Trade Down or Stand Your Ground?

The Chicago Bears face a tough choice regarding what to do with the first overall pick following a disappointing 2022 season.

By Austin Zeglis, Sports Reporter

The Chicago Bears have a chance to do something that might turn their franchise around. 

After finishing the 2022 season with a 3–14 record, the Bears solidified themselves as the worst team in the NFL last year. This means they have the first pick in the upcoming 2023 NFL draft.  

The Bears haven’t had a first-round pick, let alone the first overall pick, in three of the last four drafts. They traded their 2019 and 2020 first-rounders to the Las Vegas Raiders in the Khalil Mack trade and traded their 2022 first-rounder to the New York Giants to move up in the 2021 draft to select quarterback Justin Fields. Chicago’s 2022 pick ended up being seventh overall, which gave New York the opportunity to take Alabama tackle Evan Neal 

Speaking of Fields, it’s his presence on the team that complicates Chicago’s decision about what to do with the first overall pick. 

The first option, which is what most analysts are predicting, is for the Bears to trade down. This year’s quarterback class is top heavy, with Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, and Kentucky’s Will Levis leading the charge. And since there are multiple teams desperate to find a franchise quarterback, trading up to number one to ensure you get the pick of the litter will certainly be tempting to a few general managers. 

Since they have no reason to draft another quarterback after taking Fields in 2021, Chicago could take advantage of other teams’ needs and trade the first overall pick for multiple picks later on in the draft. 

The Colts are one of the teams flirting with trading up to the top spot. Neither 34-year-old Nick Foles nor 37-year-old Matt Ryan are quarterbacks to build the future of a franchise around, especially after Indianapolis’s 4–12–1 record last year. And while 2021 sixth-round pick Sam Ehlinger is still on the roster, his 31.8 quarterback rating through four appearances last year doesn’t exactly translate to mouthwatering potential. 

Indianapolis could offer Chicago the fourth overall pick, the 35th overall pick, and a couple of day-two picks in next year’s draft to try and ensure they get their choice of Young, Stroud, or Levis. 

Houston is another team that could trade up. After dealing Deshaun Watson to Cleveland last off-season, the Texans are in need of an answer at quarterback. Stanford product Davis Mills showed some flashes of talent last season, but it certainly wasn’t enough to convince the front office that he was the long-term solution.  

The Texans have the second overall pick in the 2023 draft, meaning that if the Bears stand pat with the first overall pick, Houston should have their choice at the top three quarterbacks available (assuming Chicago doesn’t take a quarterback). But the possibility that the Colts leapfrog the Texans in a trade with Chicago might be enough to make Houston call up the Bears with a trade offer. Houston would most likely need to include their second round pick, which is 33rd overall, to swap with Chicago.   

But fans shouldn’t automatically assume that the Bears are going to trade the pick, because there are certainly non-quarterback players worth taking.  

Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr. is one of those players. He spent three years with the Crimson Tide to the tune of 205 tackles and 62 tackles for loss and was a part of the 2020 championship team. Anderson is an incredible pass-rusher whose 17.5 sack season in 2021 was one of the best defensive campaigns in recent college football history—he finished in the top five in Heisman voting, a place defensive players rarely find themselves. 

The only other player that it seems Chicago would seriously consider at number one is Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter. Seemingly unblockable for a majority of the regular season, Carter was a major part of the Bulldogs’ championship run this year. While his numbers aren’t as flashy as Anderson’s—only six sacks and 18.5 tackles for losses in his three seasons at Georgia—he impacts every single play with his speed and strength. His athleticism and physicality would automatically make him the cornerstone of any defensive line. 

Both Anderson and Carter seem to be worth the first or second overall pick, but even if Chicago trades down to fourth overall, one of them should, in theory, still be available. If we assume the Bears and the Colts do agree on a trade, Indianapolis would almost surely take a quarterback at first overall. Houston would then take a quarterback at second overall, leaving Arizona, a team with a solidified franchise quarterback in Kyler Murray, with their pick of either Anderson or Carter. The Bears would then have the chance to draft whichever of the two players the Cardinals didn’t take.  

Either trading down or selecting one of the top two defensive prospects seem to be the only viable options for the Bears. The only other idea would be to take one of the top quarterbacks, either at first overall or after trading down. This would likely mean that (a) the Bears don’t believe in Justin Fields’ development and are looking to trade him, and (b) they see one of Stroud, Young, or Levis as not only a better prospect than Fields, but a franchise cornerstone in their own right. This doesn’t seem very likely, especially given how early in Fields’ career it is, but anything can happen.  

Owning the first overall pick of the draft is relatively new territory for Chicago. In the 87-year history of the NFL draft, the Bears have only had the first overall pick twice, taking Tom Harmon in 1941 and Bob Fenimore in 1947.  

Neither of these picks turned out well. Harmon declined his rookie contract with the Bears and instead decided to pursue a career in radio and television. He would rejoin the NFL in 1946, when he signed a contract with the Los Angeles Rams after returning from military service during World War II.  

As for Fenimore? He only played one season with the Bears, appearing in 10 games before calling it quits on the NFL and taking a job at an insurance firm. 

I think I speak for the entire city of Chicago when I say I hope whatever happens this year works out just a little bit better.