There hasn’t been much, if any, hope for the Chicago Bears and their fan base despite making the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. As we’ve come to see, with heinous divisions like the NFC East or fractured franchises like Chicago’s, teams can fail their way into postseason appearances; and once they’re there, seasons quickly come to an end.
The Bears’ last two playoff showings ended with wild-card losses to the Philadelphia Eagles (in 2018) and the New Orleans Saints (2020). Prior to their 2018 playoff game, there was a seven-year postseason drought. The last time Chicago had tangible success was in the mid-2000s. It’ll take more than a good draft class to catapult the Bears back to the Super Bowl, but they didn’t just have a good draft; they had a great one highlighted by selecting their quarterback of the future.
Chicago exercised one of the most important virtues: patience. And with it, the team selected Justin Fields, who isn’t a perfect prospect; but no player—no quarterback—ever is. The Bears came away with a potential organization-altering selection and reinvigorated a distraught fan base. But it’s not as easy as placing Fields under center and getting instant success.
While the team itself exercised patience in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, its fan base will need to do the same. The immediate plan for Fields isn’t an immediate start. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Chicago wants to replicate what the Kansas City Chiefs were able to do with Patrick Mahomes. Head coach Matt Nagy had a front-row seat to Mahomes’ development when he served as Kansas City’s offensive coordinator in 2017. Mahomes went from one start in 2017 to NFL MVP in 2018 and Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP in 2019. Nagy wasn’t able to see Mahomes jump into rare NFL air, he was manning the Bears in 2018 with Mitchell Trubisky under center. Trubisky, who Chicago general manager Ryan Pace moved up the draft board for in 2017, was thought to be the team’s next best thing. Or at least thought to be worth a No. 2 overall pick. Instead, Trubisky highlighted a painful quarterback history and questionable decision-making by Pace.
Pace and Nagy are seemingly safe for now; both we’re on the verge of losing their jobs and extremely disliked by large swaths of their fan base, who, at the beginning of the offseason were clamoring for Pace’s firing. The HC-GM duo was searching for anything—in this case, anyone—that could help keep them in Chicago a little longer. There’s certainly pressure, whether fair or not, on Fields, but the onus falls on Pace and Nagy to build a roster and a system that will allow Fields to thrive. Fields is as level-headed as any young NFL hopeful can be, coming from the storied program at Ohio State has aptly prepared him for bigger and brighter lights.
“I don’t think there’s pressure on me at all,” Fields said in an introductory press conference, “because I expect myself to be a franchise quarterback. … I came from a big program at Ohio State where the fan base is very passionate. So there’s definitely no added pressure.”
Now, the Bears enter the 2021 season with optimism. There’s plenty of upside in the rest of the 2021 class; Chicago had to rely on finding late-round talent with no third- or fourth-round pick and did so addressing key areas of need. Larry Borom adds depth at offensive tackle, Khalil Herbert can be a rotational player in the backfield and a contributor on special teams, and Dazz Newsome could challenge for playing time in his rookie season as a slot receiver. The added talent on defense, in cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. and interior defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga, can begin to fill out some of the holes on the other side of the ball; and shoring up both their offense and defense against powerhouse passers across the league is necessary when truly contending for championships.
It’ll take some time for the pieces to all come together, but the narrative is already changing in Chicago. Fields is exponentially better than Trubisky on his best day; Fields has more talent, far more athleticism, and a much higher ceiling. Fields even surpasses Andy Dalton, the veteran passer currently slated to be QB1 come the fall. Enjoy this moment, Bears’ fans; you’ll never get it back and you have the potential to continue celebrating for quite a while.