When it comes to quarterbacks, no NFL team has had worse luck than the Chicago Bears. The Monsters of the Midway never seem to get it right at QB, most recently with the whiff on Mitchell Trubisky and the trade for Nick Foles.
Chicago is once again trying to right the ship with two new signal-callers. There’s Andy Dalton, the veteran with over a decade of starting experience. Then there’s Justin Fields, the rookie for whom Bears fans are clamoring.
Head coach Matt Nagy recently announced Fields will start Chicago’s preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans. But he has also confirmed Dalton will start Week 1, a stance he has maintained since before the 2021 NFL Draft.
Bears fans will not like it. Nor will the NFL’s television partners. But starting Dalton, at least for the first few weeks, is the right call.
The Chicago Bears signed Andy Dalton and promised him the starting job before drafting Justin Fields
Dalton was never supposed to be in a position to start last season, let alone this season.
After nine seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Red Rifle signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys to be Dak Prescott’s backup. But after Prescott went down with a gruesome ankle injury, Dalton stepped up and started nine games. The 33-year-old went 4-5 and finished the year with just under 2,200 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Once they parted ways with Trubisky, the Bears were in the market for a new quarterback. After striking out with their pursuit of Russell Wilson and exploring a deal for Carson Wentz, general manager Ryan Pace signed Dalton to a one-year deal worth $10 million. Soon after, Nagy made the commitment to Dalton being his starting quarterback.
Of course, this was before the Bears made the biggest blockbuster deal of the NFL draft.
Chicago swapped first-round picks with the New York Giants while also trading its first-round pick in 2022 to move up to No. 10 in the draft. The team used the pick on Fields, signaling its feelings on Dalton being its long-term answer at quarterback.
Starting Fields in Week 1 would be a mistake
When the Bears take the field in Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams, they will match up against three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Two weeks later, they will go toe-to-toe with All-Pro edge rusher Myles Garrett.
Currently, Chicago’s starting offensive tackles are Elijah Wilkinson and Germain Ifedi.
With two of the league’s top pass rushers on the early part of the schedule and a bad offensive line, who makes more sense to put at quarterback? Dalton is a veteran who has dealt with shaky O-lines plenty of times in his career. Fields is a rookie who never faced anyone like Donald or Garrett at Ohio State.
Throwing Fields out behind a makeshift line hampered by injuries is a recipe for disaster. At least Dalton knows what to expect and can hold things down while the line forms necessary chemistry.
The veteran also entered camp with a familiarity of the offense. Chicago’s offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, worked with Dalton for three seasons in Cincinnati.
For Fields and the Bears, it’s all about the long game
The Bears have been solid enough to reach the postseason in two of the last three years. But they are far from being a legitimate contender, and they know it.
Earlier this offseason, Chicago released starting tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie, as well as cornerback Kyle Fuller. Releasing those players, particularly Fuller, isn’t something a team ready to contend would do. Nor would a true contender use its first-round pick on a quarterback not ready to play yet.
As ridiculous as it sounds, the 2021 season isn’t about wins and losses for the Bears. It’s about the growth and maturation of Fields. And the Bears would be running a major risk to let Fields start behind a miserable offensive line trying to protect him from the likes of Donald.
This isn’t something that should be the case all season. Once Chicago leaves Cleveland after Week 3, it’ll face the rebuilding Lions at home before traveling to Las Vegas to face the Raiders. By that point, the line may be more experienced, and Fields could come into the league facing two suspect defenses.
The difference between 17 starts and 14 starts won’t be enough to change Chicago’s opinion of its prized rookie. But allowing Fields to mature just a bit longer while Dalton deals with the chaos on the field could be the difference in the Bears finally ending their long search for a franchise quarterback.