When Should Justin Fields Start?

After over a century of football, the best quarterback in Chicago Bears history is either Sid Luckman or Jay Cutler (answers typically vary by respondent age). It’s a narrative that has been drawn out for years, and with the recent failure of the Trubisky project, reminders of Bears’ quarterback failure are abundant in the media. Currently, there are 3 quarterbacks on the roster in Chicago. They’ve got the statue, Nick Foles, the veteran, Andy Dalton, and the new kid on the block, Justin Fields.

Fields is the future of the franchise without a doubt. Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy have both repeatedly said that Dalton is still the starter and will start Week 1. As the season progresses, there will be increasing pressure to play and start Fields, especially if Dalton struggles like many expect. This clearly begs the question: under what circumstances should Fields see his first NFL action?

With the exception of Jake Luton, four rookie quarterbacks saw meaningful game time in 2020. Joe Burrow started every game up until his ACL tear and was the only rookie to begin the season under center. While Justin Herbert’s debut was impromptu, the Chargers couldn’t have asked for a better season from the man out of Oregon. Tua Tagovailoa struggled after being appointed as the starter, despite assuming the job after a bye week. Lastly, Jalen Hurts impressed towards the end of the season, but the jury is still out on his standing in Philadelphia.

Justin Herbert is the real deal
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In past seasons, including 2020, there seems to be no correlation between quarterback success and time of debut, and the class of 2020 still has plenty of time to improve. However, the Bears should still have a clear plan in place to ease Fields into his first action. Here are the first few weeks of the Bears schedule:

Week 1: @ Los Angeles Rams (SNF)

Week 2: vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Week 3: @ Cleveland Browns

Week 4: vs. Detroit Lions 

No QB looks forward to playing against Aaron Donald

Kicking off the season in prime time against the reigning top-ranked defense will be a difficult task for Chicago, regardless of who starts at QB. Even if Fields impresses in training camp and preseason, I still think it would be best for Dalton to start. His experience will be key against a formidable defense, but if the Red Rifle struggles mightily and the game is out of reach, Fields should take over for a series or two towards the end of the game. If this indeed is the scenario in September and Fields is deemed ready by Nagy and co., he should start against the Bengals. Even if he doesn’t see the field in LA, I still think Fields should be in consideration to start against Cincy, depending on how well Dalton does.

If, by some stretch of the imagination, Dalton performs adequately against LA, the situation becomes more complex. Fields is the better quarterback, but no coach wants to replace a well-performing player. Unless Dalton endures a massive Tannehill-esque career revival, the latest Fields should take over is in Week 4. Despite a few offseason improvements and a new head coach, the Lions are still the Lions. Regardless of when he makes his debut, Fields will have a breakout game in front of the home crowd, kicking off his OROY candidacy.