NFL

When will Justin Fields make his first start for Chicago Bears?

The Bears want to put Justin Fields on the Patrick Mahomes plan, but Chicago can’t afford to leave him on the bench for a full season. 

The idea of giving Justin Fields a full season to learn behind Andy Dalton makes great offseason headlines for the Bears. The Chiefs executed that strategy to perfection with Patrick Mahomes. Unfortunately for Chicago, they can’t afford to leave their quarterback of the future on the bench for any meaningful amount of time.

Kansas City was blessed with Alex Smith at quarterback and, more importantly, Andy Reid as their head coach during Mahomes’ rookie season. That allowed the Chiefs to craft a high-quality offense even without their dynamic young gunslinger under center.

That’s not going to happen for the Bears with Dalton at the helm of Matt Nagy’s offense. Dalton is a decent caretaker quarterback but he isn’t the player Smith was for Kansas City when he kept Mahomes on the bench. The outlook of a Chicago offense triggered by Dalton is a group that will struggle to land in the top half of the NFL.

The Bears need an offense with more upside if they’re going to make noise in a crowded NFC North this year. Assuming the Packers keep hold of Aaron Rodgers they will be a strong favorite to win the division. Minnesota should be competitive again with Kirk Cousins at quarterback and a defense that should bounce back from a disappointing 2020 campaign. The Lions are the only divisional foe the Bears can comfortably expect to defeat with Dalton at quarterback.

Fields must be the starter Week 1

This is a make-or-break season for Nagy and GM Ryan Pace. That causes some people to argue that Dalton should be the team’s starter to maximize their regular-season win total. Bears ownership will make the decision on whether or not to enact a regime based on the long-term trajectory of the roster. Even if Dalton manages to squeeze out one more regular-season win than Fields would in 2021 he’s not going to save anyone’s job.

The only logical path forward for Chicago is to hand Fields the keys to the offense when the regular season kicks off. He’s going to make some rookie mistakes trying to adjust to the Bears’ offensive system and the speed of NFL defenses. There may be times where he looks completely lost.

The key difference between Fields and Dalton is that there will also be moments of brilliance for the rookie. He possesses electric speed that will really trouble opposing edge rushers who want to bring him down in the pocket. Fields’ ability to get out on the perimeter and produce big runs will help make up for Chicago’s lack of talent at the wide receiver position.

Fields’ accuracy inside the pocket will also be a breath of fresh air for Bears fans. Years of watching Mitchell Trubisky sail easy throws all over the field have Chicago fans and pass-catchers suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress. Fields will restore faith for all involved that a competent quarterback can actually get the ball out to wide receivers in a way that allows them to produce yards after the catch.

The Bears traded up for Fields because they correctly understood their offense needed an injection of life. Their new quarterback has star potential that can lift up the entire roster. Leaving him on the bench for a single quarter would represent a giant missed opportunity for Chicago.

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