CHICAGO — The Bears are trading the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft to the Panthers in exchange for four draft picks and wide receiver DJ Moore, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday.
The Bears would receive Carolina’s first-round selection at No. 9, a late-second-round pick (No. 61), a 2024 first-round selection and a 2025 second-round pick, according to Schefter.
Talks for the no. 1 pick had intensified since last week’s scouting combine, sources told Schefter, with multiple teams, including the Houston Texans, expressing interest in making a deal with Chicago.
The Panthers initially reached out to the Bears, in addition to several other teams at the top of the draft, during the combine to inquire about the possibility of moving up, a league source said. Talks with the Bears picked up a couple of days ago and came to a head Friday because Panthers officials saw value in getting a deal done before free agency starts Monday, the source said.
Carolina ultimately wanted the top pick because it gave it the most options. According to the source, team officials have convictions on more than two of the top quarterbacks but haven’t become focused on one as they are still early in the evaluation process ahead of the April 27-29 draft.
They were high on Kentucky’s Will Levis early last season and impressed with Levis, Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud at the combine, league sources said. But should the Panthers fall in love with a couple of quarterbacks, they would consider trading back a spot or two, according to a league source.
This will be the third time the Panthers have had the top pick. They had it in their first season, 1995, but traded it to the Cincinnati Bengals in exchange for the No. 5 pick and no. 36 in the second round. They selected quarterback Kerry Collins at No. 5.
They also had the top pick in 2011 and selected Auburn’s Cam Newton, who went on to win the 2015 MVP and lead Carolina to the Super Bowl.
While the Panthers didn’t initially want to part with Moore, the 24th pick of the 2018 draft and their top wide receiver the past five years, they agreed in part because the Bears wanted the former Maryland star. Moving on from Moore also kept Carolina from having to give up another future first-round pick, the source said.
The Panthers now plan to be active at wide receiver in the free agent market with Terrace Marshall Jr., Shi Smith and Laviska Shenault Jr. their only proven receivers and none a proven No. 1. They had a combined 77 catches in 2022.
On the Bears’ side, wide receiver is a major need after Darnell Mooney finished with a team-high 493 receiving yards and two touchdowns despite missing the final five games of the season because of injury. Prior to adding Moore, who put together three 1,100-yard seasons from 2019 to 2021, the Bears had only Mooney, Chase Claypool, Velus Jones Jr. and Equanimous St. Brown under contract at receiver.
The Bears will inherit the remainder of the three-year contract extension Moore signed in March 2022. The wide receiver, who posted a career-high seven touchdowns last season, has a $19.965 million base salary for the 2023 season.
The move reaffirms the Bears’ continued support of quarterback Justin Fields, who is coming off his second NFL season and finished 64 yards shy of the single-season quarterback rushing record. Chicago general manager Ryan Poles has said throughout the offseason that the Bears’ plan is for Fields to remain the starting quarterback in 2023 despite the team doing its homework on the quarterbacks available in the draft.
“His athletic ability and ability to create explosive plays were special,” Poles said. “Now, what we’ve had discussions about, and I talked about it openly, like, he’s got to take the next step in his game, and I’m excited to see that because I think he’s going to.”
Poles confirmed last week at the combine the team’s desire to deal the No. 1 pick and expressed optimism that the Bears could find a trade partner ahead of free agency, a scenario he believed would benefit the franchise and could garner a player in addition to draft picks.
“A clearer view of what we need, and there’s scenarios where you could add players as well, potentially, which again gives you some clarity on what you want to do in the draft and free agency,” Poles said.
Carolina has been looking for a franchise quarterback since Newton developed shoulder issues midway through the 2015 season. It moved on from Newton before the 2020 season and went with Teddy Bridgewater.
The Panthers traded for Sam Darnold, the third pick of the 2018 draft, in 2021. They traded for Baker Mayfield, the top pick of the 2018 draft, prior to last season.
They were recently involved in discussions for former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who on Monday signed with the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints. During those discussions at the combine, team officials decided to remain focused on getting a quarterback in the draft.
Among their possible choices at quarterback, Levis is rated by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. as his top quarterback, but other analysts believe Young will be the first quarterback selected.
“The poise, the competitiveness, the ability to process and see the field,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said of Young at the combine. “The guy never seems stressed when he’s in the pocket. And then you meet him in person and he’s just, like, chill. He’s a good guy. Nothing’s too big for him.
“I remember a couple of years ago at the Heisman Trophy presentation … and he was so poised. I think he was  at the time. It’s not an act. It’s like who he is. It’s ingrained in him.”