Despite drafting Justin Fields 11th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, starting Andy Dalton is the right move for the Chicago Bears.
This offseason, the Chicago Bears signed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton to a one-year, $10 million deal after what a sub-standard season with a talented Cowboys offense. Signing Dalton was a surprise to many after letting Mitch Trubisky walk in free agency and with Nick Foles still on the roster, but the organization seemed quite confident in the move.
In fact, the Bears social media team infamously tweeted out a picture of Dalton with the caption “QB1” one week after the deal was announced.
Then, nearly one month later in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Bears selected Justin Fields out of Ohio State with the 11th overall pick. Instantly, that tweet became a meme and the team was the butt of jokes yet again.
Even after selecting Fields, however, head coach Matt Nagy and the rest of the staff have been insistent that Dalton is still the starter. But if we believe that premise, a simple question must be asked: Are they doing the right thing?
An adage for the Chicago Bears: To sit is to succeed
Since the team brought in Dalton, Nagy and the Bears have said consistently that he would be the team’s starting quarterback for Week 1. Last month, the organization doubled-down on that statement. And truth be told, it’s the right move — for now.
From 2014-19, 16 of 19 quarterbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft became their team’s starter during the course of their career (starting at least eight games in a season). Of those 16, only three players who were the starting quarterback for their team were selected to the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team, a modest baseline of “success”.
On the flip side of that, seven of those 16 quarterbacks sat for at least the first three games their rookie season and were able to hit the criteria for “success” as listed above, a list that also includes two MVPs. The most notable players include Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. If we added multiple playoff wins to those criteria for success, the number of players increases to nine.
Out of all 32 projected starting quarterbacks in the NFL for the 2021 season, 17 of them did not start in Week 1 of their rookie year. Of the nine who started (or won) a Super Bowl, six of them weren’t starters in Week 1 of their rookie year.
Don’t feed Justin Fields to the wolves
The Chicago Bears offensive line put their quarterbacks through some bad times last year. The team had the seventh-worst pass-blocking grade in 2020, per PFF, and lost their two best pass-blockers on the season in Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie.
Yes, Cody Whitehair performed better when moved to guard but he’s still a very inconsistent pass-blocker and has yet to eclipse the performance from his stellar rookie season.
The Bears also drafted Teven Jenkins in the second round of this year’s draft. Jenkins is a stud but rookie offensive linemen tend to start off slow before finding their groove. It makes more sense to have Dalton at the helm during these growing pains so Fields’ transition as the starter goes that much smoother.
As easy as it is to understand fans’ eagerness to start Justin Fields immediately, allowing him to learn to start the season could yield better results for both Fields and the Chicago Bears.