Chicago Bears: How long is Andy Dalton’s leash in 2021?

bears, matt nagy
Dec 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy looks on during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly a week away from the 2021 season opener, debates about the Chicago Bears naming veteran Andy Dalton the starting quarterback continue. Since signing with the Bears in March, general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy have reiterated that Dalton will be the starter. What the GM-HC duo hasn’t disclosed is how long Dalton will be the starter, fueling speculation about how many weeks Dalton will be the first-team quarterback.

No leash seems to exist. Nagy, who hopes to replicate the Kansas City model where Patrick Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith for 15 games in 2017 knows the best-case scenario is Justin Fields following in the footsteps of Mahomes, seeing very little action in 2021. There is an issue. Fields playing in 2021 will be inevitable at some point. The 11th overall pick will see the field his rookie season being Nagy’s handpicked quarterback.

Ownership in Chicago doesn’t appear to have a timeline for Pace and Nagy either. The assumption is that both have at least two seasons (2021 and 2022) with Fields while others say 2021 means both are on the hot seat with change likely coming when the calendar turns to January.

Dalton struggling early will lead to the clock ticking, forcing Nagy and Pace to evaluate whether or not Fields is really ready to play. When the Bears host the Detroit Lions in week 4, Fields could be under center. The best-case scenario for Dalton is that he plays well enough to lead the Bears to a winning record before Chicago begins a five-game stretch that includes playing the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens from mid-October to mid-November.

Simply put, the Bears need to play Fields when the franchise feels like he’s ready to go unless the Bears are one of the top teams in the NFC with Dalton leading the way, something that is unlikely to happen.