ORLANDO, Fla. — Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Poles was expecting a more robust market for Justin Fields before the team traded the quarterback to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I was a little bit surprised,” Poles said at the NFL league meeting Monday. “But as you do research and we have conversations, you have to kind of adjust to the market. But I think just with how other teams are built, because if you look at the beginning, there are probably teams that are looking at the draft for guys to fill in. On the back end, playoff teams probably have someone in place. So really it was a smaller pool of teams.”

Chicago received a 2025 conditional sixth-round pick that can become a fourth-rounder if Fields plays 51% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps this season. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin confirmed Sunday that quarterback Russell Wilson holds the “pole position” to be the starter, but said Fields will “have the opportunity to compete” when the time is right.

The Bears had initially eyed a Day 2 draft selection plus a late conditional 2025 pick, a source with knowledge of the team’s plans told ESPN. Six teams, including Pittsburgh, came with a variety of offers, with most envisioning Fields as a backup.

Poles on Monday said the Bears received offers from teams other than Pittsburgh, but he believed the opportunity to send Fields to a place with a clearer path to compete was doing right by the 25-year-old.

“They have a starter with Russ but there was more of an open competition, it felt like from my perspective, where there were other opportunities where there were some quarterbacks that were either veteran guys or young guys that had already been paid, so it would have been a tougher situation for him to get on the field,” Poles said.

Poles and Bears coach Matt Eberflus called Fields from Eberflus’ home to inform the quarterback that he was being traded on March 16. Fields expressed a positive tone, according to Poles, who called the decision to trade the quarterback before his fourth season “one of the harder things I had to do.”

“I always kind of touch on the empathy part; having that conversation with my own [son] was hard,” Poles said. “[Fields’] jersey is up in his room. So it kind of puts that into perspective of how difficult those moves are. But I really felt like that was best for our organization and best for Justin. I said that at the combine: I wanted to do right by him. We did that. We had a really good conversation.”

The Bears are set to draft Fields’ replacement with the No. 1 overall pick next month. After spending several days with USC’s Caleb Williams in Los Angeles last week ahead of the presumptive top pick’s pro day, Poles came away impressed by the quarterback’s “maturity” and the way he is perceived by his college coaches and teammates.

“When you talk to his teammates, they don’t like him, they love him,” Poles said. “His leadership, how he brings people together. He’s intentional with his leadership. Same goes with the staff. I’m having a hard time finding a person that doesn’t like him or even love him and thinks that he can reach the highest limits. The feedback’s been good.”

Poles will travel from Orlando to LSU’s pro day Wednesday to observe quarterback Jayden Daniels, who is expected to be a top-three draft pick, before flying back to Chicago. The GM will not be in attendance to watch Drake Maye at UNC’s pro day Thursday, but said the Bears will be represented by quarterbacks coach Kerry Joseph and several scouting executives.

The Bears plan to host Williams on a top-30 visit during the first week of April, when they will gather his medical data. Williams opted not to give the information to all 32 franchises at the NFL combine last month, saying he would provide it during visits to several teams.

“I’ve done this over the years when guys come in,” Poles said when asked what he hopes to glean from Williams’ visit to Halas Hall. “You can really do some installations, take a break and then have them reinstall back to you just in terms of recall. Build relationships with coaches. Make sure that there’s compatibility there.”


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