While many fans don’t want to hear it, Matt Nagy’s response when questioned on if Justin Fields could win the starting quarterback position in training camp was spot on. Nagy was asked by ESPN 1000s David Kaplan if Fields could win the job with an exceptional training camp performance and Nagy responded by pointing out that Andy Dalton is also competing for the same position.
It’s reasonable, beyond reasonable, to say Fields should have to be the better quarterback to win the starting job and it’s certainly possible that is exactly what will happen. The Bears certainly aren’t ruling that out publicly, which might tell you what their expectations are privately. But Fields should still have to earn the job.
The Patrick Mahomes Example has been brought up numerous times because Nagy was in Kansas City when Mahomes wasn’t able to wrestle the starting job away from Alex Smith. While unlikely, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Dalton has a season similar to Smith’s, and we’ve never seen a rookie match that level of success.
Dalton is pretty close to what Smith was prior to the 2017 season. Smith has a slight statistical edge, but that can be explained by the supporting cast with which each had played. Smith wasn’t the 2017 version of himself until that year and it had been six years since he had a passer rating above 100. (This is somewhat ironic because Dalton had a passer rating of 106.2 six years ago.)
Cincinnati became a bad situation quickly for Dalton and, like Smith, he’s not the kind who can make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Dalton performed reasonably well for the Cowboys last year despite playing behind a horrendous offensive line. We saw Smith drop back down to earth right after he left KC.
It just might take a 2017 Alex Smith-like season for Dalton to win and keep the job because, by all accounts, Fields is coming hard for it.
And there are becoming more examples of rookie quarterbacks having success right away, even since Mahomes entered the league. Justin Herbert might be an exception, but it hasn’t been uncommon to see a rookie quarterback have a season better than a standard Andy Dalton year. While Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray had their issues, you’d take their rookie years over any Dalton has had recently. The same is probably true for Baker Mayfield and, of course, for Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott.
The odds seem to be in Fields’ favor. He’s coming from a pro style offense, can already operate a huddle and take a snap from center despite not doing so in college and has the athleticism to make things happen when the game moves too fast. But even for those quarterbacks who have had success, few have matched the 2017 Alex Smith level. And the Bears can’t rule Dalton out yet because, for every one of those, there is a Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson or Tua Tagovailoa — young quarterbacks who just aren’t quite ready.
It certainly seems as if the Bears will have a quarterback competition and that’s how it should be. While we all may want Fields to win — the Bears probably do too — it must be settled on the field.