Former exec: Why Bears wanted Justin Fields, passed on Patrick Mahomes

Chicago
By Chicago 6 Min Read

Six-and-a-half years ago, the Bears’ top decision-makers met Patrick Mahomes at a high-end Lubbock, Texas, Mexican restaurant. They’d become enamored with the Texas Tech quarterback during the pre-draft process, and general manager Ryan Pace, player personnel director Josh Lucas, head coach John Fox, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone wanted to spend time with him.

“He has a nervous energy, so you kinda question, ‘How composed is this kid?’” Lucas said. “‘You’re about to hand off a franchise to him in the city of Chicago.’”

They grew to like Mahomes’ energy. As the meal stretched on, he told them about the Texas Tech baseball team and gave them a scouting report on their basketball program. It was March Madness, and Mahomes broke down different college point guards.

The Bears left convinced that Mahomes was one of the top two quarterbacks on their draft board, alongside North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky. Only one person inside Halas Hall had Clemson star Deshaun Watson rated as a first-round pick — and that coach, Lucas said, wasn’t particularly passionate about it.

“The focus from the end of spring was on Mitch and Patrick,” Lucas said.

The Bears chose Trubisky.

Mahomes himself didn’t believe the Bears would take a quarterback — but said during Super Bowl week in February that his camp was told he was atop Pace’s list of players at the position.

That wasn’t the case, Lucas said. Rather, they were trying to figure out if they’d take Mahomes third overall if the Browns decided to make Trubisky the No. 1 overall pick. The 49ers would have, in that scenario, taken Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett second.

The Browns wound up drafting Garrett first, and the Bears traded up one spot to draft Trubisky. They liked the North Carolina quarterback so much that they didn’t want to risk someone jumping ahead of them.

The Chiefs took Mahomes 10th.

Lucas was amazed by Mahomes’ wow moments in college but wasn’t sure how they’d work in the NFL. Previous Red Raiders quarterbacks who thrived in the Air Raid system —including Kliff Kingsbury, the head coach at the time — hadn’t been able to make the leap.

“Your jaw hits the floor when you see (Mahomes) make some of these plays,” Lucas said. “But is that realistic? That’s where I really missed. …I didn’t think the things he did off script would translate to consistent playmaking ability on our level. And he proved me wrong.”

Mahomes is the best player in the NFL, and the Bears are still looking for a quarterback.

When those two teams converge Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, Lucas will have a unique point-of-view, even from his couch. He was in the Bears’ draft room when they passed on Mahomes, and in 2021 when they traded up to draft Justin Fields.

Lucas was fired alongside Pace’s staff after the 2021 season. He’s stayed on the North Shore and in recent months has begun working as a television and radio analyst.

In Fields, he sees a quarterback who, with the right surroundings, can still stand out. Lucas doesn’t see a quarterback who can’t read the field; rather, it’s someone who doesn’t fire the ball after trusting his eyes. His footwork and delivery look different every time, Lucas said.

“He doesn’t look confident,” he said. “He’s not creating plays. He’s trying to do something he’s not comfortable doing rather than just being an innate, instinctive play-maker. ..

“It’s going to take time. The thing you need to do is build his confidence.”

Most inside Halas Halas considered Fields the second-best quarterback in his draft class, behind only Trevor Lawrence. Lucas said the team’s S2 Cognition scores — which test nine cognitive functions — on Fields were high. He was an introvert, but his coaches and teammates loved him. Football mattered to him.

The Bears knew that superior blockers and receivers at Ohio State allowed Fields to be deliberate in his decision-making, and that he’d have to speed up as a pro. They thought he’d benefit from playing behind Andy Dalton as a rookie.

“With Justin we knew he had rare ability to run the football,” Lucas said. “With the way the NFL has changed the last 20 years, the way the game is legislated has allowed for quarterbacks who are featured as runners to survive, get to second contracts and have more longevity. They are protected now.”

Lucas said the Bears believed Fields had a high floor because of his running ability and would improve his pass game with more time on task.

He still believes that, but thinks the Bears offense needs to be more centered around his running. Until they do, he said, “you’re cheating the player, you’re cheating your offense and you’re cheating your team.”

When Mahomes broke out in 2018, Lucas wasn’t particularly bothered. The Bears went 12-4 and Trubisky seemed on the upswing. Then things went sideways.

“When it gets really hard,” he said, “is when your guy starts to struggle.”

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