Andy Dalton signed with Chicago after receiving assurances that he would be the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2021.
And even though trading up to take QB Justin Fields with the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft changes the dynamic, Bears GM Ryan Pace maintains Dalton’s status as QB1:
Ryan Pace: "Andy (Dalton) is our starter and we're going to have a really good plan in place to develop Justin (Fields)."
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) April 30, 2021
This news cuts two ways for me. The obvious reaction is to roll my eyes, scoff, laugh, then question what’s the point of mortgaging future draft capital for Fields if he is going to sit on the bench. It’s a natural feeling and I won’t begrudge anyone who feels this way. However, it’s the other side of the coin where I find myself settling.
Drafting Justin Fields wasn’t about winning the Super Bowl next February. The selection of Fields was a move with the long-term future in mind. As a team, you risk it for a player of Fields’ prospect pedigree and athletic skill to develop him to be a quarterback so good that your team doesn’t have to take one for the next decade. Everything done moving forward should be with the mindset of a team building around Fields. And if that means he sits and learns behind Dalton, then so be it. We have long criticized the Bears (and rightfully so, mind you) for acting like a team without a plan. Now, they seem to have one in place for Fields’ development. It’s a start, to say the least.
Think about this. Matt Nagy is well-versed in quarterback development. Remember, he was part of the Kansas City think tank that put together Patrick Mahomes’ development plan. John DeFilippo was key in Carson Wentz’s development as his position coach when Wentz was a first-round pick in 2016. Bill Lazor was in Washington as Jason Campbell’s position coach when The Football Team chose him in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. None of this to say the Bears’ development plan is infallible. We don’t even know what the plan consists of at this point. But having three coaches with experience in coaching up a first-round pick in previous spots should be helpful in the process this time around. Drafting a player like Fields is great, but pointless without a proper development plan.
All that to say that there’s a real chance that Fields balls out during the offseason program and training camp, then makes for a tough decision for Chicago’s brass. After all, everyone has a plan until they get bonked in the face. And Fields certainly has the ability to throw down with that arm talent and athletic ability. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, we must recognize these are our first steps in a larger world.