LAKE FOREST – Justin Fields’ parents were in town this week. They were at their 22-year-old son’s home Tuesday night when Fields told them the big news – he’s going to be the Bears’ starting quarterback moving forward.
His parents’ reaction was to go out and celebrate.
“I just told them, ‘Nah, I’m cool,” Field said.
The 11th overall draft pick elected to stay home with his french bulldog Uno and watch tape. As for his parents? They went out without him.
Fields’ Tuesday evening illustrates everything the Bears love about Fields. How many 22-year-olds would make the same choice? Fields is the future at quarterback for the Bears. Now that future finally can begin in earnest.
Fields will start this week for the Bears against the Las Vegas Raiders. Despite veteran Andy Dalton returning to practice Wednesday, Bears coach Matt Nagy confirmed that Fields will be the starter moving forward.
“This isn’t something that’s just happened right away,” Nagy said of Fields. “He’s grown to this point. He’s earned it, he’s worked hard.”
The move is a clear shift for Nagy and the Bears. Nagy said as recently as Monday that Dalton would be the starter if he is healthy.
Dalton injured his knee during the Bears’ Week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The 11th-year veteran tweaked his knee after running out of bounds along the sideline. Fields finished out the first half and played the entire second half of that game.
Since then, Fields has started each of the past two games, a loss to Cleveland in Week 3 and a win over Detroit on Sunday. The loss to Cleveland was a historically bad game for the Bears’ offense. Fields finished 6-of-20 passing for 68 yards. He rebounded in the win over Detroit with 209 yards on 11-of-17 passing with one interception.
When the Bears drafted Fields in the spring, the team said from the beginning that Dalton would be the starter. Nagy referenced his experience with Kansas City rookie Patrick Mahomes in 2017, when Mahomes sat nearly his entire first season.
The Bears stuck with that plan through training camp. Dalton took almost all of the first-team reps. Once the regular season started, Fields served as the backup and the scout team quarterback in practice. The rookie played sparingly in the season opener. Nagy used him in special packages here and there throughout the game, but it didn’t appear as if there were any plans to play him extensively.
Dalton’s knee injury in Week 2 changed all of that.
“Andy, unfortunately, got hurt with his knee,” Nagy said. “That sped the plan up. And so I’ve always said from the beginning to everybody in here, to our players, coaches, to [the media] when you ask, is that we’ll know. And he’s done everything to show us that he’s ready for this opportunity.”
Nagy told both quarterbacks about his decision Tuesday. Nagy said Dalton was – understandably – disappointed, but he handled it like a pro.
“I can’t say enough good things about Andy Dalton,” Nagy said Monday. “I’ve been around a lot of special people, guys who have done things the right way. … I love the type of teammate that he is and continues to be. He’s as good as they get.”
Dalton called Fields on Tuesday and congratulated the rookie on the great opportunity ahead. Fields said Dalton told him he would be there for whatever he needed.
“He didn’t want our relationship to change because of the situation,” Fields said. “So I told him that was very comforting to hear from him. I think, just our relationship has just grown over the past few months.”
Big picture, this move was inevitable. Nagy’s comments Monday seemed to indicate he still was holding out, or at least some people in Halas Hall were. But conversations over the past 48 hours led the coaching staff to this conclusion.
The hurt feelings for Dalton are real. By all accounts, Dalton is a great guy and a great teammate. It pained Nagy to have to demote him. It was obvious in Nagy’s description of the conversation that telling Dalton was not any easy thing to do.
But it’s time for the Bears to move ahead. With two starts already under his belt, Fields isn’t looking back. It made little sense for the Bears to look back either.
“This is Justin’s time,” Nagy said. “We’re so confident in where he’s at, with where Justin’s at, and just continuing [to] let him grow. The biggest thing for us is to understand that it’s not going to be perfect.”
It might not be perfect. The Bears might struggle. Many rookie quarterbacks do.
But it’s best for the organization to let Fields get the growing pains out of the way now. There’s no more reason to wait.