With what seems like the millions of words already written and spoken about the Bears quarterback position, most focused on the great new hope: Justin Fields. But there is one possibility I haven’t heard a single soul suggest.
What if Fields never sees the field this year because Andy Dalton is really good?
It feels odd that whenever there is discussion about the plan for Fields this season, no one points out that it was Matt Nagy as the offensive coordinator and defacto quarterback coach that oversaw the plan for rookie Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City.
Throughout the 2017 season, Nagy had no clue he’d be leaving for Chicago at the end of the year, and his focus was winning with Alex Smith and keeping Mahomes on the bench all season long until Smith was rested for the playoffs in Week 17.
Most are quick to point out it worked because the Chiefs had Smith playing at a Pro Bowl level. But it was also what they felt was best for Mahomes, and it’s awfully hard to find any reason Nagy wouldn’t believe the same for Fields, if he can contend with Dalton.
I expect the main reason no one ever focuses on the possibility Dalton can do for the Bears and Fields what Smith did for Mahomes and the Chiefs is in 10 years in the NFL, Dalton has had just one season in which he was seriously better than average.
In 2015, Dalton’s fifth year in the league and fifth straight year he guided the Bengals to the playoffs, hethrew for 3,250 yards and 25 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Cincinnati was 10-3 when he broke his thumb and was done for the year.
Over those first five seasons with Dalton under center, the Bengals were 50-26-1, and while they were somewhat famously 0-5 in the playoffs, they were there. A similar performance this year for the Bears would probably be enough to save a number of jobs and give Fields exactly the developmental experience we have to assume Nagy is hoping for.
Dalton expressed confidence during his first week of on field work during OTAs.
“It’s been great being back with (offensive coordinator) Bill (Lazor). That’s a big reason I wanted to be here,” Dalton said. “All these coaches are doing an awesome job of getting everybody to be on the same page and not thinking so much when we’re out there and teaching why we’re doing certain things.”
Nagy is expressing confidence as well.
“Andy, he is doing a great job of making anticipatory throws, throwing the ball early,” Nagy said. “If there’s one thing that these wide receivers are going to come out of this OTAs from and obviously from training camp, too, they’re going to see that when that ball is supposed to be there, that ball is gonna be there so they better get ready to put their hands up to catch it, you better be at right spot, at the right depth, and be doing your route adjustments accordingly.
“I think it really is impressive with how much he’s digested this playbook already and now he’s doing it with these players.”
If Dalton is frustrated or worried by the big move for Fields, he isn’t saying so.
“Yeah, I’ve had a lot of different conversations with everybody here,” Dalton said. “I knew there was a possibility of it. And so, when it happened, it is what it is. “Justin is a great guy, getting to know him the last couple weeks, being around him. He’s going to make the quarterback room better.”
And is Dalton comfortable mentoring the guy brought in specifically to take his job?
“Absolutely. It’s just the position I’m in. Everybody should enjoy it,” he said. “You know, all our experiences in our lives are for us and other people. You’re just trying to pass that along.”
How much Dalton can contribute on the field is an open question, but there is that 2015 season. He arguably hasn’t had this much talent around him since that season except of course his injury/COVID-riddled stop in Dallas last year, and let’s not forget, at 33 he’s playing for his next contract as well.
How good might it be for the Bears and Fields if Dalton gave them the luxury of fully mirroring the Mahomes experience?