No NFL franchise has a worse quarterbacking history than that of the Chicago Bears. Sure there’s Hall of Famer Sid Luckman that we can look back on fondly, but with his last game being played in 1950, that’s nearly three quarters of a century that the team has been looking for their next legitimate franchise signal caller. There have been a few nice moments since Sid last laced ‘em up for the Bears, but Johnny Lujack, Billy Wade, Jim McMahon, and Mitchell Trubisky were never able to consistently perform in Chicago to give Bears’ fans hope for some long term stability at the most important position in all of sports.
Jay Cutler holds Chicago’s all-time franchise passing yards mark at 23,443 — only the Texans and Buccaneers have an all-time leader with fewer yards — and no team has a smaller single season passing yard mark than the 3,838 that the Bears’ Erik Kramer set in 1995. Chicago is the only franchise with a quarterback that has never thrown for 4,000 yards in a single season.
The Bears are in desperate need of an honest to goodness franchise quarterback and that’s what they believe they got when they traded up in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Justin Fields.
The Bold Trade
Chicago general manager Ryan Pace had been on the job for six years, with just one winning season to show for it, when he went into 2021’s offseason. He and head coach Matt Nagy were both retained after much deliberation from the McCaskey family and the board of directors, and the mandate handed down was to fix the quarterback position.
The Bears moved on from the last QB they traded up for, Trubisky, and they were seemingly involved all trade talks for every veteran quarterback that was on the market. There was smoke around Carson Wentz, Derek Carr, and Russell Wilson, to name a few, but none of those deals materialized. The next best option was in free agency, so Andy Dalton was signed. But he was always going to be a place holder while the Bears continued to work the phones for a higher profile veteran or for a trade possibility in the draft.
Several things went perfect for the Bears to be in position to move up to eleventh overall from twenty, including a few QB needy teams deciding to pass on the position. Fields was the fourth overall quarterback picked, and some day there may be a heck of a documentary made about the QB class of 2021 and why Fields fell.
If the Bears did indeed secure their franchise quarterback, then the price of their 20th and 164th overall (fifth round) selections in 2021, and a first and fourth rounder in 2022, will be more than worth it.
The Bold Plan
The Bears spent the entire offseason spinning the tale that they intended to follow the K.C. Chiefs plan that Nagy was a part of when they sat rookie Patrick Mahones for the first 15 games of the 2017 season. Mahomes was able to learn and grow while practicing and watching veteran Alex Smith lead the Chiefs to a fifth consecutive winning season and a fourth playoff appearance.
But what they preached was not what they were practicing.
Fields saw action in the week one game in L.A. against the Rams, and Nagy said they planned to play him even more but the game script didn’t cooperate as they ended up losing by 20.
Fields saw some early action in week two’s contest as well, but then when Dalton injured his knee on a scramble the Fields era was underway.
The Bears may not have planned to turn to the rookie so soon in the 2021 season, but they certainly had a different timetable in mind than that K.C. plan we heard so much about.
The Bold Decision
Once Dalton was healed from his knee injury it was assumed that he’d get his QB1 job back. After all, that’s what Nagy and the other Chicago coaches all said during their weekly press conferences. Fields was serviceable in closing out the Bengals week 2 game, but he was awful week 3 in Cleveland. Week 4 against the Lions he finally started to flash the big arm and willingness to go deep, but he still had plenty of rookie mistakes which made it seem like going back to Dalton was in the cards.
But then on October 6, just three days removed from the Lions game, head coach Matt Nagy settled into a press conference and said, “This is Justin’s time.”
Dalton was completely back from his injury, but the team had seen enough from Fields to hand the reins over to him on a permanent basis.
They clearly expected more ups and downs from him, but they were also ready to live with the in game development. All rookie quarterbacks struggle, but Fields had shown plenty of growth in the classroom, on the practice field, and during his two and a half games to give the coaches confidence in their decision.
In the weeks since he was promoted to QB1 he has tangibly grown as a player. His decision making, his willingness to push the ball downfield, and his comfort in his own athleticism is starting to make him a threat opposing defenses need to be wary of.
There’s still a long way to go before we know whether or not Justin Fields is going to be a long term difference maker for Chicago’s offense, but for the first time in a long time there’s a real buzz around the franchise as most analysts sense that Fields is the real deal.