It's never easy to know if you should take head coaches and general managers at their respective word, especially after a disappointing season.
And if they have the No. 1 pick in the coming draft, well, all bets are off.
It turns out that over the weeks since the Chicago Bears' last season ended, and head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles were asked about quarterback Justin Fields, they weren't just blowing smoke when they talked about the "big step" he took last season — and that Fields is "on the right track" and needs to just focus on making small improvements and adjustments to his game.
They really believe in Fields' ability to lead the Bears, and they're committed to making sure he has what he needs to do that.
On Friday night, Chicago reportedly traded the top pick in next month's draft to the Carolina Panthers, who moved up from the No. 9 spot, getting first- and second-round picks this year, the Panthers' first-round pick next year and a second-rounder in 2025.
As if that wasn't enough, the Bears also acquired a top receiver, D.J. Moore. Panthers beat reporter Joe Person tweeted that getting Moore, a first-round pick in 2018 who averaged 72 catches and over 1,000 yards a season with Carolina (despite playing with 11 starting quarterbacks over that time), was considered a "must have" for Chicago in the deal.
Moore managed 63 receptions and a career-high seven touchdowns last season even as he was playing with a trio of uninspiring quarterbacks. That was far more production than the Bears' top receiver, Darnell Mooney. He had just 40 catches, with tight end Cole Kmet's 50 leading the team. The wide receivers on Chicago's roster last season combined for 121 catches, worst in the league.
Moore had already signed an extension with the Panthers, and is currently under contract through 2025.
Even better, Chicago made this trade before free agency officially starts Wednesday, meaning it can be even more strategic about the players it adds, mixing experienced veterans with youngsters it hopes become core members of the team. Accounting for Moore's base salary for 2023 of $19.9 million, the Bears still have a league-best $75 million in salary-cap space, though of course some of that will go to their draft class.
Fields was sacked 55 times last season, most in the NFL, so help is needed on the offensive line. But a team that had the first pick in the draft has a lot of needs on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Bears had only 20 sacks and 43 quarterback hits in 2022 as they traded eventual Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith in November. The Bears had no Pro Bowlers on their roster.
There are rumors that the Arizona Cardinals may trade DeAndre Hopkins, which would add another strong receiver to the mix. Veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner is a free agent, and he's one of the most respected leaders in the league. There are some solid offensive linemen available, including ascending right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who is just 25 years old and started every game over his first four seasons, with Jacksonville.
It has been a tough decade for Bears fans since Lovie Smith was let go: four head coaches, three general managers, only two postseason appearances and a lot of uninspiring quarterback play. Smith got Chicago to its last Super Bowl appearance, in the 2006 season, and according to some fans, he deserves credit for Friday's haul as well: After Smith's Houston Texans beat the Indianapolis Colts in Week 18, the Bears got the No. 1 pick, setting the stage for this trade to happen.
With a new head coach and new offensive coordinator in Luke Getsy for his second season, Fields began to blossom and had some terrific moments and games — despite having next to no help from his line or receivers.
They say "bloom where you're planted," and Fields did that in less-than-fertile soil.
There's growing to do, of course, and that will be easier with Chicago clearly committed to its rising young star and building a team around him that will hopefully let him play to his strengths and bring excitement back to a proud franchise that has been struggling to find its footing for years.