The Bears expended draft capital to land quarterback Justin Fields. They are not going to let their previous investments in veteran quarterbacks keep the rookie from Ohio State in a learning mode.
Head coach Matt Nagy contradicted himself on Wednesday, saying Fields played well enough in an unscheduled start on Sunday to earn the starting job on a permanent basis.
“After this past weekend with Justin and the growth that we saw, the discussions that we had was to be able to go in this direction,” Nagy said. “After this past weekend with Justin and the growth that we saw, the discussions that we had was to be able to go in this direction,” Nagy said.
Nagy had said after Sunday’s victory over the Detroit Lions that Andy Dalton would return to his job as the starter once he had recovered from the knee injury he suffered during the second game of the season. Reflecting on Fields’ performance, he changed his mind.
“It was definitely good news to hear,” Fields told Chicago reporters. “I would say I was a little bit surprised, but I mean, not really crazy surprised. But definitely a little bit of surprise. I feel like he was pretty straightforward with me and Andy. And I think my teammates believe in me, so just grateful for the opportunity and just trying to get ready to work.”
The Bears committed $10 million to sign Dalton as a free agent after getting disappointing results from Nick Foles, who they acquired to compete with the since-released Mitch Trubisky before the 2020 season.
Between Dalton, Foles and Fields, the Bears have $15.1 million committed in the quarterback position for 2021, the 13th highest total in the NFL. In prioritizing improved play at quarterback, the Bears were limited in being able to improve themselves elsewhere, most notably in the offensive line and secondary.
Fields, who signed a four-year, $18.9 million rookie contract after the Bears moved up to take him with the 11th overall pick in the draft, gives Chicago a quarterback who could be the best in the NFC North once veterans Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff have finished their tenures with the Packers, Vikings and Lions, respectively. The Bears paid heavily to get him, sending the New York Giants the 20th and 164th pick in 2021 as well as a 2022 first- and fourth-round pick.
Dalton practiced on Wednesday ad is expected to be healthy enough to serve as a backup to Fields on Sunday in Las Vegas. Foles, who unlike Dalton is signed through next season, was the backup against Detroit but has fallen to third quarterback status. The Bears are likely to pursue a trade if any interest develops before the mid-season deadline.
Both Nagy and General Manager Ryan Pace are under pressure to maintain their positions beyond the end of the season, as they haven’t been able to get their offense on a level with a defense led by Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith. The Bears are 2-2, with the defense nailing down a win over Cincinnati after Fields replaced the injured Dalton and Fields combining with running back David Montgomery to key the victory over Detroit.
Fields will be operating without Montgomery this week. He was lost to a knee injury late in that 24-14 win and could miss the next four games. That will put a premium on Fields to connect with receivers Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney while also using his elusiveness on runs to keep the offense moving. Montgomery is expected to be replaced by Damian Williams, provided Williams doesn’t have lingering issues from a leg injury he suffered Sunday.
The Bears had struggled to move the ball in their first three games, especially in a Week 3 loss in Cleveland that included nine sacks, but began to click against the Lions. Fields hit 11 of 17 passes for 209 yards, including five passes that went for 20-plus yards. It may have helped that Nagy turned play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor but the Bears’ coach believes it was Fields who made the biggest difference.
“This is Justin’s time,” Nagy said. “We’re so confident moving forward with that. He’s earned it.”