The Chicago Bears’ decision makers deserve kudos for making a significant deal, trading up in last month’s NFL Draft to acquire Ohio State QB Justin Fields. In a draft that yielded quality at the top, but lacked depth and value throughout, they were able to orchestrate a move to get the guy they wanted.
For my money, I thought Fields was the third best option as a projection to starting QB in the NFL. However, going up to get Fields was a move they HAD to make, but things needed to fall their way before it could happen. It was their lucky day for sure, but the Bears now face a bit of a contradictory dilemma. On one hand IMO, Fields is simply not ready to ascend to the starting QB and team leader role yet, while on the other hand, he just might be their best option already.
Here’s what I mean. In order to keep their jobs, both GM Ryan Pace and Head Coach Matt Nagy need to really show progress towards improvement. After going 8-8 in 2020 and sneaking into the playoffs, they need to win more games this year. A 7-10 record or even going 8-9 in 2021 and missing the playoffs isn’t going to cut it. But they also need to remove the doubt left by their prior quarterback “whiffs” and regain confidence from the folks in Chicago.
They must both prove they know what they are doing and it starts with the most important position in the game. They must provide hope to the fan base, knowing this can only be done when the Fields experiment is deemed a success by everyone connected with the team. They need this to happen sooner rather than later because the status of the contract situation for both hangs in the balance.
To me, the whole key is related to their offensive line. The Bears have chosen to blow up the 2020 version. LT Charles Leno is now with the Washington Football Team. Bobbie Massie, the other starting tackle (when the team was healthy) from 2020, is now a Denver Bronco. I think it’s safe to say they will have three new starters at three different positions when the season opens this year. Germain Ifedi, their starting RG in 2020, has the inside track at becoming the new RT. He is not athletic and gives me doubts about his ability as an edge protector. For that reason, I think this move is a reach. Cody Whitehair still calls the shots at the center position and LG James Daniels (who I think is a center only as well) are the only two holdovers who project to start in the same spots as the 2020 version. Any offensive line, provide they are competent, are a group that really benefits from minimizing change. Let them grow, I always have felt this really is the preferred route for a team. However, the construction of the Bears offensive line group has started over again. When they are done, this Bears offensive line will definitely be younger and less expensive but time is not on the decision makers side. It will take time before we get answers and can see progress. .
I like their stated plan at QB over the next six months. In a perfect world, UFA signing Andy Dalton gives them the best option to progress initially. He’s been there and seen that, but he has a very limited ceiling on how good he can make the Bears. It all seems clear that Dalton’s job is really to manage the offense, eliminate mistakes and turnovers, and let their defense carry them early. If their linebacking corps can stay healthy, they have one of the best groups at that position in the entire league. Mack, Smith, Trevathan and Quinn are by far the strength of this team, if they get used the right way.
The million-dollar question for Bears fans is whether the team should just go ahead and start Fields from jump street?
Coach Nagy has already said, “we will all know when the right time is”. Let me break it down in its simplest terms. For my money, it's simple. Here is what we should all be focusing on in order for this to happen:
• The offensive line has to really come together first and the key to that is second-round pick Tevon Jenkins from Oklahoma State whom I like a lot. Jenkins can play either tackle spot, he gives them an above average athlete who can bend, he can sustain contact with defenders in both the running and passing game, but most impressively, he plays with a poise and calmness of a veteran player. Jenkins could have easily been a first-round pick (and I’m sure was rated as such on the draft board of the Bears). He plays under control and seldom finds himself out over his skis. At 320 pounds, he has the firmness and solid base to hold his ground and not get knocked back into the QB’s lap.
• Justin Fields himself has to give us the answer we are looking for before anything else matters: How quickly can he make correct decisions on where to throw the football and can he develop the anticipation and instinct to get there “in his mind” before the defense reacts? Physically, we already know Fields can make all the throws and he already checks all the boxes, but he has to get to the point where- the ball comes out, on time! When the Bears get him to this point, and you can forget everything else, THAT’S WHEN HE PLAYS.
Rebuilding an offensive line in a year when everyone has been put on notice is a gamble to say the least. That’s something you typically do early in a rebuild. The amount of time adjusting and communicating, not to mention learning about each other, is enormous. To that end, it’s riskier IMO than trading up with next year’s first pick to get a QB of the future.
So, hope can come from their new quarterback at some point this year, but progress must really come from the supporting cast, especially the offensive line. The average fan wants to talk QB, but I’d focus first on what’s happening up front.