Being that they worked together in Kansas City before coming to the Chicago Bears, it was natural to ask if Ryan Poles had contact with Matt Nagy. The answer was a simple yes and the reason was “to find out where he may have messed up.”
For Nagy, and Ryan Pace, the answer very likely comes in 2018, when the team went all in on a second-year quarterback who didn’t have a particularly impressive rookie season. While Nagy didn’t draft Mitch Trubisky, it’s fair to say he wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t believe in the young quarterback. It’s also fair to say that Nagy signed off on the moves that followed his hiring that offseason, including trading significant draft capital for Khalil Mack.
While the strategy of investing in and building around young quarterbacks is popular around the league, the Bears are clearly bucking the trend this off-season. The previous regime gave near top of the market deals to Allen Robinson and Trey Burton, while also making Taylor Gabriel wealthy. They spent two top-51 picks on offensive players. The team was set to win, and it did, at first. They went 12-4 and were a missed field goal away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs.
Now we know it was doomed from the start.
Trubisky had his fair share of struggles during his second season, though he was good enough win games. The team had a top ten offense early in the season, but struggled down the stretch, failing to score more than 24 points in the final five games.
The Bears knew the defense would drop off, but they hoped the offense would be better. When Gabriel and Burton were hurt in Nagy’s second year it became clear that Trubisky could not lift the team. He wasn’t a franchise quarterback, but they had already invested too much in him and his supporting cast. He was their best option.
After the 12-win campaign, the team struggled with mediocrity, largely because of what was happening at the quarterback position. It wasn’t until frustration had already built up and fans were at the Halas Hall gates with torches and pitchforks that they moved on from Trubisky.
The plan was sound, the quarterback just never became what they were convinced he would. They gambled on Trubisky. They lost.
Poles isn’t gambling on Justin Fields.
While fans were convinced the team would invest in the offense this offseason, they haven’t made a single significant addition. The largest contract they’ve handed out was a two-year $8 million deal to a nearly 29-year-old center. The only wide receiver signed is a 28-year-old who is being paid considerably less than what the team signed Gabriel for in 2018. Both are essentially high-level backup type of deals.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Poles and new coach Matt Eberflus don’t believe in Fields. They do. It means they see no reason to risk their careers on a quarterback they have never coached. Even if they’re confident that Fields will be great, he isn’t there yet and there was no concrete evidence that he will be. His rookie season was much closer to Trubisky’s (maybe even worse) than it was to Justin Herbert’s.
Poles and Eberflus have both spoken positively about Fields. On Tuesday, Eberflus highlighted the work ethic of the young quarterback. Both expect Fields to make a significant improvement, despite likely having a worse supporting cast than he did as a rookie.
“The development of him for the second year should be a big jump,” Eberflus said. “It should be. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for better technique, better fundamentals, better decision-making, better timing, everything. He’s all on board on that. He’s excited about where he is, and he’s been working his tail off. That’s what we want, just that big jump from Year 1 to Year 2.”
Note the wording from Eberflus’ media session on Tuesday. Fields “should” make a big jump, that’s what “we’re looking for” and “that’s what we want.” He isn’t telling you it is going to happen because he just doesn’t know. He wants it to, he maybe even expects it to, but he isn’t going to bet his career on it.
They aren’t being unfair. The supporting cast might help Fields statistically, as it did for Trubisky, but if the Bears are going to find out if the young quarterback really is the guy, he’s going to rise above what he has around him. He is going to make his teammates better.
The coaches will help him schematically. The Shanahan/wide zone offense is known for giving quarterbacks easy reads and throws. They’ll design it around his athleticism and what he does well. It will surely be a run-based offense, so it probably isn’t an exaggeration to say they’ll have a goal to be near the bottom of the league in passing attempts, much like the Baltimore Ravens were in Lamar Jackson’s 2019 Most Valuable Player campaign.
If Fields is a stud, he’ll be a stud. The team will win its fair share of games and they can be aggressive in the 2023 offseason. If he struggles mightily, which is thoroughly unexpected, they’ll have a high enough draft pick to perhaps finding him competition in the 2023 Draft.