The calendar flipping to June means the arrival of OTAs. And when it comes to the Chicago Bears, it means we’ll get a chance to see Justin Fields with more than just the rookies. Soon enough, the conversation will fully turn to talking about when Fields will earn QB1 status. And it won’t be long until the discussion turns to pin-pointing a date when starting Fields appears feasible.
Let’s begin that conversation now.
Remember, both Head Coach Matt Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace have made it clear that Andy Dalton is their starter at this particular moment. However, what looked like a hard-line stance is appearing to soften.
Because while the Bears are comfortable starting Dalton (I mean, duh, otherwise why give him $10 million?), there’s a but…
“They’re not averse to the idea of Fields winning the job, but he has to do it in training camp,” NFL reporter Dan Graziano said on Tuesday’s episode of ESPN’s “Get Up” program. “They won’t just sit him because he’s a rookie. They’re open to the possibility he beats out Andy Dalton and wins the job.”
If you’ll recall, the Bears gave Dalton assurances that he would be the team’s starting quarterback after signing in free agency. But the dynamic has changed after Chicago was able to trade up to select Fields with the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. And ultimately, it looks like a situation that can be best described as fluid moving forward.
Bleacher Report’s Tyler Conway transcribed a SportsCenter appearance from Graziano’s ESPN teammate Jeremy Fowler, who also hints at Fields possibly earning an opportunity to win the job out of training camp:
“If Fields is just undeniable over the next three to four months in training camp, they’re not going to just sit him just for fun or posterity just to play the veteran. So they’re going to give him the best chance, but they’re OK sitting Fields if Dalton has a good grasp on the job and they feel like they can win with him. So, they believe they’re going to be better regardless. It just depends on whether Fields is ready Week 1.”
The big takeaway is that snippet saying the Bears won’t sit Fields “just for fun or posterity” or just to play Dalton because he is a veteran they gave real free agent money. It’s a sentiment that vibes with what Graziano is hearing. Moreover, it falls in line with what Nagy said about what happens on the field will ultimately determine who gets the honor of being QB1. Long story short: If Fields is better in the classroom, on the turf in practice, and during preseason games, it will be impossible to simply hand Dalton the gig just because of assurances given out in March. That’s good news.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to rush Fields into a situation in which he isn’t ready. But one of the worst things Chicago could do for Fields’ development is watch him out-perform Dalton, check all the boxes, and still make him QB2. It would send mixed messages to Fields, as well as other players on the team who want whichever QB gives them the best chance to be successful to lead the charge from jump street. And with OTAs opening up, we find ourselves at the starting line of the great quarterback race of 2021. On your marks, get set…