Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace came entered the spring knowing their jobs will be on the line in the 2021 NFL season. In desperate need of an upgrade at quarterback, Chicago explored all avenues to improve upon its situation.
The decision to trade up and draft Mitch Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick still haunts the organization to this day. Chicago acquired Nick Foles last offseason, hoping he would either return to his Super Bowl MVP form or would light a spark under Trubisky. Instead, things didn’t improve and the defense carried this team into the playoffs.
Thanks to a three-game winning streak late in the 2020 season, fueled by Trubisky executing a simplified game plan, the Bears went from a potential top-12 pick to experiencing a first-round knockout to the New Orleans Saints in the postseason. Sitting at the No. 20 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Pace recognized that free agency or trade was the only way to upgrade at quarterback.
Chicago aggressively pursued a Deshaun Watson trade, reportedly making the strongest offer the Houston Texans received. When it became clear he wasn’t available, the Bears made a Russell Wilson trade offer. While the Seattle Seahawks weighed it, the inability to replace Wilson with a promising, young quarterback ruined Chicago’s chances of a blockbuster deal.
So, the Bears moved on and settled on a free-agent solution. After signing Andy Dalton, it quickly became evident that he would be the starter in 2021. While many fans aren’t pleased with the organization’s quarterback selection, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on "SportsCenter" that the Bears are quite happy with their signing.
“I’m told inside the building there with the coaches, they are thrilled with the Dalton pick because when it came to free agency, they broke down all the potential starters. You had the Jameis Winstons, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Dalton, I’m told, was very high on their list. They felt like they’ve been churning out eight-win seasons, despite having some spotty quarterback play. They think that just capable play with Dalton can really elevate them to a new level and with reuniting with former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in Cincinnati, they think they can produce there.”
While some might still be holding out hope for Wilson, that opportunity is gone. Seattle is now planning moves to make its star quarterback happy and the Bears never had the caliber of assets to pull off a blockbuster trade. So, it should come as no surprise that Pace is raving about Dalton publicly and the team’s Twitter account is calling him “QB1” in March.
Dalton signed a one-year, $10 million contract and was promised the starting job before practices even begin. This is coming off a season where he went 4-5 as a replacement for Dak Prescott, failing to reach the postseason in spite of the NFC East being historically weak.
The 33-year-old quarterback didn’t play under ideal circumstances last season. Dallas’ offensive line was decimated by injuries and its defense was one of the worst in the NFL. Under the circumstances, a 14:8 TD:INT ratio and 87.3 passer rating in nine games isn’t bad.
But there are other important factors to consider. For one, Chicago’s receiving corps isn’t nearly as good as the Cowboys’ depth chart. The gap between the two will get even wider if Allen Robinson forces a trade this offseason. It’s also worth comparing Trubisky and Dalton’s stats in specific circumstances, per Pro Football Focus.
Dalton was better at throwing deep, and that is one area where Nagy could be looking to change this offense next season, but the same personnel mentioned earlier comes into play for that.
It’s accurate for Pace to say that Dalton handles the drop-back game, play-action and rollouts. But that should be the bare-minimum standards for a starting quarterback on a team with playoff aspirations. Trubisky is a far more athletic player and offers more upside.
Nagy and Pace seem ready to bet their jobs on Dalton raising the ceiling of this offense and helping the Bears become a better team than we’ve seen the past two seasons. Based on everything Dalton has shown in recent years, that bet will likely get them fired.