Yes it’s a tie, because even though Andy Dalton is set to be the week one starter for the Chicago Bears, there’s a lot of time between now and then. And even if he does lock down the QB1 job for their Sunday Night opener against the Rams, I have a feeling we’ll see Justin Fields at some point during the 2021 season.
Since the day they signed him, the Bears have been adamant that Dalton is their number one quarterback. Even after the Bears maneuvered their way up the first round to take Fields, they still maintained that Dalton is the QB1. But for those really listening to head coach Matt Nagy during his numerous press conferences and interviews, he slyly left the window slightly open for Fields to get the nod.
Is it likely the rookie can steal the job and be the week one QB?
I doubt it, because as an 11 year vet there’s just going to be a comfort level from Dalton as he works against a professional defense in practice and in preseason. From a physical standpoint there’s no contest, but those intangibles that Dalton brings will be enough to keep the rookie at bay for a little while.
And while Fields has off the chart intelligence, he still needs to absorb the Bears playbook and apply it when called upon, so don’t get discouraged if he has a misstep or two during the offseason. He’ll struggle at times in practice, in the preseason games, and then once he’s inserted into the lineup, but what sets great players apart from the average is an ability to learn from those mistakes.
“Me personally, I tend not to make a mistake more than one time,” Fields said last month when asked about an interception he threw in a red zone drill. “So once I’ve made that mistake, I learn from that mistake and there’s a 99.9 percent [chance] that that same mistake will not happen again.”
Fields will be getting a crash course in NFL quarterbacking from a number of experienced coaches, but the relationship he has with Dalton can’t be understated. The two have bonded both on field and off, and Dalton has embraced his role in the Bears QB room.
“Absolutely,” Dalton said when asked if he enjoys mentoring Fields. “Everybody should enjoy it. All our experiences in our lives are for us and other people. You’re just trying to pass that along.”
“Yeah, I’ve learned a lot of things,” Fields said about his time with Dalton. “He’s talked to me a lot, I actually went to dinner with him and his wife. We talked a lot there, kinda just his background, their story. Andy and Nick (Foles, the QB3), they’ve been awesome. Probably bigger than you guys would even know. Andy’s completely taken me under his wing. Any questions I have for him, he’s going to answer. Even when I’m throwing. I think there was one day after OTAs, I was throwing extra after practice and he stayed out there specifically just to see maybe what I was doing wrong and he was just trying to help me out. He’s been a huge help for sure.”
At 33-years old and playing on a 1-year contract, Dalton knows this season is essentially an audition for him to keep playing elsewhere in 2022, so I’d expect him to relish every opportunity he gets. He’s clearly not the same player he was while he was going to three Pro Bowls with the Bengals from 2011 to 2016, but he’s started 142 of the 144 games he’s played in and he’ll be an upgrade over what the Bears had at quarterback a year ago.
How Dalton, and eventually Fields, both play is the biggest factor in the team’s success in 2021, but the man that has to make the decision on when to play the rookie is where the most importance lands this year.