April 11, 2021

Four things we learned from Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy on Friday

Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy met with the media for the first time since NFL free agency began in mid-March. It was a wide-ranging discussion.

Here are some of the key takeaways.

1. Andy Dalton is indeed the starter ... for now

Both Pace and Nagy reiterated what Andy Dalton said two weeks ago: Dalton is the starting quarterback.

“That’s how we see Andy Dalton, as a starting quarterback,” Pace said rather bluntly Friday.

Nagy hopes to meld Dalton’s strengths with the strengths of the personnel already on the offensive roster. If the fourth-year head coach has learned anything, it’s that he has to play to his players’ strengths, even if that doesn’t match his ideal offense. It was so with Mitch Trubisky and it will be so with Dalton.

Pace and Nagy love Dalton’s long history as an NFL starting quarterback, and as a quarterback that helped Cincinnati to multiple playoff appearances. Pace referenced Dalton’s leadership, his fit with the Bears offense and his decision-making ability as reasons why he likes Dalton.

While it may be true today that Dalton is the starting quarterback, that should be taken with a grain of salt. Four years ago, Mike Glennon was the Bears starting quarterback. The Bears drafted Trubisky weeks later and Glennon lasted all of four games.

If it feels like deja vu, that’s because it very well could be.

That being said, drafting a quarterback in the first round feels unlikely, given that the Bears pick 20th. But they still could bring in a QB in the second round, third round or later.

Andy Dalton will almost certainly start Week 1 in 2021. The bigger question becomes who will be starting come December?

2. Nagy will call plays in 2021

Nagy will resume play calling duties for the offense. The offensive-minded coach called plays in 2018, 2019 and more than half of the 2020 season, when he relinquished the duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Even though Dalton and Lazor have a rapport from their time together with the Bengals, Nagy is taking the play calling back.

“It was, for me, just something that I feel good about,” Nagy said.

Nagy tried to downplay it, noting that it was “a minor deal” in their eyes. Fans might disagree, but this should surprise no one.

It makes all the sense in the world that Nagy will call the plays next season. His job is possibly on the line. For a coach whose identity is play calling, for a coach whose mantra is “be you,” he wouldn’t be following that mantra if he weren’t calling plays.

3. Releasing Kyle Fuller was a no-win situation

Letting cornerback Kyle Fuller walk was less than ideal. In almost any other year, the Bears probably could find a trade partner for a player like Fuller, turning him into at least a draft pick. But the 2021 offseason has been unlike any other, with a salary cap crunch not seen in at least a decade.

“We explore everything before those moves are made,” Pace said. “So we were very thorough with that process.”

If a player isn’t willing to re-work his contract, nobody can make him do it. The fact is, the Bears were going to have to make cuts somewhere. The most obvious contracts worth cutting (besides any they already had cut) belonged to Fuller and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. If Fuller’s asking price on an extension was too high and no trade partner emerged, the Bears had no choice but to cut him. Cutting Hicks could’ve served the same purpose, but would’ve left arguably a bigger hole in the defense.

“There’s a lot of people involved in those decisions,” Pace said. “We always have contingency plans in place. And we wish Kyle nothing but the best.”

The Bears signed veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant days later. Pace referenced his confidence in Trufant and cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor.

4. Nagy takes some of the blame for Trubisky’s struggles

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky now is in Buffalo. Trubisky didn’t turn into what the Bears hoped he would be when they drafted him second overall in 2017. When they hired Nagy, he was supposed to be the coach that helped Trubisky get there.

Nagy acknowledged that he and his staff could’ve done a better job helping the young quarterback. He said maybe there could’ve been better ways to communicate, better ways to build a relationship.

The Bears overhauled essentially their entire offensive coaching staff after the 2019 season. That was a sign that they hadn’t surrounded the young quarterback with the right resources.

“As I built this staff and we have different parts to the coaching staff and how they deal with the quarterback position – the coaching side, the on-the-field, the game day, etc.,” Nagy said Friday. “I just feel like, in general, that’s probably where I would have started. I learned through it. And I’m sure Mitch did, too.”

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.