Putting all your hopes into Andy Dalton isn’t the best spot. But it certainly isn’t the worst.
At this point, we know what Dalton is, which is good and bad. He can go through progressions and make easy plays. He won’t beat teams with his athleticism or his arm, but he also won’t beat his own team by regularly throwing interceptions in the end zone like both of the Bears quarterbacks did last year. Dalton is securely in the lower-third of starting quarterbacks. That’s not good enough. But it’s the best the Bears could do for now.
The other options weren’t all that appealing. Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick have made careers out of wowing teams with great plays, but ultimately turning the ball over too much to make a difference. The best Winston could do with a Super Bowl-ready roster was go 7-9.
Dalton is similar to Nick Foles in that they’re both limited, but their limitations are different. Foles throws a better deep ball. Dalton is better on intermediate routes and moves better. Foles’ immobility proved especially problematic last year, as he played with a decimated OL for most of his time, and he just couldn’t handle any amount of pressure.
Perhaps the biggest reason the Bears signed Dalton is because if there’s one thing Foles has proven in his NFL career, it’s that he can’t stay healthy.
So, Dalton it is.
It’s been popular to point out that Dalton’s statistics don’t match up with Mitch Trubisky’s, but context is key. Trubisky didn’t play a good defense until the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The average DVOA of the defenses Trubisky faced was 23rd. Dalton played good defenses every other week, the average DVOA being 13th.
While Trubisky played, the supporting cast was as good as one could hope. The Bears ran the ball well, their receivers caught his passes and the offensive line kept him clean. Dalton had good receivers, but their offensive line and running game were a mess.
Injecting just a little bit of common sense context really makes a world of difference when comparing statistics.
Dalton isn’t going to carry the Bears. They’re going to need David Montgomery to run wild like he did at the end of the 2020 season. And, they’re probably going to need to invest in a backup — the jobs of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy depend on it. Their offensive line should be OK, considering how it played at the end of last year. They seem fed up with Anthony Miller, so a wide receiver will surely be added. With all of that, the supporting cast won’t be all that different from what Dalton had success with in Cincinnati.
What is going to be especially crucial is for Nagy to understand he doesn’t have a franchise quarterback. They have to be a running team and that has to start in training camp. Nagy seemed to realize that with Trubisky in 2020, but got away from it with Foles, relying on a limited quarterback to lift his teammates. Foles couldn’t do that and Dalton won’t either.
With that, it’s worth wondering if the Bears should make a big move in the draft to get another quarterback. It has often been suggested that they will do so — and it’s exactly the kind of move Pace typically makes — but a rookie quarterback surely won’t save their jobs. If they instead invest the resources in helping Dalton, they’ll have a better shot at being employed in 12 months.
The Bears best path at finding a franchise quarterback in the next two seasons is still the same as it was before they signed Dalton. Russell Wilson’s frustration surely isn’t going away as Pete Carroll just signed a five-year extension. While the inability to receive a quarterback in return is certainly a part of Seattle’s decision to reject the Bears offer, another issue has to be the fact that they’d have to eat a ton of money if they traded their star quarterback. That changes June 1, at which time the Bears certainly should call the Seahawks again. Assuming Seattle doesn’t want to trade Wilson even after June 1, we can still safely assume the problems aren’t going away. Wilson will want to be traded and the Bears will be on his list, as long as they remain competitive.
That’s what brings us back to Dalton. He’s not a star, but he’s competent. The Bears should still have a good defense and a good supporting cast. Dalton should allow them to remain competitive and take another swing at Wilson in the near future.