The Chicago Bears’ all-time leading passer, Jay Cutler, doesn’t believe Justin Fields should be thrown into the fire as an NFL rookie, but that line of thinking is misguided nowadays.
Cutler spoke at length about the Bears’ QB situation in a local radio interview, and explained why Fields shouldn’t start over Andy Dalton right away, per the Chicago Tribune‘s Dan Wiederer:
“I wouldn’t play the kid to start. […] I think it’s just a tough spot to just throw someone out there, especially in Chicago. And I think Andy is more than serviceable. I think they can win games with Andy.
“…[Fields] came from Ohio State. He has played in big games before. So I don’t think he’s going to mind it much. But I will say this isn’t Ohio State. This isn’t college football. The playing field gets leveled really quickly in the NFL. You’re going to get humbled. Bad things are going to happen. You’re just going to have to deal with it.”Former Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler on Justin Fields
Like Fields, Cutler was the 11th overall pick in his draft class and began his career with the Denver Broncos. Speaking about his time as a rookie, he knew he wasn’t ready to play in Week 1 and felt like he was destined to fail if he’d entered the game.
“I remember the first game (of the season) and there were rumblings that I might play, and I was like, ‘I don’t even know what’s happening here. Let’s figure this thing out for a minute,’” Cutler said. “…I was like, ‘If I go in this game, they better dial it back to day one or I’m screwed.'”
This is where Cutler’s personal experience doesn’t really apply.
Yes, Cutler knows a thing or two about playing quarterback in the NFL. He had a 12-year career, and while he never quite lived up to expectations, he did once lead the Bears to an NFC Championship Game.
That doesn’t mean the former Pro Bowler is beyond reproach in his assessment of the Fields-Dalton dilemma in the Windy City.
Back when Cutler was coming out of the NFL Draft, rookie contracts were a lot more expensive, offenses weren’t incorporating as many college concepts, and there weren’t expectations for QBs to play right away, no matter how high they were drafted.
Just a few years before Cutler entered the pros out of Vanderbilt, the Cincinnati Bengals sat No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer on the bench for his entire 2003 rookie campaign.
But the NFL has drastically changed since then.
Teams are doing their best to find a cheap, young signal-caller, and capitalize on his rookie contract window by loading up the roster and going all-in to win. The situation is no different in Chicago, as the Bears invested a modest one-year contract in Dalton as a free agent before trading up to land Fields in the draft.
To be clear, Cutler is rooting for Fields and called him “obviously talented” with a “little chip on his shoulder” and viewed that in a positive light. Having said that, every situation is different, and Fields is in ideal position to succeed right away in the NFL.
Cutler had a cannon for an arm, but he couldn’t run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash like Fields can. Big-game experience is a huge plus, and performing under pressure on the big stage is something Fields frequently did.
Despite playing at a powerhouse program in the Buckeyes, Fields had his fair share of adversity. He arrived in Columbus as a Georgia transfer, and won over a lot of teammates quickly.
Fields also got hit extremely hard in this year’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson, only to return and outduel Trevor Lawrence in an epic six-touchdown performance.
A loss to Alabama in the national title game should only grow the chip on Fields’ shoulder, as should being the fourth quarterback drafted in 2021.
In addition to obvious arm talent, accuracy and running ability, Fields’ uncanny recall and numerous demonstrations of making full-field reads suggest he can thrive under a QB-friendly head coach in Matt Nagy.
Dalton may be “serviceable” as Cutler suggests, but Fields is special. He’s going to prove it sooner rather than later, and his elite speed and ability to make big passes outside the pocket and off-schedule can mask any deficiencies Fields shows as he adjusts to the NFL.