LAKE FOREST — Last offseason, former Bear Akiem Hicks showed just how important the development of Justin Fields would be to Chicago’s rebuilding hopes with a scathing critique of his time with the organization.
“When I got 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 introductory press conference after rejoining Brady with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I feel spoiled to have someone on the other side of the ball who can deliver all the time. He’s 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. We have that here.”
The ability to attract top free-agent talent is an under-the-radar advantage of an elite quarterback. While Fields still has work to do as a passer, the step forward he made last season as one of the NFL’s top playmakers has caught the attention of many in the league.
It also played a role in the Bears’ free-agent haul this offseason, as the appeal of playing on the same team as Fields helped general manager Ryan Poles bring in several new members of a redesigned defense.
“I think if you look at his stats it speaks for itself,” new linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said Thursday. “Obviously, whether he’s running the ball or throwing the football presents challenges in different ways. I obviously know when [the Bills were] As we geared up for him we were like, ‘We’ve got to make sure we bring it this week’, but definitely a guy I’m looking forward to playing with. You know, that obviously feeds into the decision to make the decision to come here.”
Like Edmunds, TJ Edwards is a new member of the Bears’ linebacking corps that faced Fields last season. As he prepared to face Fields and the Bears as a member of the NFC champions Philadelphia Eagles, Edwards got a good sense of what kind of team Poland is building with Fields in the lead.
“We came and played here, it was a really tough team man,” Edwards said Thursday. “It was a game that went to the end and obviously I can speak more of the defensive side going versus offense, just a lot 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 games where he let loose so he’s definitely a special player and you can just tell from the way the game went that it didn’t stop at all. That’s definitely something I want to be a part of.”
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When you have an elite quarterback, you automatically step into the Super Bowl picture. The true elite guys with rings on their résumés – (ret.) Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, etc. – attract high caliber experienced talent to join them on their title quests.
Guys like Hicks are often willing to take less to play for a team with a certified “guy” as quarterback. At the very least, a playmaker as a quarterback is a ticket into the prize draw for high-value veteran additions. Teams without a viable quarterback are denied entry.
Just ask DeMarcus Walker. During his career, the 28-year-old defensive end has played with a who’s who of underperforming quarterbacks. From Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch to Brett Rypien, Brandon Allen and Malik Willis, Walker has been on this side of the NFL fence.
Coming to Chicago, he decided to see how the other half lived by interfering with Fields.
“Please excuse my French. Absolutely,” Walker said Thursday when asked if the quarterback influenced his free-agent decision. “Justin Fields is definitely someone I can’t wait to fight with.”
Fields did enough in Year 2 to put the Bears on the radar of potential free agents. Some came to Chicago to join him. If he makes another big leap in 2023, the floodgates could open and accelerate the bears’ recovery to a different stage than the infancy they’re currently in.
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