Andy Dalton had to know what he was getting into when he signed with the Chicago Bears. It was a one-year deal for a modest $10 million. That is hardly what one would call an “all-in” commitment. There was obviously going to be a strong possibility they might go after somebody in the draft. Sure enough, he got tipped off in April that they indeed were going to pick Justin Fields out of Ohio State. Dalton would have significant company in the quarterback room.

Still, head coach Matt Nagy reiterated that the veteran would remain the starter this season. He had a plan for Fields. One that involved sitting the rookie this season in hopes of giving him a chance to grasp the speed and complexity of the NFL from the safety of the sideline. A method that certainly worked for Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. That suited Dalton just fine.

Is he nervous about it?

Hardly. Those expecting him to look like Mike Glennon back in 2017 akin to a deer caught in headlights might as well stop. Dalton understands the situation. He knows the excitement fans have for Fields. That is fine. Such a thing was inevitable. However, that means nothing to his personal plans. He is the starter and plans to stay that way for the rest of 2021.

‘‘He’s a first-round pick, I understand that. But I also understand that I’m the starter. I understand that. I knew I signed a one-year deal. I knew that I was going to come in and I was going to be the starter, regardless of the situation, coming in.”

He didn’t come across as somebody just saying the words. He believed in them too. Dalton is no stranger to adversity. He’s been in the league for a long time and faced some intense pressure along the way. This situation with Fields is just another challenge. No different than battling the Steelers for the division title. That said, Dalton’s opinion on the Bears’ plans to develop Fields?

That was somewhat eye-opening.

‘‘I think the best thing you can do is play. That’s the best experience you can get. When you see a new tweak, learning different defenses, learning different schemes, learning all the pressures that are going to come at you, you’re going to know the offense. I mean, you better know the offense. But it’s seeing how two different teams are going to attack you, what you’re going to do, how you’re going to respond, what plays are going to be good against certain things. The experience was such a big thing.’’

Andy Dalton is understandably caught in a tough spot

He wants to play and wants to start. The Bears offered him that opportunity and he took it. That isn’t a crime. At the same time, he also knows the best way for Fields to become an effective NFL quarterback is to get into actual games and play. Yet Dalton’s job is to keep him on the bench for as long as possible. It is a bit of a catch-22. One he can’t really apologize for. He has no animosity towards Fields. It is simply a case of both of them wanting to play.

It shouldn’t be a surprise Andy Dalton would have such an opinion. He didn’t get an opportunity to sit and learn when Cincinnati drafted him in 2011. They threw him right into the fire and forced him to adjust quickly. Things went pretty well. The Bengals went 9-7 and made the playoffs. Dalton had just shy of 3400 yards passing with 20 TDs and 13 interceptions. From there, he improved rather quickly.

This is why many keep calling on the Bears to do the same. It’s not like Fields is completely untried. He had two standout years at one of the best college programs in the country. He played at a high level in big games. Sure he has plenty still to learn but that doesn’t mean he isn’t ready. Nagy though feels no need to rush him. Not with somebody like Dalton in the fold. Thus here the team sits as training camp begins.

SOURCEKamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Erik Lambert
Educated to be a writer at the prestigious Columbia College in Chicago, Erik has spent the past 10 years covering the Bears.