When will Justin Fields start?

Will Bears rookie QB Justin Fields start in Week 1?

Daniel Racz @Danny___Dimes 

Introduction

The Chicago Bears made waves on draft day when they traded up for Ohio State signal-caller Justin Fields. The Bears traded up from the 20th pick to the 11th pick, giving up extra first, fourth, and fifth-round picks in the process. The Bears clearly plan on offering Fields the chance to become their franchise quarterback for years to come, but they are not giving him the keys yet. The Bears signed ex-Bengal and Cowboy Andy Dalton to a one-year, ten-million-dollar contract. 

With Dalton’s contract came a promise: the role of starting quarterback. During Dalton’s initial press conference with Chicago, he said, “The Bears told me I was the starter.” What Dalton did not expect was added competition in the form of a heralded prospect like Fields. Nevertheless, coach Nagy has reiterated that Andy Dalton is the Bears’ starter for the foreseeable future. Nagy is pleased with Fields’ progress, but will not rush him into NFL action. The Bears have dealt with a fiasco at their quarterback position for years, so it is possible that Nagy does not want any details to reach the public. While Nagy has said that Andy Dalton will be their week one starter, when will we see Justin Fields earn the starting job?

Nagy’s Process

Prior to the Bears giving Nagy the head coaching job, Nagy worked as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator from 2016-2017. During the 2017 NFL draft, the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes. Though they gave up significant capital to acquire Mahomes, he sat on the bench for his rookie season. Nagy and Reid trusted Alex Smith to lead their offense in 2017, and he rewarded them with a playoff berth. The Chiefs made it clear that Mahomes would not be their day one starter, and the team was better off because of it. 

With the Chicago Bears, Nagy has had a continuous quarterback carousel. Prior to the season, Nagy never committed to either Nick Foles or Mitchell Trubisky as the full-time signal-caller. During the season, Nagy went back and forth multiple times between Foles and Trubisky, with no quarterback cementing themself as the full-time starter. While the Bears made the playoffs as the seven seed, the organization knew they needed change, hence the additions of Dalton and Fields. Even with two new quarterbacks on the roster, Nagy believes that naming one the starter will have a better outcome than holding an open competition. 

Need to Win-Now

Unlike the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs, the 2021 Chicago Bears do not have as great of a supporting cast. Though the Bears defense gets Eddie Goldman back from his 2020 opt-out, the Bears cut star cornerback Kyle Fuller. The offensive line stays relatively unchanged, with rookie Teven Jenkins slated to take over from released veteran Charles Leno Jr. Allen Robinson will play on the franchise tag, but the rest of the Bears’ weapons group is somewhat lacking. An Andy Dalton-led Bears team is a .500 team at best, with the assumption that Aaron Rodgers is playing for the Packers.

Chicago can not afford to waste 2021, as time is of the essence. Both head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are on the hot seat, and a lackluster season could cause both to lose their jobs. To further compound the urgency, the Bears do not have their 2022 1st round draft pick, as they traded it to the New York Giants when they moved up to select Justin Fields. The Bears are set to play at the Rams, against the Bengals, and at the Browns to open the season. Chicago is staring down a 1-2 start and may be forced to start Fields, even in the unlikely event that he is not ready.

Fields’ relentless work ethic

Justin Fields is a special prospect. I have never seen a quarterback with his blend of athleticism, arm strength, and accuracy. In high school, Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence were neck and neck for top recruit and each earned the title on different sites. While Lawrence went on to lead Clemson to a national title in his freshman year, Fields sat behind Jake Fromm. Georgia decided that keeping Fromm as their starter was optimal, so Fields transferred to Ohio State. Fields won the job immediately, putting up a record-setting season. Fields had a touchdown to interception ratio of 41-3, and he led the big ten records in yards per attempt (9.2) and adjusted passing yards per attempt (11.2). 

Fields came into college a heralded recruit and exited a top fifteen selection. Those that have been around him have constantly given rave reviews about the young man’s desire to get better every day. Fields said that he plans to get back to Chicago to train two weeks before the start of training camp. Though comments like this inspire confidence in Justin’s future, it will ultimately be how he plays during camp, preseason games, and practices that determine when Justin becomes QB1.

Conclusion

There is a reality where Justin Fields starts on Sunday night of week 1 for the Bears, and there is also a reality that has Fields sit on the bench for the entire 2021 season. The most likely outcome is somewhere in the middle. 

The Bears’ early schedule is intimidating, but not impossible. If Andy Dalton manages two wins in the first three games, he faces winnable games against the Lions and Raiders during weeks four and five respectively. Even if Justin is as good as promised during practice, the Bears will only make changes if they have to. Nagy has rested a quarterback (Mahomes) for an extended period because there was no urgency, so Chicago will stay with Dalton until they can’t anymore. The most likely outcome is Justin Fields starting between 15 and 11 games. Andy Dalton’s past few seasons have been below average, and, likely, he has not magically got better. If Dalton plays like a bottom-tier quarterback, Justin will get a shot at the job early in the year and is a potential rookie of the year dark horse.

Projected Stat-line: 14 games started, 434 attempts, 282 completions, 3,211 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns, 643 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns, 16 turnovers.

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