclosed stadium. Restaurants and retail are also envisioned for that plot of land.
Poles tore down the roster after he was hired a year ago, trading Khalil Mack and parting with Akiem Hicks and Allen Robinson in the offseason. He then traded Robert Quinn and – after a contract negotiation standoff – Roquan Smith prior to the deadline, gutting the defense.
Now it’s time to start rebuilding.
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