LAKE FOREST — Last season, former Bear Akiem Hicks showed how important the development of Justin Fields would be to rebuilding Chicago with sharp criticism of his time in the organization.
“When I came into the league, I had Drew Brees and Tom Brady as my first two quarterbacks. And then I went to Chicago. It wasn’t Drew Brees and Tom Brady,” Hicks said during his opening press conference after rejoining Brady had joined with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I feel spoiled to have someone on the other side of the ball who can always deliver. He has proven that over the years.
“It was definitely a tie,” Hicks continued when asked if playing with an established quarterback was a goal. “It benefits a defense to have a quarterback who can control the clock, the ball and field position. That’s what we have here.”
The ability to attract top talent from free agents is an advantage you don’t see when you have an elite quarterback. While Fields still has a lot of work to do as a passer, the step forward he made last season as one of the NFL’s top playmakers clearly caught the attention of many in the league.
It also played a role in the Bears’ acquisition of free agents this offseason, as the lure of playing on the same team as Fields general manager Ryan Poles helped bring in several new members of a new defense.
“I think when you look at his stats, it speaks for itself,” new linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said Thursday. “Obviously it creates challenges in different ways, whether he’s running the ball or throwing the football. Obviously I know when [the Bills were] as we were preparing for him we were like ‘we have to make sure we bring it in this week’ but definitely a guy I love playing with. You know, that obviously plays into the decision to make that decision to come here.”
Like Edmunds, TJ Edwards is a new member of the Bears’ linebacking corps who faced Fields last season. While preparing to take on Fields and the Bears as a member of the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles, Edwards got a good idea of the type of team Poland is building with Fields in the lead.
“We came and played here, it was a really tough team, man,” Edwards said on Thursday. “It was a game that went all the way to the end and I can of course speak more from the defensive side, going against the attack, just lots of guns and trying to contain Fields was a big part of what we were trying to do. You saw what happened on one of the plays where he got loose, so he’s definitely a special player and you can tell from the way the game progressed it wasn’t holding up at all, that’s definitely something I want to be a part of. “
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Having an elite quarterback automatically puts you in the Super Bowl picture. The truly elite guys with rings on their resumes — (ret.) Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, etc. — attract veteran talent to join them on their title quests.
Guys like Hicks are often willing to play for less for a team with a certified “dude” as quarterback. At the very least, having a playmaker as a quarterback is a ticket to the lottery for quality veteran additions. Teams without a viable quarterback will not be allowed entry.
Just ask DeMarcus Walker. During his career, the 28-year-old defensive end has played with a who’s who of underpowered quarterbacks. From Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch to Brett Rypien, Brandon Allen and Malik Willis, Walker has been on that side of the NFL fence.
When he came to Chicago, he chose to see how the other half lives by joining Fields.
“Excuse my French. Abso-f-ing-lutely,” Walker said Thursday when asked if the quarterback influenced his free agent decision. “Justin Fields is definitely, you know, someone I don’t want to go to war with.”
Fields did enough in Year 2 to put the Bears on the radar of would-be free agents. Some came to Chicago to join him. If he takes another big leap in 2023, the floodgates could open and accelerate the Bears’ rebuilding into a different phase from the infancy it is currently in.
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