The Plan: Bears using Patrick Mahomes blueprint to pave Justin Fields’ road to success

Letting a rookie quarterback serve an apprenticeship has worked before, but usually when the mentor starter is a sure thing — Alex Smith, Brett Favre, Drew Brees. Can Andy Dalton fill that role?

SHARE The Plan: Bears using Patrick Mahomes blueprint to pave Justin Fields’ road to success
Patrick Mahomes (15) backed up starter Alex Smith (11) as a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017. He became the starter the next season and won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Patrick Mahomes (15) backed up starter Alex Smith (11) as a rookie with the Chiefs in 2017. He became the starter the next season and won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

You know it’s a new day in the Bears’ world when Ryan Pace not only is acknowledging comparisons to Patrick Mahomes, but embracing them.

For three years, Mahomes was the last subject the Bears’ general manager wanted to talk about. The Chiefs’ superstar quarterback was an awkward and painful reminder of the biggest misstep in Pace’s career — one that still threatens to remain an indelible stain that follows him wherever he goes. 

But after making a bold trade to select Ohio State’s heralded Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, Mahomes now is a template that Pace was happy to acknowledge. The Bears’ plan to allow Fields to play a year behind Andy Dalton, just as Mahomes played one season behind Alex Smith in 2017 as the No. 10 overall pick, when Bears coach Matt Nagy was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator. 

“Getting him is one thing. But for us to surround him and develop him is the other,” Pace said. “Matt has the blueprint. They did an awesome job with Patrick coming into Kansas City and Matt and I have talked about that a lot — that year [2017] and how it was handled. He kind of has the blueprint of how that whole situation went down.” 

Allowing a quarterback as talented as Fields to serve an apprenticeship is a little out of style in the NFL these days, but it’s a proven plan. Mahomes succeeded Smith and took the Chiefs’ offense to another level, winning the MVP award in 2018, winning the Super Bowl in 2019 and getting back to the Super Bowl in 2020. 

That strategy has worked for the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (24th overall in 2005), the Chargers’ Philip Rivers (fourth overall in 2004) and to a lesser degree with the Falcons’ Michael Vick (first overall in 2001) and the Vikings Daunte Culpepper (11th overall in 1999). 

The potential flaw in following that template is that the Bears don’t have the luxury of an established offense and/or quarterback in their system ahead of the rookie. The Chiefs were a well-oiled offensive unit under Smith, who led the league in passer rating (104.7) the previous year. Rodgers and Rivers played behind Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks — Brett Favre and Drew Brees. 

The Bears don’t have that offensive pedigree under Matt Nagy. The offense has ranked 26th and 29th in yards and 22nd and 29th in points the past two seasons. Dalton is a proven veteran, but with declining, sub-par production the past two seasons. 

Still, the Bears at least have a better starter in place — and a better prospect in the wings — than they had with rookie Mitch Trubisky playing behind Mike Glennon in 2017. That fell apart quickly, as Glennon was benched after four starts and Trubisky learned on the fly. 

Pace is counting on the supporting cast making the difference this time. Not only Fields learning behind Dalton and Nick Foles (if he’s still here), but with a much more quarterback-centric and experienced coaching staff in place with Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. 

“What I love about our environment is the veteran quarterbacks that we have in that room,” Pace said. “I don’t know if you look around the league how many teams have that kind of experience in the room. 

“And the coaches that we have surrounding that position — I can’t say that enough. Like for Matt to Lazor to Flip. Flip is one of the best coaches in the league at developing quarterbacks. I really believe that. 

“And he is so excited and Lazor’s excited and Matt’s excited about the opportunity to do that, but at the right speed. Because that’s what matters — developing this guy and the process of how we do that is important. We’ve got a good plan in place to surround him with the right resources, to develop him the right way.”

We’ll see about that. Unlike Trubisky’s rookie season in 2017, Pace at least intimated the Bears will give themselves a chance to find out if Fields — even as an untested rookie — might be more ready than they think, a la the Seahawks changing course in the 2012 preseason and giving third-round pick Russell Wilson a chance to beat out Matt Flynn.

That’s a long shot at this point. But all in all, the Bears with Justin Fields have a better prospect at quarterback and a better plan to develop him. At Halas Hall, that’s progress. 

The Latest
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle reflected on the complicated story of Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the Illinois native and Civil War general who founded the holiday. Monday’s event was held at Logan’s statue in Grant Park.
Right-hander Jimmy Lambert lands on injured injured with ankle inflammation to make room for Hendriks
The beloved Scouts pitcher lost his life in an accident during a hike in Alaska.
The veteran right-hander no-hit the Rays — the best-hitting team in the majors — for six innings in a command performance that halted the Cubs’ four-game losing streak.
The new law doesn’t criminalize those identifying as LGBTQ, but still prescribes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” which includes sexual relations involving people infected with HIV.