Who should the Chicago Bears START at quarterback in Week 1: Justin Fields or Andy Dalton?
Updated: May 27, 2021
Let’s face it. When Ryan Pace signed Andy Dalton to a one-year contract, he knew there was a miniscule chance that Justin Fields would fall into his lap on draft day. Little did Pace know that the San Francisco 49ers would quite possibly make the bonehead move of the draft by selecting a North Dakota State kid over the national championship runner-up. Whether you believe in Trey Lance over Justin Fields, you have to admit there are a lot more question marks coming Lance’s way than the former Ohio State QB.
As we stated in our previous video, non-Power Five quarterbacks are usually very untrustworthy in the National Football League. Sure, Steve Young came from Brigham Young University. But then you have some very up-and-down performances from non-Power Five QBs who got their big chance in the NFL. The jury is still out on Carson Wentz from North Dakota State. The University of Delaware’s Joe Flacco had one fantastic playoff run, but after that, he had just a very meh overall career. East Carolina product David Garrard eventually flamed out in Jacksonville. Etc., etc.
Besides Wentz suffering through a barrage of injuries, the other Non-Power Five quarterbacks just couldn’t get it done at the next level. There’s a chance that BYU’s Zach Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance could get it done, but I have my doubts.
That makes Pace kind of look like a genius. Months before the draft began, many draft analysts had the New York Jets taking Fields at No. 2 overall. Then all of a sudden, the Jets take Wilson. The 49ers surprise everyone and draft Lance over Fields and Mac Jones. And the Panthers trade for Sam Darnold days before the draft. So all Ryan Pace had to do was trade up nine spots to get quite possibly the second-best player of the entire NFL Draft.
So why not trade up for Fields? After all, Pace is notorious for trading up on draft day (Remember Leonard Floyd and Mitch Trubisky). Then again, those decisions turned out to be mistakes since the player selected didn’t live up to the hype and cost the Bears more young-and-cost-controlled talent. So was selecting and trading for Fields a mistake? Time will only tell, although it’s kind of telling that at least three teams passed on drafting him. Then again, teams have made mistakes on draft day before, so it’s not uncommon for talented QBs like Fields slip deeper and deeper into the first round.
Anyway, back to the Bears and why they drafted Fields. The reasons why general managers draft players are numerous, but the main reasons behind the pick are usually three-fold. The GMs need to ask themselves three important questions: 1) Does this player positively impact our immediate future? 2) Does this player have huge upside and is worth the time in developing him because they’ll be great 2-3-4 years down the road? And 3) Does this player have any red flags in terms of character concerns, work ethic, or overall playing ability?
With Fields, I don’t see why he wouldn’t impact the Bears’ immediate future. Although it’s true that no rookie quarterback has ever started on Super Bowl Sunday, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger still proved that rookies can get very close to winning a conference title. During Wilson’s rookie year, the Seattle Seahawks came oh so close to upsetting Matt Ryan’s Falcons on the road. Roethlisberger’s rookie campaign saw the Steelers host the AFC Championship Game, an AFC Title contest where Tom Brady’s Patriots took care of business as usual against the first-year quarterback.
Then again, starting a quarterback in Year 1 of their development can have drastic repercussions on the franchise. It didn’t exactly work out when Sam Darnold got the Week 1 nod for the New York Jets. Blaine Gabbert was a borderline disaster down in Jacksonville after he took over the starting job from Luke McCown. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota both started Week 1 for their respective franchises. Did that decision exactly pan out for either squad?
And when you look at some of the all-time greats, what do they have in common? They sat on the bench and had time to learn the offense. They weren’t thrusted on to the gridiron where the head coach knew that they wouldn’t succeed. Rather, the team drafts the stud rookie and has a veteran in place so that the rookie isn’t forced to start from Day 1.
Quarterback is arguably the toughest position in all of the four major American sports, so why should a kid in his early 20s be forced to play from Day 1? Tom Brady learned the offense and blitz packages by watching Drew Bledsoe lead the offense down the field. Brady only threw three passes as a rookie. Drew Brees originally sat on the bench and learned from Doug Flutie. Joe Montana only threw 23 total passes as a first-year signal-caller.
My point is QB play is the toughest to foretell greatness, so head coaches need to be smart about putting a rookie gunslinger into the starting lineup. Fields isn’t necessarily a true gunslinger, but his decision-making can look like Brett Favre. Remember his three-interception performance against Indiana this past season?
Quarterback play is all about intelligence: In essence, the QB needs to read the coverage package and understand if it’s a trap defense or an all-out blitz. This just means the QB has to determine if his tight end has 1-on-1 coverage or if the safety is going to read the play and get in the way of the passing lane for a potential pick the other way.
Can Fields read defenses? As evidenced by his 6-TD masterful performance against Clemson, of course he can. But that’s not really the question that Ryan Pace needs to answer. Rather, Pace needs to determine if this offensive line can protect Fields and avoid the sort of situation that Cincinnati is currently in with Joe Burrow recovering from an ACL tear his rookie season.
Also, does Fields even need to play right away? My theory is probably not. While it’s true that teams can go from worst to first, the Bears are currently struggling with one major component of a championship team: An identity.
Let’s eradicate the quarterback conversation for a moment here and decide what the moniker is of this team, now that Kyle Fuller is no longer on the roster. Are the Bears still known for their defense, or is the defense now just marginally better than the offense? We saw some major letdowns from the Bears’ defense last season, although a lot of that still had to do with dreadful QB play from both Nick Foles and Mitch Tribusky. Hypothetically speaking, better QB play from Dalton should in theory lead to more wins from the Bears. But it’s not as though the defense is completely blameless, either.
Dalton isn’t a Pro Bowl quarterback anymore, but there’s a reason why Mike McCarthy wanted Dalton on the roster when Dak Prescott was 100% healthy. But even with Dalton, how can the Bears win 13+ games this season to win a Super Bowl? They simply can’t. The answer to that question is they probably just don’t have enough talent at running back, offensive line, and tight end to get it done. So if the Bears aren’t a Super Bowl contender in 2021, then why rush the process with Fields? Is it worth it for Fields to take unnecessary hits when the Bears could be a 10-7 squad at the very best of their playing abilities?
You simply don’t rush the process with Fields. Look, there are still legitimate concerns with the No. 11 overall draft pick. NFL general managers were right in questioning Fields’ decision-making during his time with the Buckeyes. Also, why did Fields lose the starting job at the University of Georgia to Jacob Fromm? That’s kind of a red flag, especially because Mitch Trubisky couldn’t even beat out Marquise Williams for the starting job at North Carolina.
While I would still rather have Fields over a QB from North Dakota State, I can kind of comprehend why the 49ers passed on Fields and drafted Lance. Roethlisberger came from Miami of Ohio, so not every non-Power Five quarterback will become a mediocre thrower of the football. Lance has incredible strength and can break tackles in the open field like Cam Newton. The Newton 1-yard QB sneak is practically a guaranteed touchdown run, and Lance could become that same freakish athlete.
Still, the competition that Lance faced is nowhere near what Fields endured this season. Fields went up against a Top-5 defense in Northwestern for the Big Ten title. He then demolished Clemson’s defense with very sore ribs and then had to face off against unbeatable Alabama for the national title. Also, Lance only played one game this season due to COVID-19. Was that a selfish or a smart move? I’ll let you decide.
In short, Fields was a brilliant pickup for Pace….or so it looks on paper. Bears fans will have to see if Pace’s draft trade was actually the right decision. For the Bears, they need to put a winning culture around Fields. Quarterbacks are important, but if the blocking scheme doesn’t fit their skill set, it’s going to be a disastrous result, AKA getting creamed from the pocket. Lamar Jackson is a fantastic athlete, but you have to also give credit to the blocking schemes initiated by head coach John Harbaugh. Harbaugh knows that he has the speed of lightning at QB, so he likes to dial up designed runs every now and then.
Is Matt Nagy the right fit at head coach to best utilize Fields’ gifts at both throwing and running the ball? Once again, I have my doubts. Nagy’s coaching decisions have always been questioned by the media, especially when he infamously told the press, “I know that we need to run the ball more. I’m not an idiot.” Remember the Tampa Bay game when he gave Tom Brady the ball back with way too much time remaining on the clock?
Nagy lost his play calling responsibilities last season for a reason. The Nagy playbook is very predictable, and the Bears have basically been a mediocre team since that 2018 fluky year.
Regardless of who’s calling the plays, Bill Lazor or Nagy, the Bears just don’t have a great offensive line or tailbacks. Granted, Tarik Cohen is back for the 2021 season. Other than that, there’s more question marks than certainties at the skill positions.
One of the reasons why Russell Wilson got the nod in Week 1 is he could hand the ball off to Beast Mode. David Montgomery is not currently a Top 10 running back in the league. Marquise Goodwin can run like a deer, but an impact possession receiver he is not. Darnell Mooney has a lot of upside in his sophomore season, but upside versus actual performance is very much a thing in the NFL. Until we see it on the field, Mooney’s ceiling is still very much a question mark.
Damien Williams will be a nice change-of-pace running back for Chicago, and he came from Nagy’s old team in Kansas City. Quite honestly, Williams was arguably Super Bowl MVP over the actual winner in Patrick Mahomes. Williams also didn’t play last year as a healthy scratch due to the COVID-19 scare.
To sum up, Fields doesn’t have many red flags or previous injury problems. He has epilepsy, which might’ve been one of the reasons he fell on draft day. However, this tweet from Tom Pelissero tells us all we need to know about dealing with epilepsy in the NFL. And as we all know, Fields’ college career was very impressive.
But regardless of who plays quarterback for the Bears in 2021, they just don’t have enough on defense and offense to compete for a title. The best case scenario is Dalton has a decent season under center and Fields doesn’t have to play that much in 2021. The Bears also have Nick Foles (for now), so Fields might not even have to dress for the first couple of games this season.
I trust in how Bill Belichick did it with Tom Brady and how Bill Walsh did it with Joe Montana. There’s no rush to play Fields. Dalton is a professional quarterback with some notable Pro Bowl distinctions. Just let Dalton play and let Fields slowly learn what it takes to be an NFL quarterback and leader. But what do you think? Should Fields start Week 1? Make sure to comment below, like this video, and check out our social media channels on Facebook and Instagram.