When asked when the right time to start rookie quarterback Justin Fields will be, Bears head coach Matt Nagy responded with, “I promise you every single person will know, including Justin, when it’s the right time, and that’s naturally how it happens.”
But will everyone know? I mean, seriously, who will actually know all the details and make the decision to move ahead? The NFL isn’t Little League, where the dominant talent is easy to spot. Deciding who will start at quarterback, who will lead the team and become the face of the franchise, is not an organic development. Trust me, not everyone will know. When can you ever get “everyone” to agree on anything? It takes planning, development and the courage to take the training wheels off because there will be growing pains. The words “ready” and “rookie quarterback” don’t go together too often, though there are some very notable exceptions (the most recent one being Justin Herbert of the Chargers.) But has there ever really been an easy decision when it comes to the quarterback position? It’s a bit easier with teams like the Jaguars and Jets, where Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson were picked with the specific intent of automatically being the starter, so there is no wait-and-see time frame. Both men were given the positions because of their college careers; Nagy is talking about earning the job, which comes with judgment, vision, timing and the willingness to risk success today for a better future tomorrow.
Bears fans will want Fields to start from day one because new is always better than old. Wouldn’t you rather have an unproven Justin Fields than a proven Andy Dalton? Starting Dalton under center is like having a pair of twos in a Texas Hold ’Em — they might look good on the first turn, but they’re never good enough to substantially bet or possibly win the hand. You need better cards. The first time Andy Dalton throws one of his classic red-zone interceptions, Bears fans will be on their feet screaming for Fields. But position coaches love to play it safe and often want to start the season with the player who makes their lives easier, meaning the player who knows “what to do.” Much like Tyrod Taylor in Los Angeles last year, the incumbent usually has the edge with the coaches because they hate uncertainty. If a player makes mental or physical mistakes during a game or practice, those mistakes reflect badly on the coach’s teaching skills. Last season, the Chargers had no choice but to play Herbert and live with the mistakes—which were few. They looked silly after Herbert played, causing most to ask, why wasn’t he the starter from day one?
It’s likely because putting a rookie quarterback in charge is not an “everyone” decision, as Nagy suggested. Not everyone can see potential, not everyone can predict the future, nor can everyone understand the effects of not naming the rookie the starter. Only one man can make this call — the head coach. (Matt, this one is on you, and it’s why you make the big bucks.) Nagy has to stand in front of the team with conviction, a decision based on the evidence gleaned from practice and preseason work. Not everyone will be on board; not everyone will understand the rationale — which is fine.