NFL training camps officially open Tuesday, and all 32 teams’ goal is to win Super Bowl LVI in February in Los Angeles.
But there are two competing camps out there right now among the millions of Bears fans as summer begins to rush toward fall.
The mantra of one camp is, “Justin Fields is the second coming. Get him out there immediately. We’ll live with his growing pains and the losses that come with it.”
In camp No. 2, their chant is, “Win as many games as you can no matter who is at quarterback.” Campers here include general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.
These two hopes, wishes or whatever you’d like to call them are mutually exclusive.
In the history of the Super Bowl, no rookie quarterback has won because no rookie has taken his team there.
In the Super Bowl era, rookie quarterbacks have only a .355 winning percentage in playoff games.
Talking to one coach recently, he asked me, “Why don’t fans understand how difficult it is and how long it takes to get a young quarterback ready?”
On the night Fields was drafted, Pace told us, “When we select a quarterback, the situation that quarterback is coming into is critical.
“Matt has spoken to Andy Dalton tonight. That communication and clarity for us is really important. Andy is our starter, and we’re gonna have a really good plan in place to develop Justin and do what’s best for our organization and win games.”
Over the past three seasons, 10 QBs drafted in the first two rounds have become rookie starters. They are a combined 42-69-1 and none have been to the playoffs.
Nagy shared a similar sentiment two days after Pace made his comments.
“Now it’s our job to develop him,” Nagy said. “There will be a plan with Justin and with Andy and with Nick [Foles], and with just how we go about this. I think that’s going to be very important is that we understand it. I went through that in 2017.”
That 2017 plan was Chiefs offensive coordinator Nagy watching Patrick Mahomes sit on the bench the first 16 weeks of his rookie season as Alex Smith led the team to 10-6 and the AFC’s fourth seed.
The worst thing the Bears can do to Fields’ development is to put him on the field before he’s ready or before his team is ready for him. The Bears know it.
But can this Bears team contend?
Are they even as good as last year’s 8-8 team that claimed the NFC’s seventh seed?
The defense can return to top three or four in the league – which they proved in 2018 was good enough to key a legitimate playoff run – if the four 30-somethings – Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Tashaun Gipson – still are in their primes, with the return of Eddie Goldman and the arrival of the real Quinn, and with a much improved pass rush to help overcome the loss of Kyle Fuller and indoctrination of new defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
It’s a real possibility with a ton of ifs.
On offense, Dalton won 50 games as a game manager. He led the Bengals to five straight playoffs his first five seasons while surrounded by quality weapons and a stud offensive line.
Dalton’s Cincy arsenal included Cedric Benson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, Marvin Jones Jr., Jeremy Hill, Mohamed Sanu, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. Green was the only constant from year to year.
I will argue that David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet are capable of matching that firepower.
Dalton, however, also had All-Pros Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler as well as right tackle Andre Smith in front of him almost all five seasons – Zeitler arrived for Dalton’s second year – and the Bears are not close to matching that.
Can they get there this year?
Everyone better hope they at least close the gap because it looks like that could be the most obvious road block to both whether they can contend now, and how soon it will be wise to put Fields in the huddle.
Clearly he is the future, but for right now, today, Fields is not the answer.
Yes, Dalton looks like a 75-foot putt, but how much fun is watching one of those drop?