Give up any dream of seeing rookie Justin Fields start at quarterback in the Bears’ regular-season opener. The competition between him and veteran Andy Dalton is closed, with coach Matt Nagy determining three months in advance that there’s no way Fields can overtake Dalton.
Nagy could not have been clearer: There is no quarterback competition.
‘‘Yes, correct,’’ Nagy said, as all of Chicago groaned. ‘‘We all get excited about Justin Fields. With that said, we’re excited about Andy Dalton, too.’’
That means regardless of how much progress Fields might make between now and the Bears’ opener at the Rams, Nagy already knows he’s going with a 33-year-old whose career passer rating is only three-tenths of a point better than Mitch Trubisky’s.
Nagy’s rationale was an unwavering commitment essentially to redshirt Fields for a season as he develops. The goal is for him to take over by the start of 2022 after watching Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes succeed in a similar plan.
The Bears signed Dalton to a one-year, $10 million deal in March only after the Seahawks rejected their aggressive trade offer for Russell Wilson. Part of their recruitment to keep Dalton away from the 49ers and other suitors was telling him he would have the starting job.
‘‘They told me I was the starter, [and] that was one of the reasons why I wanted to come here,’’ Dalton said at the time. ‘‘That’s the assurance that I’ve gotten.’’
It was obvious then that the Bears still might take a quarterback high in the draft, but there was always an understanding that Dalton was first on the depth chart. And, sure enough, Nagy called Dalton right after the Bears traded up to land Fields at No. 11 to reassure him he was still the starter.
Nagy stopped short of saying the Bears guaranteed Dalton the starting job when he signed, but there was at least a handshake agreement.
‘‘There were no promises, but . . . I specifically told him, ‘You’re our starter,’ ’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Does that mean that these guys aren’t competing? Absolutely not. They’re competing.’’
Just not for the starting job.
It’s a peculiar stance by a franchise with a long history of mishandling and misjudging quarterbacks. And there’s a whiff of contradiction in Nagy’s explanation that the decision is in Fields’ best interest, considering the Bears still have him ahead of Nick Foles. If this was truly all about it being prudent to sit Fields for a year, why put him one play away from taking the field if something happens to Dalton?
Nagy probably wouldn’t admit this, but it seems likely there’s some residual anxiety stemming from the ill-fated competition he ran between Foles and Trubisky last season. The winner of that was the rest of the NFL.
The Bears’ disastrous trade for Foles set off a season of instability and uncertainty, two things no coach wants at quarterback. And Nagy bears some blame for being indecisive throughout. Trubisky and Foles went back and forth until early September before Nagy settled on Trubisky. Then he turned to Foles three games into the season. Then he went back to Trubisky before the end of November.
Maybe that’s why a coach who has become increasingly secretive would make this kind of announcement in mid-June. Going into last season, he said he wouldn’t reveal his choice until the morning of the first game — until he realized how ridiculous that sounded and backtracked.
But that was a far different scenario. The Bears already had made up their mind about Trubisky by declining his fifth-year option and figured out quickly that Foles wasn’t an upgrade.
Dalton is a much more solid option than Foles. And, more important, Fields is fresh off being the second-most dominant quarterback in college football. No rookie quarterback in recent history has walked into Halas Hall with this much talent. It’s way too early to rule out anything for him, including that he could outplay Dalton by September.
‘‘I’m going to do everything I can to get that starting job,’’ Fields said last month.
That’s a nice thought, but it won’t matter.
Ending this conversation now squashes the drama, but that doesn’t make it the right move. The Bears would have been best served taking until at least the end of training camp to see where Fields stands. And it’s scary they would get even a small part of this wrong so early.