Chicago Bears fans and media members are quickly turning the page on head coach Matt Nagy. This offseason has been a roller coaster of emotions for Bears fans -- the grief surrounding another early playoff exit, the joy of possibly trading for Russell Wilson and the depression that followed, the desperation for mediocrity at the quarterback position as fans struggled to accept Andy Dalton as their starter, and the overwhelming hope once the Bears managed to trade up for Justin Fields in the Draft. Part of their willingness to trade up for Fields was the evaluation performed by coach Nagy himself, who helped Kansas City evaluate the 2017 quarterbacks in the Draft and correctly identify the best-in-class prospect Patrick Mahomes.
Nagy never had a chance to choose his quarterback with the Bears before this season. He was hired partially for his attitude and leadership qualities, but also because he is seen as a quarterback and offensive guru, which is just what Ryan Pace and others hoped would be the missing element in Mitch Trubisky's development after the 2017 season. Trubisky seemed to take a step forward in 2018, but never managed to make the necessary leap towards leading the franchise into the future. Nothing from the film of 2019 or 2020 indicated anything other than a limited quarterback with a talented upside that provided flashes of potential.
Even when the Bears traded for Nick Foles in 2020 to try and push Mitch, Nagy couldn't have been thrilled for what he was getting. There were not many options available for Chicago to try and improve the quarterback room in the 2020 offseason. They had no first-round pick in the draft, and the quarterbacks that make it to free agency tend to be there for a reason. Sending a mid-round selection to Jacksonville to take Foles was deemed the best course of action, and while Foles did provide some heroics and memorable moments for the 2020 Bears season, he was ultimately yet another player with too many limitations to make a significant difference in the outcome of football games.
Insert Andy Dalton and Justin Fields.
Andy Dalton is much like Nick Foles in that he is a veteran with years of experience, familiarity with this coaching staff and system, and is mentally capable of reading defenses well enough to move the ball down the field. However, Andy Dalton, as mentioned earlier, was a quarterback who hit free agency for a reason. He is a known quantity. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, as his veteran experience is bound to bring with it the little things that coaches talk about leading to success, such as identifying blitzes and adjusting pass protections at the line.
But certainly, those same qualities were already on the roster with Nick Foles, so Dalton must clearly be an improvement in play as well, or the signing would have made zero sense. Based on training camp notes and beat reports, Dalton has shown himself to be far better than what the Bears had under center last season. A healthy start to what will likely be a difficult tenure for the TCU alumni.
Justin Fields is the hyper-athletic quarterback supernova that is standing directly behind Dalton on the depth chart. His status in Chicago has already reached super-stardom. To put this in perspective, fans were booing when he was not featured in the first half of a preseason loss to the Bills on Saturday. Fields is the embodiment of hope for a franchise that has been without a long-term solution at the most critical position in the sport for decades, and the question all around the league is not "will he start" for the Bears, but "when will he start?"
For all the wonderful things that could be written about how talented and mature Justin Fields is, there is one last obstacle standing in his way. And no, it is not Andy Dalton.
Matt Nagy needs only utter a few words to solve the problem. Any of the following would suffice:
"We're going with Fields as the starter."
"Justin is QB1 now."
"We're making a change at quarterback."
Any of these sentences are enough to start the future. Nagy knows this. Pace knows this. Everyone on earth who follows professional football knows this. So why doesn't it happen?
The best explanation I can give is that Nagy must have a comfort level with Dalton and believe that Fields needs more time to work on aspects of his game. He is depending on Dalton to keep the offense moving as they line up for yet another bubble screen or button-hook route pattern until Fields is ready to take the reins. Mix this with what I can only refer to as "world class stubbornness" in Matt Nagy's approach to leading an offense, and you'll arrive at a messy destination. Nagy tends to repeat the same concepts throughout a game, even if they aren't working with his personnel, simply because it should work. The throws are there, but Mitch, Nick, Andy just needs to be good enough to see them and hit them. There's room for improvement in this regard, and I believe Justin Fields can force it out of these coaches.
I am a Dallas-based Bears fan, and a few years ago, I was lucky enough to be able to see a Dallas Cowboys preseason game with some friends for free. I love football, and while the Bears hold my heart, I will seldom turn down a chance to see a game in-person, regardless of teams. The year was 2016, and for most of the game, I sat and watched Dak Prescott put on a show. Yes, it was preseason, and yes, those games do not tend to indicate regular season success, however, there is an element to that experience that I cannot explain without relying on an old football-ism.
Dak Prescott had "it."
Dak had that quality to his game, his athleticism, his release, all of it, that I believed meant he was bound for success in the NFL. Stardom was in his future, and it wasn't just because of the logo on the side of his helmet.
I have had the same sensation watching Justin Fields play this preseason. He has shown a quality that Dalton simply cannot reproduce. This is not due to their difference in athleticism (though it certainly helps), nor is it due to Fields being a lauded rookie and prospect. This is the eyeball test hard at work, and Fields has made throws that Dalton cannot make. He has made plays that Dalton cannot make. He has remained calm after correcting mistakes that were bound to happen. Justin Fields has "it."
Matt Nagy must see it. He must know that Fields has qualities that he can't hope to have with Dalton. The only thing standing in the way of Matt Nagy seeing his pre-draft evaluation turn into on-field success is himself.
Start Fields, coach. If not for you, do it for him. Justin Fields is ready. He may not seem like it to you right now, but he is young. Every lesson that he can learn, he will. Earn your coaching money in-season by continuing to teach him as the year goes along. He doesn't need to be ready for the whole season right now, he just needs to be ready for week one against the Rams.
Start the kid, coach. He's got "it."