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How And Why The Bears Chose Justin Fields


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This piece is so long and detailed I thought it should have it's own thread for those who want more info on the pick.

 

MMQB: Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Aaron Rodgers and Inside the Biggest Stories on Draft Night

Why the Bears traded up, how the 49ers decided and what the Packers' GM plans to do now. Plus, takeaways on Mac Jones, Davis Mills, DeVonta Smith and many more leftovers from the draft.

Matt Nagy and Ryan Day have a lot of history with each other—and it goes back to well before either guy had a whistle around his neck. Both came to the Atlantic 10 in 1997, and by the fall of 2000, the two quarterbacks, the former at Delaware and the latter at New Hampshire, were very familiar with one another. And it was no surprise to either that when their teams faced off for the last time, their senior years, the game was a barnburner.

Nagy’s second-ranked Blue Hens came in with a shot to get to No. 1, with top-ranked Georgia Southern’s having fallen earlier that November day. But down seven, with less than two minutes left, Day rallied the Wildcats, executing a perfect hook-and-ladder from midfield for the game-tying score. The two then traded touchdowns in overtime, the Blue Hens missed their PAT, the Wildcats hit theirs, and Day and UNH scored the 45–44 upset.

Twenty-one years later, why does that matter?

That experience in the A-10 bonded Day and Nagy, and they’ve stayed in touch since. And that bond, during the last 13 months, helped deliver the Bears a new franchise quarterback.

Nagy and Day got to know each other better through camps and combines as they rose through the ranks after that epic game. They stayed in touch through the years, and bounced stuff off each other enough to build a level of mutual respect and trust. And so it was that last March, as the U.S. shut down, Nagy was in his home office looking at Day’s Ohio State prospects and decided to give his old buddy a call.

They went through all the big names you’d remember from the 2020 draft: Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, J.K. Dobbins. And after getting all those boxes checked, Nagy had one more lingering question from having watched all that tape.

justin-fields-chicago-bears-draft-daily-cover-vertical

Courtesy of the Chicago Bears

“Hey, how about that quarterback of yours?” Nagy asked.

“Dude, he’s a generational talent,” Day responded.

“Wow, that’s pretty powerful,” Nagy said. “What is it about him?”

“He’s 6' 2", 220 pounds and can run a 4.4 40,” Day said. “And he might be in the 4.3s.”

“That’s wild,” Nagy said.

Even wilder—he’d be Nagy’s new quarterback less than 14 months later.

Nagy had no idea how well he was about to get to know Justin Fields.


The 2021 draft is in the books and, naturally, we’ve got a lot to get to. In this week’s MMQB column, you’ll find …

• How the Niners landed on Trey Lance as their QB of the future.

• Packers GM Brian Gutekunst on the Aaron Rodgers situation.

• The way the Jets’ coaches went about sizing up Zach Wilson. (Literally.)

And you’ll also get a boatload of post-draft nuggets in the Ten Takeaways section. But we’re starting in Chicago, with a Bears team that was lying in the weeds on the quarterback class, and wound up striking to catch a freak athlete falling down the board.


The conversation stuck with Nagy to the point where, by the summer, he was quietly hoping for the Big 10 to get its season going, after the conference had initially canceled it, so he could watch more of Fields. And once that happened, the Bears coach made a point of catching the Buckeyes on TV from the team hotel if he could fit it in around meetings—earlier afternoon or night games were most conducive to his schedule.

He kept liking what he saw, and kept Day’s “generational talent” line in the back of his mind.

“The one thing from afar I always noticed was how crazy tough this kid was with all the shots he kept taking,” Nagy told me over the phone Sunday night. “He just kept coming back in and making plays. And to have a guy that was such a dual threat, and yet he’s a competitor, he’s a leader, his teammates love him, he’s obsessed with the game—when you hear all that, how do you not get excited about it?”

Nagy sure was. But with the Bears’ season winding down, and it clear that the team was going to overhaul the position, the coach thought it best he keep his feelings to himself, so as not to color the opinions of others.

Once the Bears were bounced from the playoffs, it looked unlikely they’d have a shot at Fields anyway. Chicago was picking 20th. Surely, Nagy thought, Fields would go inside the top five picks or so. The idea of getting him seemed more fantasy than grounded in any level of fact.

“We knew we were sitting at 20, and you have no idea where guys are going to go,” Nagy continued. “And so I think what [GM] Ryan [Pace] and I tried to do—let’s just have a real clean slate with all these guys and in particular the guys in the first round. Let’s start with a clean slate, and let’s do it on our own, and see how this thing goes and spend a lot of time watching tape, completely dissecting these guys.”

So if Day’s putting Nagy on to Fields jumpstarted the idea of the Bears’ taking another swing on a franchise quarterback, this is where turning it into a reality got real. And through the process, Nagy’s initial thoughts were only cemented.

These are the things that led to the Bears’ bold Thursday night trade. Chicago sent its fifth-rounder this year, and first- and fourth-rounders next year to the Giants to move up nine spots, and get in position to, maybe, fix the quarterback position once and for all. If it works, Nagy and Pace will have new leases on life in Chicago. If it doesn’t, that’ll be curtains for them. There’s really no in between.

And there was no lack of work done to make both Nagy and Pace comfortable that this was absolutely the right thing to do, work that led the Bears’ bosses to a number of conclusions.

The game tape had clues on Fields’s aptitude. One thing Nagy likes to do when studying quarterbacks is to tag, in his words, special player, “where it’s just different, it’s rare,” and in studying Fields he found himself continuously tagging the tape.

But there was one play that stood out above the others: one he refers to as Play 57, given that it was the 57th offensive snap of Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl rout of Clemson. There was 5:04 left in the third quarter, the Buckeyes were up 35–21 and in second-and-10. And yes, the played ended in a 56-yard touchdown strike to Chris Olave. But for Nagy, everything else that led to the throw is what was important.

“It’s just quarterbacking 101,” Nagy said. “It was a pure progression play where they took it away front side. In time and on rhythm, with a guy in his face, because these pockets in the NFL are never clean, there’s just too many good rushers. He started to his right, and after his first step and a half, he noticed it was taken away and it wasn’t there. So then he came back in the middle of the field, and then right from the middle of the field to the deep post route, on time with a guy in his face.

“He kind of slid left and he hosed a post route over the top for a 60-yard throw for a touchdown. And you see those over and over, and that one was special because it was a big-time play in a big-time moment. And it was really just a beautiful throw, great footwork, great eyes. Things weren’t perfect and he made the play in stride.”

And that those things were happening in high-leverage situations mattered to Nagy. In fact, one of the first exercises Nagy did with Fields, and the rest of the quarterbacks, was a simple one that even you or I could pull off: He looked at how many games like that each prospect had, and how many they won. Fields’s record showed that in 22 starts, he’d beaten eight ranked teams and didn’t stop swinging in the two games he lost either.

The toughness shined through in those spots, too, whether it was a shot to knee against Michigan his sophomore year, the infamous hit to his ribs against Clemson this year or how his next throw was for a touchdown after both of those collisions. Or how Ohio State wound up winning both of those games.

“One of the first things I like looking at is who’s your competition, who are you playing against?” Nagy said. “Who are you beating, and who are you losing to?”

The answer, in Fields’s case, was the best in the country on both counts.

Which left Nagy and Pace to dig into who Fields was as a person. This is where Nagy dipped into his past—remembering how in Kansas City in 2017, when Nagy was Chiefs offensive coordinator, Andy Reid handled the process that ended in the team landing Patrick Mahomes after a trade up on draft day. Reid called each of the high-end draft quarterbacks in to K.C. for a day full of meetings, on the premise that meeting with them for seven or eight hours continuously would force them, eventually, to show who they were.

Because you can only put on an act for so long.

COVID-19 restrictions, of course, prevented teams from doing that kind of recon this year. But the Bears tried to make up for it by maxing out their allotted Zoom meeting time with the quarterbacks, and came away with an impression of Fields that differed from public perception that was, around the same time, really starting to pick up some steam.

“You see a guy who’s very consistent with his tone,” Nagy said. “You look at him, and he’s just focused. He has these blinders on. … [But] what I thought was really interesting, and same with Ryan [Pace], when you talk to him, the second you started talking about X’s and O’s, the second you started talking about football, he really started lasering in, perking up. You really saw his personality start to show. He was extremely comfortable in that world.

“That was neat to see happen. And then of course with me talking to Ryan [Day] as well, you get how much he’s growing. The other part is where his ceiling is, where he can get to, that’s the fun part. And that’s where we go and draft these guys, and now it’s our job to make sure that we develop them.”

And seeing that part of Fields, really, made the narratives floating around about him irrelevant to the Bears. “I pay zero attention to that,” Nagy said. “When you have the connections and ties that we have, way better than whatever was said to him, that’s zero concern. We know the real stuff.”

Which left Nagy with one thing to do: see Fields throw live. And it’s not exactly a surprise to anyone that the quarterback looked good in shorts, but it was still a necessary final step before the Bears made their daring play for the ex-Ohio State star.

“The one thing with Justin, his arm is super strong, but there’s some guys like that, when the ball comes out of their hands, they have a little bit of a wiggle with the ball and it tailspins a little,” Nagy said. “This kid throws a tight spiral. Justin’s spiral, when the ball comes out and he hits it the right way, that ball, man, the revolutions on that spiral, it’s spinning. You can just feel it.”

Nagy again cited the Olave touchdown to drive home his point. “This throw right here, Play 57, he just let that bad boy rip. And it was perfect.”


On draft day, Nagy knew the plan that Pace had laid out, with the two having reached common ground on what Fields could do for everyone in Chicago. If Fields got past the 7-8-9 stretch, with the Lions a serious trade-down threat, and the Panthers and Broncos in play to take quarterbacks on their own or trade out, then the Bears would get aggressive.

The Cowboys, at No. 10, were willing to trade down, but didn’t want to go too far, because of the makeup of a draft class that started running thin in the late teens. Dallas wound up moving down two spots, to No. 12, and scooping up Penn State LB Micah Parsons there, with the Eagles coming up for receiver DeVonta Smith. And Smith’s being off the board opened the usually trade-down-averse Giants’ minds up to a deal.

In the end, putting the future first on the table got Giants GM Dave Gettleman off his spot.

And as exhilarating as landing Fields was for everyone involved, Nagy was quick to emphasize in the aftermath that Andy Dalton remains his starter, and that he has no problem pulling from his 2017 playbook—that was the year he and Reid redshirted Mahomes and stuck with Alex Smith all season—to draw the blueprint.

“The way that grew, and just organically happened between Patrick and Alex, I’ll never forget it,” Nagy said. “And so here we are in a situation right now with Andy and with Nick [Foles] and with Justin, where Justin is able to come in and just, first off, learn the simple things of how to be an NFL quarterback. Him being on the grass and playing football, that’s easy, that’s what he’s done his whole life.

“But there are so many things that go into being a great quarterback, that are not just on the field but off the field, that he’s gonna be able to learn from Andy and from Nick. And that’s where I think, if you look at the certain situations, some guys make it and some guys don’t. And it’s our job as coaches to make sure we put them in the best possible environment so he can reach that ceiling.”

It’s also Nagy’s job to evaluate not just the good, but the not-as-good from his own past, so he’ll take stuff from his experience coaching Mitchell Trubisky, the same as he is from having worked with Mahomes. Primarily, through that work with Trubisky, Nagy learned the importance of clear and consistent communication not just between individual coaches and players, but also groups of coaches and players. “There’s just got to be constant communication, that we’re all speaking the same language.”

On top of that, there’s the technical stuff as well, with Nagy hoping to tighten up Fields’s release and mid-range accuracy.

The good news is little things with Fields keep showing up—like how he carried himself confidently when he arrived at Halas Hall on Saturday and maintained eye contact with everyone he spoke with throughout the day. And the idea of adding those to the big things Fields has in spades was enough to give Nagy and Pace a good moment to end the first night of the draft with, some three hours after they landed their new quarterback.

Worn out by a long day, the two guys looked at each other, and Nagy blurted out, “Let’s make this happen.” And really, those four words only acknowledged the naked truth.

For this to work, draft day has to be a beginning, not an end.

“That’s where, in the end, all these coaches, all these players, everyone says—that’s what it’s all about,” Nagy said. “It’s about us being great developers at every position, but specifically with Justin. We need to make sure we surround him with as much of a development plan as we can give him so he can succeed. But it feels good. It feels good that Ryan and I did this together. You never know how it’s going to go that night, but we felt good at the end of the night that it got done. And now it’s time to make things happen.”

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How we got Fields is why I love the draft...looks at the things that had to line up for Fields to get to #11...

Fields would have drafted first overall in 9 out of 10 drafts but it just so happens Trevor Lawrence is around...

Jets take Wilson over Fields although no once can seem to 100% answer why at #2...

9er trade up for Lance or Fields...pick Lance...

Bengals pass on Sewell for Chase...

Lions have came out and said they could have taken a QB (Fields) if Bengals had taken Sewell...

Rodgers makes it known he wants out of GB and the Broncos pass on Fields in order go after him...

Pace convinces a GM who has never traded down in a draft to do so...

The stars aligned on this one.

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Ryan Pace’s Reversal of Fortune.

e6d50a12c068be89060c5271a6241ef0?s=16&d= Jeff Hughes | May 3rd, 2021

https://dabearsblog.com/2021/ryan-paces-reversal-of-fortune

Reversal.jpg?resize=800%2C396


It started with a dinner.

Dan Wiederer told the tale.

Ryan Pace had a “covert” dinner with Mitch Trubisky at a steakhouse in Chapel Hill. The reservation, made by Mitch, was under the name Jim McMahon. History! Trubisky drove a Datsun or Pinto or something. Humility! The Bears decided this was their quarterback of the future because he seemed to check all the intangible boxes found on a form Pace stole from a locked drawer in Sean Payton’s desk.

It didn’t work. And the scrutiny started quickly. What didn’t Pace like about Patrick Mahomes? Why didn’t he meet with Deshaun Watson? What about Trubisky was SO impressive – it certainly wasn’t his collegiate production – that it led the Bears GM to throw horse blinders on and ignore everybody else?

The Pace tenure had become defined by those months leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft and the production of the men he decided not to take. Sure, he whiffed on Kevin White, reached (ridiculously) for Adam Shaheen and tossed some money away on Robert Quinn. But every GM misses on picks and spends money ineffectively in free agency. Trubisky was the story. And that mistake, compounded by Pace’s inability to correct it (an improbable task, to be fair) was the entire narrative. Every positive move, including rebuilding the worst defense in Chicago Bears history, was shuffled into the shadows.

____________________

Come the end of the 2020 season, the expectations were that Pace would be GM no longer. The Bears were coming off back-to-back mediocre seasons, with a flop quarterback and an aging defense. Change felt inevitable, whether that be the coach, the GM or long-time team president Ted Phillips. GMs don’t get second chances to find franchise quarterbacks. Owners, especially in this modern, last-place-to-first-place-yearly NFL, are not patient individuals. It’s been well-discussed how much George McCaskey likes Pace but an owner’s love plus $5.99 will get you a double cheese at the Billy Goat.

They stood pat. They delivered an awkward press conference, preached collaboration, and maintained an organizational status quo. McCaskey and Phillips trusted their instincts, leaning on their belief that Pace – still only 44 years old – was not a completed picture. In any line of work, one usually improves with time and experience and the Bears believed the same would be true for Pace. It was not a decision met favorably by those who cover and cheer for the Chicago Bears. Many claimed it was the Bears acting like 8-8 was perfectly acceptable. But anyone listening to that presser heard a distinct refrain: it was about the quarterback. Pace was admitting his Trubisky failure and vowing to make amends THIS offseason.

As the draft closed in, that vow seemed like horse****.

 

____________________

Overtures to Houston for Deshaun Watson fell on deaf ears. (Imagine the PR nightmare that would have ensued if that trade had happened.) A blockbuster trade for Russell Wilson collapsed after Pete Carroll nixed it in the waning hours. And with the 20th pick in the draft, Pace seemed 3,000 miles away from being able to acquire one of the available star quarterbacks. Focus had already shifted from the likes of Lance and Fields to the second-tier fellas like Mond and Trask and Mills. These are the prospect equivalent of banging your cue ball at a pile of solids on the rail and hoping one or two finds their way into a pocket. Sure, it might happen, but it’s certainly not a winning strategy.

Selecting an elite QB prospect seemed so far-fetched that those of us creating content around this franchise all-but-ignored the top four quarterbacks entirely. It seemed inconceivable – with quarterbacks guaranteed to go in the first three picks – that a fourth could survive the Carolina/Denver gamut at 8-9. And the move from 20 to single digits just seemed too costly for the Bears to even consider.

____________________

“With the 8th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina.”

One bullet dodged. Denver next. And here is truly where Chicago’s fortunes changed. Earlier in the day, Aaron Rodgers had leaked to Adam Schefter that he no longer wanted to play for the Green Bay Packers and it seemed Denver was a desirable destination for him; with the likes of Mark Schlereth reporting the deal was actually imminent. If Denver believed Rodgers was a possibility for them, would they still consider a quarterback in this spot?

“With the 9th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama.”


 


The Coors Banquets I was drinking Thursday night started going down far more rapidly as the tension grew.

It was now possible.

Fields was now possible.

But would the Bears make the move? As the Cowboys, Giants and Eagle did their elaborate DeVonta Smith mambo, the Bears saw their opportunity to pounce.

The Giants logo on the draft ticker was gone.

The Bears logo replaced it.

And it all changed.

In a moment.

It changed.

A jilted fan base found love again.

A formerly-despondent Marc Silverman found hope.

This wasn’t about ****ty cars and dinner reservations. This was about a big time football player, at a big time program, producing big time results. This was about the Bears fielding (so to speak) a superior athlete at the quarterback position for what is truly the first time in their thousand-year history.

____________________

And now the clock restarts. Pace has his second quarterback and the opportunity to be redefined by the bold decision to move up and acquire Justin Fields.

But more importantly, Pace did what was seemingly impossible. He breathed new life into a dying franchise; a franchise worn down by inescapably poor quarterback play. He turned the torch-wielding social media mob around and sent them back to the tavern for a celebratory cask of ale. He gave himself one more opportunity to fulfill the promise of his hire and bring modern, offensive football to the Chicago Bears.

And he did it all in one night. One remarkable night. He reversed his fortunes, and perhaps the positional fortunes of a franchise that has suffered the indignity of never having a star quarterback for the city to rally behind. One with a big personality, a big heart and an even BIGGER arm.

The Bears have never had a Justin Fields.

They do now. And with him comes hope that the organization’s definitive question will finally be answered.

The Bears have Justin Fields. Because of Ryan Pace.

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Ryan Pace and a whole lot of luck.  For a change this draft broke just right for us.  Fields falls to #11 and Jenkins to #39.  Both unexpected slides.  But I think both articles give a ton of insight into how through doing their research and due diligence on Fields none of the factors that may have caused others to pass on him made any difference to Pace and Nagy.  He was their guy from the get go.

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I gotta thank Rodgers for this one.  

Not only is he trying to bully his way out of GB to give us a real chance at the div it can also be argued that he gave the Bears a better chance of acquiring a QB like Fields by giving Denver hope they could trade for him

Oh man am I ever loving seeing this drama unfold.

It's about time the fortunes turn positively for Bears franchise over the Packers

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1 hour ago, soulman said:

This wasn’t about ****ty cars and dinner reservations. This was about a big time football player, at a big time program, producing big time results. This was about the Bears fielding (so to speak) a superior athlete at the quarterback position for what is truly the first time in their thousand-year history.

This line legit gave me goosebumps. Bear freaking down boys!

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1 hour ago, soulman said:

Ryan Pace and a whole lot of luck …  But I think both articles give a ton of insight into how through doing their research and due diligence on Fields none of the factors that may have caused others to pass on him made any difference to Pace and Nagy. 

Gotta give credit where credit is due. It reminds me of the old phrase, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 

Pace is a lot of things, but lazy ain’t one of them.

Way to Bear Down.

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4 hours ago, topwop1 said:

I gotta thank Rodgers for this one.  

Not only is he trying to bully his way out of GB to give us a real chance at the div it can also be argued that he gave the Bears a better chance of acquiring a QB like Fields by giving Denver hope they could trade for him

Oh man am I ever loving seeing this drama unfold.

It's about time the fortunes turn positively for Bears franchise over the Packers

Spot on.  The only thing the Broncos seem to lack as far as being able to seriously challenge KC in the AFCW is a top shelf QB.  Aaron Rodgers would be a "difference maker" just as Peyton Manning was and Elway would have no trouble giving him the guaranteed $$$ he wants.  I'm sure Rodgers and his agent are tuned into that as well.

With Vic Fangio coaching their drafting of Surtain isn't in itself all that odd even after signing Kyle Fuller, but I can also see it as having drafted ammo for a trade with GB who seems to struggle with drafting DBs like we typically have QBs.  Packaging Surtain with picks would be like giving GB another 2021 1st round pick.  This could get interesting.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, IotaNet said:

Gotta give credit where credit is due. It reminds me of the old phrase, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” 

Pace is a lot of things, but lazy ain’t one of them.

Way to Bear Down.

I take nothing away from Nagy or Pace who finally seemed to get themselves on the same page this time and move the franchise off it's former spot.  They did a ton of homework not only on Fields but throughout all of those players who were eligible for this draft.

IMHO there are several others who I believe may also become top notch starters including our last two picks.  Graham Jr. was ranked much higher prior to the COVID season and seemed to get lost in the shuffle.  He's a ballhawk who could become a very good Slot CB and I think the kid from BYU Khyiris Tonga may be able to be 2 parts Eddie Goldman and 1 part Akeim Hicks.  He's shown he can be more than just a 2 gap wide body gap plugger.  He's one of those guys I have some very good feelings about as a run game wrecker.

But as for the Fields pick while I give Pace full credit for setting himself up to get it done we dodged several bullets from other teams who may also have been looking at him especially Denver.  Knowing John Elway the allure of possibly swinging a trade for Rodgers had to be nearly an obsession.  He got huge kudos for bringing Manning here and winning a SB with him so the attraction of repeating that with Rodgers has gotta be strong even though he's no longer the Broncos GM.  FWIW I can still see it as a possibility.

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and now it comes out that the Vikings were hoping to draft Fields at 14 whereas Pace had a plan to get him.  Once again we see the lesson that hope is not a plan.  Its nice that we get to see someone else learning this for once.

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We also need to thank Philly & Dallas because if they hadn't swapped their picks then the Giants would have taken Smith and not traded down with us.

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Posted (edited)
26 minutes ago, Madmike90 said:

We also need to thank Philly & Dallas because if they hadn't swapped their picks then the Giants would have taken Smith and not traded down with us.

This is also part of what I meant by saying it all broke right for the Bears for once.

I freely admit that I was not one who was in favor of moving up as far as #4 or #5 to take a QB.  The hit would have been too big.  But I also suspected and posted that if a QB fell we'd need to be somewhere between 10-12 to get him.  Once we got into the 10-20 range both Minny and NE would be a threat to draft QBs so Pace would have to jump over them for his guy whoever he was.  Now we know.

Although I initially favored drafting an OT at #20 or trading back for more picks to score a CB, QB, and a WR too I'm completely on board with how well Pace handled his first two picks and the costs involved to get them.  We gave up some draft booty but Pace has always had a knack for recovering previously traded picks and anyway, that's a concern for 2022 not 2021. 

We got two of the best players on the board at their respective positions and that was one of the targets all along.

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