The Chicago Bears made one of the headlining moves of the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, sending four draft picks to the New York Giants in order to select quarterback Justin Fields No. 11 overall. But don't ask them to commit to Fields as competition for the starting QB job, let alone Week 1 duties. Addressing reporters Thursday night, general manager Ryan Pace reiterated that veteran Andy Dalton remains the Bears' No. 1 QB entering 2021, and not only that, but said coach Matt Nagy has personally reached out to Dalton to reassure the former Cowboys backup of his starting role.
"Matt has spoken to Andy Dalton tonight," Pace said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. "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."
Judging by Pace's comments, you'd almost think Dalton has been a longtime starter in Chicago, not a free agent backup signed to a one-year deal with a salary relatively comparable to current reserve Nick Foles. But this is the game the Bears have been playing since they signed Dalton, apparently, with the team inexplicably assuring the ex-Bengals starter that he would open 2021 under center in Windy City, replacing Foles and the departed Mitchell Trubisky.
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In reality, Pace's commitments to Dalton -- genuine or not -- aren't likely to stop the regime from turning the keys over to Fields sooner rather than later. Both Pace and Nagy figure to be under pressure to win in 2021, and Chicago probably wouldn't have shipped so many picks -- including a first- and fourth-rounder in 2022 -- to the Giants if it didn't believe Fields is already a starting-caliber QB. To be fair, Pace appeared to leave the door at least slightly open to the possibility of the Ohio State product replacing Dalton later in his Thursday night comments.
"We just have to let it play out," he said. "One of the best feelings in the world would be, 'Hey, we're rolling, we're playing really good football, we're winning and we're looking over there and we're seeing this guy and we all know -- everyone in the building knows -- hey, we've got a guy.'
"As these guys come into this, even all the experiences they have at the college level, growing and watching tape, reading defenses, working in the huddle ... It's just so new for these guys, but it'll be a daily process, a daily evaluation. But we're excited to let that play out."
Pace and Co. have done it before, too, proclaiming free-agent addition Mike Glennon as the starting QB ahead of the 2017 season despite spending the No. 2 pick on Trubisky. It wasn't long into the season before Trubisky took over.
Fields, for what it's worth, believes he's already capable of guiding the Bears.
"You know, just the way I carry myself, just the way I care about the game, the grit I have, the determination I have to be great," he said, per ESPN, when asked why he can be a franchise QB in Chicago. "I think nobody has the story that I have. So just everything inside of me, just wanting to be a great quarterback, wanting to be a franchise quarterback. And just me dreaming for this moment my whole life ... I just think all of those intangibles, my work ethic and all that together will of course be different for me."