Dear Matt Nagy,
I get it. I really, truly do. I’d imagine the conversations with Andy Dalton when you signed him to come play in Chicago revolved around some kind of a verbal commitment that he would serve as the team’s starting quarterback. Why else would there be such a strong proclamation so early on in the process that Dalton would be your starter? And with the calls for change increasing in volume and frequency in Chicago after two consecutive 8-8 campaigns, I can certainly see why you’d like to opt for slow and steady at the quarterback position.
You know exactly what you’re going to get in Dalton—and that’s probably exactly what you want after three years and 38 starts of Mitchell Trubisky at the helm. Trubisky was, at times, maddeningly inconsistent and left too many routine plays on the field. Dalton will get you the routine reads and avoid negative plays to work the ball to the checkdown.
So I really, truly get it.
But this can’t be how things unfold in Chicago in 2021. Because while you may be worried about the plays Justin Fields doesn’t make compared to Dalton early on in a “win-now” season due to inexperience, the upside and potential payoff of the plays Fields does make that Dalton physically can’t is overwhelmingly your best chance to sell the fans and ownership that you will continue to be the right man for the job beyond this season. If the gap in the former closes progressively throughout the season while the frequency of the latter expands, that’s the best selling point you could hope for.
Fields’ process isn’t perfect. His feel for working his progressions in a new offense is understandably a work in progress and his timing isn’t always right. But I implore you to please let Fields fail forward as the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2021. A primetime showdown against the Rams in Los Angeles to open the season isn’t an ideal set of circumstances for any quarterback. But as Fields has shown all preseason long, including on Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, his best work comes under pressure.
Fields successfully pieced together a two-minute drive for the second time in three preseason showcases against the Titans, taking the team 78 yards in six plays and 55 seconds to claim a 14-10 lead entering the half. And the ingredients he showcased on his latest two-minute drive illustrate all the things that align Fields as your best bet to energize the city, build momentum toward the end of the year, and survive the current flaws of the roster.
The throwing ability on the run? It’s gorgeous, as we all saw on Fields’ 20-yard rolling strike to Jesper Horsted along the right sideline. His mobility overall? A night and day comparison to Dalton. With the injuries and lack of depth along the offensive line in Chicago, the more opportunities you’ll have to move the pocket will only help mask those limitations up front. And while I’m not questioning Dalton’s mental toughness, I think we’ve all seen that Fields is mature beyond his years in this regard—be it as the conductor of a two-minute drill during the preseason, standing in the face of pressure and breaking contain to create plays at Ohio State, or, alternatively, getting blasted while making a play and refusing to leave the game like he did in the College Football Playoff.
Dalton is a seasoned vet. I’m sure he’s liked in the locker room, too. But Fields can win this team over all the same with his mental toughness and his ability to be a big-play catalyst on the field. And I’m sure there’s a sense of loyalty and honor on the line with the communication to Dalton in the buildup to this critical juncture in your NFL coaching career. Going back on the promises of March may feel wrong… but it is the right thing to do.
Because while the grass may feel greener on the other side of Trubisky with the “safeness” that comes with simply keeping the car between the lines, you’re not going to win the race to the playoffs (or, alternatively, job security) by doing 40 in the passing lane. It’s put up or shut up time in Chicago; whether that’s fair or not. And Justin Fields is your best vehicle for a successful season.
So start him.