Unfairly or not, Andy Dalton’s career has left a 10-year trail of jokes and criticisms of him as an NFL starting quarterback. Maybe it was his association with the Cincinnati Bengals. Maybe it was his 0-4 playoff record over the first four seasons of his career. Maybe it’s as simple as fans using a person’s hair color as a launching pad towards a comment. But in any case, I think Dalton has been labeled as a “bad” quarterback who would only serve as a team’s starter if that team was making a joke.
I have a difficult time getting on board with the idea that a player with 218 career touchdowns and only 126 interceptions to match is only being named a starter in jest.
Andy Dalton is not one of the top 20 starting quarterbacks in the NFL, but if Ryan Fitzpatrick gets to have a bandwagon, then so too should a player who has four more playoff losses than Fitzpatrick has playoff appearances.
The LA Rams are set to host the Bears in Week 1 and we knew that Chicago would have a quarterback controversy from the moment they traded up in the draft to take Ohio State’s Justin Fields with the 11th overall selection. Bears head coach Matt Nagy stated in the past that Dalton, signed to a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason, is the team’s starter. He reiterated that point over the weekend at Chicago’s rookie minicamp and noted that Fields and Nick Foles would have to approach this summer as an opportunity to prove that they deserve Dalton’s job.
But which quarterback would seem to be the most dangerous player under center in the first game of the season? The veteran with a ceiling “mediocre starter,” the career backup with a Super Bowl MVP in his closet, or the dual-threat rookie with zero career training camp reps — let alone career pass attempts?
Andy Dalton, QB1
I focused so much on the fact that Dak Prescott was out last season that I overlooked how much Andy Dalton played: 216-of-333, 2,170 yards, 14 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 6.52 Y/A, 24 sacks taken, 28 carries for 114 yards, two fumbles over nine starts and 10 appearances. Those numbers are “fine” but check out Dalton’s six-game stretch after he returned in Week 11 following two weeks off because of a concussion and COVID-19:
135-of-201 (67%), 1,474 yards (245 ypg), 13 TD, 4 INT, 101.9 rating, 7.33 Y/A.
The Cowboys went 4-2 in that stretch but in a Week 17 loss to the Giants, Dalton was sacked six times and Dallas lost 23-19. But had Dalton been given an entire offseason as the number one QB for the Cowboys, with those weapons and in that division, and if he hadn’t gotten hurt during the year, it’s possible he could have made his fifth playoff appearance. Probable, I’d say.
Of course, Andy Dalton wouldn’t have been available if he was an enticing option as a starting quarterback. In 2019, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor benched him following an 0-8 start and went to backup Ryan Finley. It turns out that Dalton is much better than third-string options like Finley, but it was easy for Cincinnati to walk away from him once Joe Burrow became an option and no team was ready to name Dalton a starter when he became a free agent in 2020.
Nothing really should have changed year-over-year, so why are the Bears now treating Dalton like QB1? That’s a question that might not be answered until the games begin or until Justin Fields is tested against NFL competition and running an NFL playbook.
Justin Fields, QB11
After flipping his commitment from Penn State to Georgia, then running from the Bulldogs to the Buckeyes after only one year, Justin Fields was a successful statistical quarterback over the last two seasons: 396-of-579 (68.4%), 5,373 yards, 63 TD, 9 INT, 218 carries for 867 yards (4.0 yards per carry), 15 TD.
Ohio State also went 20-2, both losses coming in the College Football Playoffs.
There are varying degrees of opinions on Fields but ultimately no team in the top-10 of the NFL Draft thought that he was ready to step into the pros and become a high-end starter by Week 1. Few quarterback prospects are treated that way, but the ones who are, like Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, tend to go as early as players can possibly go.
Of course, this didn’t exclude players like Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr, Russell Wilson, or Dalton from being named starters early in their careers and being quite successful, especially given their draft statuses. Fields could be this type of player but even if he was, quarterbacks still tend to experience extraordinarily painful in-game moments at the onset of their careers. That’s the only way to learn.
The ultimate question for Rams-Bears in Week 1 is whether or not a rookie’s growing pains could be any worse than Andy Dalton’s decade of proof at the professional level that he’s not spectacular and that he requires a talented supporting cast to elevate his game and to stack wins. Can the Chicago Bears say that they have a talented supporting cast around the quarterback position?
Even with Allen Robinson, I kind of have to say: “No.” And it’s definitely not what he was surrounded by in Dallas.
Nick Foles, QB”Help!”
The fact that Foles is still around doesn’t say much. As is often the case with Nick Foles, a team overestimated his value and committed money to him that they never should have: when the Bears acquired Foles from the Jaguars — one year after an $88 million contract — they restructured his deal and guaranteed him $4 million in 2021. It may not seem like a lot, but Foles also doesn’t have a big cap number, as it only stands at $6.66 million, so there really isn’t any point to releasing or trading him. Chicago saves no money and the presence of Foles means that Dalton has an experienced backup and Fields has a veteran around who can spend time with him while the starter is busy being a starter.
Foles had a few decent starts for the Bears in 2020, including a win over the Buccaneers in which he completed 30-of-42 attempts for 243 yards, but he eventually got benched for Mitchell Trubisky and now he wallows. It’s not out of the question that both Dalton and Fields struggle in the preseason and it’s definitely possible that Matt Nagy will collapse under the pressure to make the right decision and name Foles as a starter because he’s “the hot hand.”
Would that really be the right decision though?
This seems to be the conundrum that gets head coaches fired, especially ones like Nagy who may have only barely escaped the hot seat by backdooring the playoffs last year. Which quarterback gives the Bears the best chance to get a road win at SoFi Stadium in Week 1? Which quarterback would worry you the most as a Rams fan: the rookie with upside and no experience, or the veteran with experience and no upside?
Who would be a more dangerous Bears quarterback in WEEK 1?
This poll is closed