Bears fans should be skeptical about how the franchise handles quarterbacks. They have 102 seasons of sense memory passed down in their DNA.
They’re right, too, to be dubious of how general manager Ryan Pace manages the competition between veteran Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields.
At least Matt Nagy earned his head-coaching job by developing superstar Patrick Mahomes in a similar situation. Pace, though, bungled this exact same scenario in 2017, and both veteran Mike Glennon and rookie Mitch Trubisky were worse for it. Glennon started only four games, and Trubisky wound up being the highest-drafted quarterback of the fifth-year option era to not have his picked up.
Pace needed to be convincing, then, when he defended the Bears’ quarterback plan — for Dalton to start Week 1 and play until he implodes or the season ends, whichever comes first — on Wednesday.
He was not.
In his last news conference for at least four months, Pace was asked how the Bears will know when Fields will be ready. His answer was the “because-I-said-so” of explanations.
“I think we’ll know when we know,” he said.
That doesn’t erase the skepticism. And neither does Pace painting a picture of what the ideal quarterback scenario looks like.
“Our goal all along guys has been to win games with Andy,” he said. “And look over on that other field and say, ‘Hey look at this guy right here — look at the future of the franchise we have right here.’
“That’s the goal, and we haven’t changed from that.”
Is he joking? Did you hear the one about the two Bears quarterbacks? Our ideal situation is to drive a reliable sedan — and keep our Corvette on blocks in the garage.
That sounds like the ideal scenario of a front office and a coaching staff looking to keep their jobs by finishing over .500 — and certainly not of a fan base eager to watch someone try to lift the franchise to gaudier heights by becoming its first transcendent quarterback in more than 70 years.
If fan reaction seems particularly bitter, consider how the Bears handled their last controversial job search. After cutting Cody Parkey after his playoff double-doink, the Bears held a wide-open competition to take his place. Eight players kicked in rookie minicamp. A month later, the Bears traded for Eddy Pineiro, who had to face competition all the way until the third week of August.
That was democratic. This is not, and was never intended to be.
“I just feel we’re just in a good position with Andy,” Pace said. “It starts with how we feel about Andy. And we’re very confident in him and where he’s at. So there’s no need for us to rush Justin.”
Eight days earlier, Nagy made the same point. It was as ridiculous Wednesday as it was then. Linking Fields’ playing time to how a soon-to-be-34-year-old on a one-year contract performs is lunacy. He should play when he’s ready, and not a second later.
Pace at least listed how Fields could improve while not playing, stressing that there are facets he said the rookie couldn’t possibly have learned in the preseason: “the weekly preparation, seeing NFL defenses in the regular season, and all those things.”
“I just think the more time he has to learn that and observe that, the better off for him,” Pace said.
Asked if Fields was ahead of schedule, Pace said no. The Bears expected him to be good this preseason.
“He’s exactly what we thought he was gonna be,” he said. “He’s exactly what we hoped he would be. And I don’t think it changes our plan at all. I know the fans are excited, and we’re excited, too.”
Forgive Bears fans for being skeptical.