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Should the Bears sit or start Justin Fields?

The WCG staff weighs in on the question that’s now on everyone’s mind.

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

It’s been over a week since the Chicago Bears shook up the collective NFL world by shrewdly trading up and becoming the beneficiaries of the slipping of Justin Fields in the NFL Draft.

For us Bears fans, we’ve been riding high ever since, and it’s still hardly believable the Bears got Fields. The Bears got a great quarterback prospect, outside the top 10 and it only cost them one future first round pick. For one of the four best QB prospects.

It’s worth repeating, because it really does still seem like a dream.

But as that excitement has settled the next big discussion hitting the Bearsverse: When should Fields start?

The Bears line appears to be, at least for now, that Fields will sit behind Andy Dalton until he’s deemed ready to start.

Come on though, this is the NFL, that’s almost always the official line.

We decided to take the discussion from our staff email threads to the blog and share whether each of us thinks that Fields should be thrown in to the fire or coddled and sit for a few weeks, or a whole season.

Josh: They should start him. If they can’t, it’s probably a bad sign. I don’t understand this strange insistence that sitting a quarterback is the cheat code for a successful career. From 2009 to 2017, here are the quarterbacks taken in the top 40 spots who waited until after Week 1 of their first seasons to play, with the week they did start in parentheses: Colin Kaepernick (26), Jake Locker (18), Patrick Mahomes (17), Tim Tebow (15), Johnny Manziel (14), Jared Goff (10), Josh Freeman (8), Christian Ponder (7), Mitchell Trubisky (5) Teddy Bridgewater (4), Blake Bortles (4), Paxton Lynch (4), Blaine Gabbert (3), and Andy Dalton (2). With the exception of a couple of names on that list, I’m not impressed. If the plan was to sit him behind Alex Smith I’d say try it, but otherwise the kid needs to play.

Lester: I’ve always thought you play a rookie QB when he’s ready to play, and if it’s not obvious to the coaches and the locker room then he still has some stuff to learn.

If a QB can’t overcome the adversity he’ll face as a rookie, and if it breaks him mentally, then he was never going to be The Guy anyway. Fields seems to have the football IQ, the swagger, and the intangibles that will lead to him being ready far sooner than many believe.

Bill: Fields should play when he’s ready or at least close to being ready. Quarterbacks learn one hundred times more on the field than with a clipboard. Everyone knows that a Super Bowl window is best when you have a quarterback on a rookie contract. The more warts that Fields can work off as a rookie so he’s really ready to hit his stride in year two, the better off the franchise will be. If Fields looks sharp in August, there’s zero reason for him not to start week one. If he could use another month learning Nagy’s system, waiting until weeks 4-6 makes sense. I really don’t see any point to try and do this like the Chiefs did with Patrick Mahomes because the Chiefs were still trying to win with Alex Smith. Nobody in their right mind thinks the Andy Dalton-led Chicago Bears are a Super Bowl contender this year.

Will: I’d like to see him sit, at least until he’s relatively comfortable with the playbook, offensive system, any mechanics changes, and to the NFL in general. People tend to learn better when they aren’t overwhelmed, and are less likely to form bad habits. The less things that we can throw at a young QB at a time, the better. There’s always guys who can overcome being thrown in early, but we tend to see more QB success stories when they sit a while before starting. How long that needs to be for Fields, depends entirely on him. Maybe a few games does it, maybe a season. Maybe he’s ready to roll opening day. Time will tell.

My gut says that Nagy will lean towards the Mahomes path of development since he saw the benefits first hand, though with Fields looking more NFL ready than Mahomes was coming out, I doubt he’ll sit 15 games.

Robert Z.: Start. Start. Start.

Without having thrown one NFL pass, Fields is already better than Andy Dalton right now, full stop.

The Bears aren’t contending in 2021.

The only thing that really matters is getting Fields acclimated to the league to where he’s pushing a contender in 2022-2023.

I doubt Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, who need to win quickly and are still somewhat trying to salvage what’s left of a 2018 core, trade up for Fields if they didn’t have plans to play him right away. Or, if they didn’t think he could handle it by September.

He is far from a raw player that needs to sit more than a couple of weeks, at most. Emphasis on at most.

Fields needs to start from Week 1 on, and learn on the fly. Both for him and his career, and for the Bears to matter soon as they envision.

Ken: They should enter the preseason with no pre-conceived notions other than that Andy Dalton CAN start, he’s proven that.

If Fields is the better quarterback during camp and in the preseason, then start him. If he’s not, then start Dalton.

Pre-conceptions is what got us into trouble with Mitch... (that, and the fact that he’s not very good at playing quarterback in the NFL.)

Aaron: I think everything depends on how he looks in camp. Let’s be clear here — There were a lot of false narratives going around about Justin Fields. Between his mechanics, his mental processor and his commitment to the game of football.

The reality is simple, though. He’s a very intelligent kid, that not only led the charge on Big 10 football coming back but came out and took his team to a National Championship.

He’s a two-year starter with plenty of experience, reps, etc. He’s also someone who comes in a lot more polished than some of these other prospects like Trey Lance or Mac Jones.

My best guess is that the Bears are going to want to sit him for as long as they can. With that being said, folks trying to compare the Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes situation in 2017 to this situation with Fields and Andy Dalton are missing a lot of key components.

Now, I don’t think they should rush him out there and if he comes out in camp and shows he is not ready, by all means, sit him. If he shows up in camp the way I expect him to and performs in the preseason, I truly believe he’s going to eventually force Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy’s hand to play him.

Ultimately, I would say that quarterback development is not linear. Every player and every situation is different. They should play Fields when he’s ready, regardless of their investment in Dalton.

My guess? We’ll see him before the halfway point in the season, if not earlier. I do expect him to wow a lot of folks in camp and the preseason, though. He’s NFL ready. At least in my eyes.

ECD: As several of my peers have already mentioned, the only good answer is to wait and see how Justin Fields looks in training camp. The last thing anyone in Chicago wants — especially the coaching staff and front office — is to play the rookie despite struggling in training camp. Interestingly enough, Andy Dalton is a good veteran for Justin Fields to learn from, as Dalton did in fact start week one during his rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals (2011). That Bengals team went 9-7, Dalton was named a Pro Bowler, and from there Dalton would produce a respectable career in Cincy. Of course Dalton is nowhere near as good these days. Still, if Justin Fields doesn’t look the part leading into the opening weekend, do not play him.

With all of that said, let’s make something clear. Justin Fields will start at some point during the 2021 regular season. It’s a question of “when” and not “if.” If Justin Fields comes into training camp and just lights up the scene at Halas Hall, then you absolutely start him week one. No more veteran’s privilege to start only because player “A” has experience in comparison to player “B.” You start and play your best eleven players on each phase of the ball. This situation could be a repeat of what happened in Seattle - Matt Flynn was signed and declared the immediate starter, then Russell Wilson was drafted that same year in 2012. Despite planning to sit their your QB, Russell Wilson outperformed Matt Flynn throughout training camp, and Pete Carroll later decided rolled the die to start the rookie in week one.

We all need to practice patience with this transition at QB. Never before has Chicago seen a QB of Justin Field’s caliber drafted. While fortifications at O-line and the receiving corps still need to take place, caution must be exercised. QBs truly develop only when they’re on the field. Once Justin is ready, he’s ready. And you start him. Even if he looks ready in training camp heading into week one.

Jack Salo: Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? Plenty of elite quarterbacks sat their rookie year, while plenty of others played right away.

There isn’t enough data to suggest one strategy is the exact way to go. You know what all those elite quarterbacks had in common, though? They all had an identity, the type of play that you sit back and say that it’s their signature play style.

Justin Fields needs to play as soon as he shows that identity in practice. His resume clearly shows that he has the kind of traits which should help him with the NFL quarterback basics in short order. You don’t play in the College Football Playoff and then get blinded by the “big lights” in the NFL. That “Justin-Fields play” should jump out in training camp, and there isn’t an entrenched starter here in Chicago to unseat. Expect Justin Fields to be QB1 by September.

Kev H.: You play the best quarterback.

Robert S.: Start him when he’s ready, no matter what that means. Like Lester said, they’ll know when that is

Sam: I came in to this feeling one way, but the further we get from the draft, I keep coming back to one analogy.

Getting Justin Fields is a lot like the guy that worked and worked and save and scrimped and saved up and bought his dream car: a Porsche 911 Turbo.

Now he has his 911 Turbo and it’s everything he’s ever wanted but, oh, he thinks, I can’t take it out today, it’s cloudy. Oh, no I can’t take it to the grocery store, some dolt in a Camry might bash his door into mine. The thought of putting miles on it and losing all that value eats at him, so he let’s it sit in the garage.

Suddenly, the preciousness overwhelms the excitement and the owner can no longer enjoy the thing he’s longed for. That’s how Chicago immediately reacted to Justin Fields.

We can’t take him out of the bubble wrap, what if he breaks our hearts, like all the others, what if he sucks, worst of all, what if he gets hurt?!

Fields was accepted to Harvard, Vanderbilt, Duke and Northwestern before Ohio State and Georgia came calling. He played as a freshman in the SEC. He’s played in front of 109,000 in the Horseshoe. He’s started College Football Playoff games. He’s been on about every big stage a player can be on in college.

He’s probably the second-most pro-ready quarterback in the draft after Trevor Lawrence.

I expect that he will be up to speed on the playbook quicker than anyone expects and be ready to play sooner too.

I think that Dalton might hold him off, but only for a couple weeks. I think Dalton is getting three games, at the most and if the offense sputters at all, Fields is coming in. I don’t think you sit him any longer than is necessary. He needs to play the minute he’s ready, no later.

It will be better for the Bears future.

What do you think, should Fields sit or start?