Each week here on The Draft Network, I’ll bring you five Chicago Bears thoughts and observations from the week that was and for the game that lies ahead. With three games of the 2021 season in the rear-view mirror and some narratives beginning to crystalize around this team, it’s a good time to rev this new column into high gear.
1. The Bears were supposed to be Justin Fields’ team by now.
From the moment general manager Ryan Pace traded up for Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft, the debate about when he’d make his debut as the team’s starting quarterback kicked off. The Bears’ official stance at the time was that Andy Dalton was the starter and Fields would be placed on the Patrick Mahomes rookie track when Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith for all but one game of his rookie season in 2017.
That plan felt more like wishful thinking than anything grounded in reality. Dalton isn’t the same level of player Smith was at that time, and the Bears aren’t the kind of playoff contender that the Kansas City Chiefs were that season. Instead, there was a sense that Chicago was destined to be more like the Houston Texans, who selected Deshaun Watson in that same year’s first round, began the 2017 season with Tom Savage as the starter, and by Week 2, Watson took over the offense.
Maybe the frustration with Chicago’s 2021 approach at quarterback comes from decades of patience waiting for the Bears to finally have a player at the position with franchise-level talent. Every week that goes by without Fields being named the starter feels like a month. Head coach Matt Nagy stumbling and fumbling his way through his weekly press conferences makes it worse. At some point, this has to end.
Fields will start Week 4’s game against the Lions, assuming Dalton remains hobbled. Hopefully, he’ll play well enough to end this dizzying experience and finally be given the starting job for good.
2. Eddie Goldman is back, and that’s a big deal.
The Bears finally got some good news this week with Goldman, who at one time in his career was trending as one of the NFL’s top young nose tackles. But that feels like a long time ago. He opted out of the 2020 season (COVID-19) and has yet to suit up in any game this year because of a nagging knee injury. Goldman isn’t on the injury report this week, however, and all signs point toward him making his 2021 debut.
“I give him credit for really getting to this point right now,” Nagy said of Goldman Friday. “It’s unlucky what happened early on there in that first week, but that’s a part of life, and so for him to get back to this point and for all of us to feel good about where he’s at, with his status here on [the injury report], I think we’re going to see a player who’s going to come out and give it his all.”
The Bears need a healthy Goldman to combat a quality two-headed monster in Detroit’s backfield: D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. He’s a critical piece of the defensive line not only because of his ability to penetrate and disrupt, but he gobbles up would-be blockers, which allows a guy like potential All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith to attack without obstruction.
Goldman returning to the starting lineup matters. What matters more is him proving he can stay healthy and remain a part of this team’s long-term plans.
3. Jaylon Johnson is gaining respect as one of the NFL’s top CBs.
Bears fans already know the value Johnson brings to the defensive backfield. He’s Chicago’s most important defender in the secondary and is quickly emerging as one of the team’s most important players regardless of position. His hot start to the 2021 season has Johnson pegged as one of the best cornerbacks in the game in just his second year in the league.
Johnson has lofty goals for 2021 and he’s meeting them so far.
“I don’t want to have a game where a receiver had over 100 yards on me,” Johnson told Pro Football Focus. “Definitely wanna not allow any touchdowns.”
Sure, it’s only been three games, so the fact he hasn’t surrendered either of his goals yet could be met with skepticism. But when considering who he’s gone against—the cast of Los Angeles Rams wideouts, Tee Higgins, and Odell Beckham Jr.—his year has been sensational.
“I want to be the best among the top guys, among the more recognized, the guys that have been doing it the longest,” Johnson told PFF. “I want to be up there with those names, the Jalen Ramseys, the Stephon Gilmores, the Tre’(Davious) Whites, the Marlon Humphreys. I want to be that Jaylon Johnson.”
4. Is there any hope for Matt Nagy?
The life of an NFL coach is an unenviable one. Nagy is the perfect case study for how quickly a fan base can turn. Just three seasons ago, Nagy was the NFL’s Coach of the Year. He was an NFC North champion and guided the Bears to a home playoff game. It was a great first year in town, and it set expectations that were—obviously—too high.
After three weeks and a 1-2 start to the 2021 season, the calls for Nagy to be ousted from his position have grown. This, after a tenure with the Bears that’s been without a losing season and two trips to the playoffs (in three years) so far. So, what gives?
The NFL is a league that’s all about offense and scoring points. Stats matter. Points matter. Big plays matter. And the Bears remain one of the few teams that can’t seem to generate any of them. Nagy was supposed to be the guy who brought a McVay-ian change to a franchise that’s best known for its running game and bruising defense. Instead, Chicago’s offense has regressed under his watch. Sprinkle in the way he’s handling the team’s most prized draft pick (Fields) and the equity Nagy accrued in 2018 is officially gone.
Now, Nagy is in debt to a fan base that wants results. He needs a win Sunday against the Lions in the worst way. Otherwise, the ‘Nagy Watch’ will kick into high gear.
5. About that whole Arlington Heights thing…
The Bears’ biggest transaction of 2021 wasn’t a free-agent signing or a high draft pick. Instead, it was the purchase agreement for Arlington Park in a move that signaled a potential relocation from Soldier Field.
There are two (opposing) ways to look at this. The traditionalist and purist will hate it. The Bears need to be in Chicago—in the city—and remain at Soldier Field, the site of so much history and lore. The more modern approach, however, is that a move outside the city and into a state-of-the-art facility will enhance the team’s ability to attract free agents and big-ticket events like the Super Bowl. There’s also the convenience factor. It’ll just be easier to get to and from games if the Bears move out of town.
Look, the Bears don’t have to be in Chicago to be the ‘Chicago Bears.’ The Cowboys don’t play in Dallas. The Giants and Jets don’t even play in New York, let alone New York City. There are several teams that fall into that same bucket, so not being in Chicago doesn’t mean all that much.
But there is something about history and tradition that I hold near and dear to my heart. From the old clips of Walter Payton and William Perry in the mid-to-late 80s making plays on the rock-hard astroturf to more modern memories of Devin Hester taking punts and kickoffs to the house on the chewed-up Soldier Field grass, the ghosts of those great plays will be lost the minute the lights go out for good. And that feels wrong.
The NFL, at its core, is a business. And it’s better business for the Bears to relocate and build something magnificent. It seems like that’s an inevitable outcome here, so enjoy the last few seasons of the storied pillars and all that makes Soldier Field special. It’ll be gone for good soon.