Dec 18, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (97) sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The tanking conversation in sports is overplayed beyond belief.

For one thing, there’s often a fundamental misunderstanding of what tanking actually is. At no point during even the most egregious tanking seasons (the Process Sixers probably hold that title) do players try to lose games. That’s not what it is. It’s not even usually at the coaching level; plenty of coaches and managers actually couldn’t handle losing despite trying everything they could do to win with an intentionally undermanned roster.

That can occasionally put staffs at odds with front offices, leading to friction and other issues.

For the Chicago Bears, though, things shouldn’t be that difficult. There are multiple reasons why they should have been treating these last few weeks as must-lose games, and now they’re faced with a pretty simple scenario in Week 18: a loss vs the Minnesota Vikings, combined with a Houston Texans win over the fairly hapless Indianapolis Colts, would give the Bears the #1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Even aside from the draft positioning, there’s a pretty big reason why it’s time for the Bears to shut their best player down. Justin Fields has somehow risen above one of the worst roster situations in the entire league (which is how you contend for the #1 overall pick) to show that he can be a franchise quarterback. He has nothing left to prove with this roster, and indeed the downsides feel much greater.

In addition to the fact he’s playing through a lingering shoulder injury (and it’s possible there’s more going on than that, given how things have unfolded), Fields is also working with a group of offensive players that features no one that might reasonably be expected to be above-average at their position next season.

Watching the Bears as a fan has turned Sundays into a predictable exercise of hoping Fields plays well, doesn’t get hurt, and the team loses anyway.

After Fields went on his excellent midseason run following a scheme shift to emphasize his strengths (a novel concept!) and help protect him from the weaknesses around him, that calculus honestly changed to just hoping he doesn’t take the sort of hits that can lead to long-term issues.

Last weekend against the Detroit Lions, Fields absolutely took some of those hits, and he still played the entire game despite it being a blowout the team should have been okay with losing anyway. That’s malpractice. There’s no argument for “development” to be made when Fields is playing with a squad of players that would struggle for playing time in the Big Ten. And if “learning to win” or whatever else everyone from Twitter randos to Chicago head coach Matt Eberflus trots out as a justification for sending Fields out to run for his life every week actually mattered, then the Bears as an organization would have done a lot more to put a roster capable of winning around Fields.

That didn’t happen, though, because winning was never the mission. Clearing the salary cap decks, moving on from veterans (including trading Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith after failing to reach an extension, only to see him play much better with the Baltimore Ravens, which isn’t exactly a positive thing for Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles), and setting up draft position. (Though they traded what will be a prime second round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for Chase Claypool, who hasn’t managed to stay healthy long enough to build any real chemistry with Fields.)

Basically, playing Fields these last few weeks has only served to risk major injury, has brought about at least a few minor injuries, and has led to the potential ingraining of bad habits that tend to form when a quarterback is forced to run for his life behind a grossly bad offensive line while having no receivers capable of getting open or reliably catching the ball when Fields hits the tiny windows their lack of separation requires him to hit.

All of that’s to say: it’s time to shut it down. At least shut Fields down, but considering he’s pretty much the entire offense on his own, that amounts to shutting the whole team down. And that’s fine. There’s nothing to be gained and plenty to lose. Let’s hope common sense prevails.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a columnist at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer. He is probably talking to a dog in a silly voice at this very moment.