Eventually, Justin Fields is going to be the starting quarterback of the Chicago Bears. The Bears traded their 2022 first-round pick (among other things) to move up from the No. 20 slot to No. 11 and land Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft, and you don't make that kind of move unless you're going to hand the reins to your targeted player sooner or later.
If ex-Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was the one making the decisions, though, "eventually" would probably come later, rather than sooner. Instead, Cutler would have Fields acting as Andy Dalton's backup early on.
"I wouldn't play the kid to start," Jay Cutler said during an appearance on Waddle & Silvy this week, according to the Chicago Tribune. "That's where I'd start. I'd let him watch. 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 and kind of pull the ship along until [Fields] is ready."
It's unclear what Cutler considers a tough spot, but it's worth noting that the Bears do begin the season on the road against the Los Angeles Rams, who have one of the NFL's best defenses, and two of its very best defensive players in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. They also play the Browns, Packers, Buccaneers, 49ers and Steelers prior to their Week 10 bye. Cutler acknowledged that Fields has experience playing against high-level competition, but drew a contrast between those games and what he'll face in the NFL.
"Everyone's different. I've just always been on the side of, what's 10 games? What's a season [of sitting] in the grand scheme of this kid's career? If you believe he's the guy, get everything set up so that when he's thrown in there, he's supported and he can make things happen the way he should instead of battling through all this stuff and seeing ghosts five years from now or three years from now," Cutler said. "He 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."
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If bad things are going to happen and you're going to get humbled and just going to have to deal with it, that would seem to point toward playing Fields early and letting him take those types of lumps sooner rather than later. But Cutler seems to have some issues with the current roster surrounding Fields, and thinks the Bears could put him in better position to succeed.
"He's obviously talented," Cutler said. "He can move. He can throw. He won a lot at Ohio State. He seems to have a little chip on his shoulder, which I don't think is a bad thing. But like we've talked about numerous times, when you're playing quarterback (in the NFL), there are a lot of moving parts. They have to get the line [stabilized]. They have to get some weapons. … And I really like [head coach Matt Nagy]. That's never been an issue in my mind. I think he's going to put together a plan."
Chicago released longtime left tackle Charles Leno earlier this offseason, and appears set to move second-round pick Teven Jenkins, who mostly played on the right side of the line in college, to Fields' blind side. The Bears also do not have much in the way of depth at wide receiver beyond Allen Robinson, who is not signed beyond this year. There's an argument to be made that the Bears need to upgrade the infrastructure with which they'll surround Fields, but that seems to be more about the roster than Fields himself. But it's difficult to argue that he's not as ready to play as a rookie quarterback can be, given his experience and skill set.