The Justin Fields hype in Chicago is real. Calls for Fields to start have been loud ever since the Bears selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2021 draft, and Fields' strong performance in the team's first preseason game added fuel to that fire.
Andy Dalton doesn't agree with that sentiment. Dalton made it clear he expects to hold off Fields as the team's starter heading into the season, telling reporters, "Justin Fields is going to have a great career, but right now it's my time."
Dalton isn't necessarily misguided making that declaration. He has been given every indication he'll open the season as the starter since signing with the Bears in March. Dalton has received the most work with the starting offense in camp, and started the Bears' first preseason game. Fields came on after a few series.
Even after Fields' encouraging performance, Bears coach Matt Nagy hasn't wavered from Dalton being the starter. Fields will receive more reps with the first team, but Nagy expects Dalton to start in Week 1.
How long can Andy Dalton hold off Justin Fields?
Dalton is looking to prove he can put up solid numbers with the Bears. Following a shaky 2019 season, in which he threw just 16 touchdowns against 14 interceptions, Dalton signed as a backup with the Dallas Cowboys. He was pushed into action after Dak Prescott's ankle injury. Dalton threw 14 touchdowns against eight interceptions in 11 games with Dallas. He signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Bears in March.
While Dalton has put up strong numbers throughout his career, he has never led the league in any major single-season stats or been elected to an All-Pro team. Those are lofty expectations, but they hint at Dalton's shortcomings as a player. He can be good, maybe even great, but not transcendent.
It's unfair to expect Fields to be a superstar the instant he takes the field, but that's his upside. The Bears have every incentive to see if Fields can reach that ceiling. If he can, that could save Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace from getting fired during the season.
Because of that, it's assumed Fields will get his shot in 2021. Dalton might be able to hold off the rookie with a few good weeks, but he won't have a long leash. The second Dalton stumbles, Fields will likely get his shot.
Dalton isn't wrong to believe his time in Chicago is "right now," but tomorrow is closer than he thinks.
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