There was a time not long ago – specifically, Wednesday – when the football world was more predictable. The NFL abounded with certain truisms, and for those who pay even casual attention to the NFC North, they included these widely held beliefs:
- The Detroit Lions would always be something of a hot mess.
- The Green Bay Packers would always have a Hall of Fame quarterback.
- The Chicago Bears would never even have a mediocre quarterback.
- And the Minnesota Vikings can never have enough draft picks.
Lest you get too shaken, you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that half of these four NFC North axioms are still firmly entrenched. The other two, not so much. Scholars and historians for generations to come could very well wind up looking back at Thursday, April 29, 2021, as an inflection point in the history of the NFC North.
The accepted reality was delivered a serious blow on Thursday when it became apparent that Green Bay’s decades-long run of Hall of Fame quarterback play was in (ahem) jeopardy. The impeccably timed and suddenly more serious “Aaron Rodgers is unhappy and could be traded” reports jolted our senses like a roundhouse kick to the temple. Vikings fans from Burnsville to Biwabik couldn’t help but giggle as they contemplated life after A-Rodge in a Packers uniform.
And then, just as the future of the Packers was cast into a great lake of uncertainty, Minnesota’s other chief NFC North rival made a move to potentially alter the trajectory of their franchise by trading up in the first round of the draft to select quarterback Justin Fields.
If you follow both of these storylines to their logical conclusions – with Rodgers being traded elsewhere and Fields quickly emerging as a star – you can see how the events of April 29 may turn out to be transformative for this division. Of course, as of the end of Round 1, Rodgers was still a Packer – an unhappy, probably sulking Packer, but a Packer nonetheless — and Fields had yet to arrive in Chicago to pry the starting quarterback gig away from the buttery grasp of Andy Dalton.
Both seem inevitable at this point, though. And since the Rodgers saga has been and will continue to be scrutinized both on this website and elsewhere across the NFL internets, let’s focus for a moment on what the Fields move means for the Bears and – by extension – your Minnesota Vikings.
First of all, the Vikings, who began the night with the 14th-overall pick, came awfully close to having a chance to draft Fields. We may never know for certain if Minnesota made a serious offer to move up to 11 and grab him. But what we know is that the thought of doing so was obscenely tantalizing to many in Vikings Territory.
Leaping to grab Fields would have been a bold yet very defensible move for the Vikings. Fields could have potentially sat behind Kirk Cousins for a year, or half a season perhaps, and then taken command of the ship by 2022. It would have enabled the Vikes to seamlessly transition from Cousins’ crushing contract to the Fields Era. Of course, trading Cousins and his fat salary would have needed to be consummated sometime in the next 10 months, which wouldn’t have been an easy task. Nevertheless, many would have viewed such an aggressive ploy to land a potential franchise quarterback as a no-brainer.
Based on what Chicago had to part with to make the deal happen, the Vikings’ price tag for moving up three spots would have been next year’s first-round pick and at least one other pick. That’s a healthy haul.
However, the desperate Bears were willing to pay the price as they seek to end generations of malaise at the position. Honestly, they’ve been looking for an answer at quarterback since Jim McMahon injured his shoulder in 1986. Jim Harbaugh wasn’t that answer. Neither were Erik Kramer, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Jay Cutler, Mitchell Trubisky, or others they’ve trotted out on Sunday. Chicago has never had a 4,000-yard passer, and they’ve never had a quarterback throw for 30 touchdowns in a season. By contrast, the frequently maligned Cousins has thrown for 30-plus touchdowns in two of his three seasons with the Vikings and has five seasons with more than 4,000 passing yards on his resume.
Fields could change everything. No longer will game-planning to face the Bears consist primarily of ways to counteract their defense or slow their running game.
All the usual caveats apply, of course. Any draft pick could be a bust. However, both on paper and on film, Fields appears to possess the kind of talent that would have made him the top quarterback selected in many drafts. If he pans out the way many feel he will, he provides the Bears with a dynamic leader on offense. He has good size, outstanding speed, a strong, accurate arm, and an ability to extend plays. He’s a modern quarterback joining an offense that’s been stuck in the 1980s for too long.
Now the Vikings will have to find an answer for him for the foreseeable future while playing on his rookie contract, and the Bears surround him with weapons. This has all the makings of a problem for the Purple. He might not turn out to be the kind of pain in the neck that the brilliance of Rodgers has been for the Vikings, but time will tell.
Just as the Vikings thought they might be ridding themselves of one nuisance, another arises in the span of a few hours.