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When Matt Nagy took the Chicago Bears’ coaching job in 2018, his top priority was to level a quarterback who had battled the previous season as a first-round pick.
Four years later, his successor will face the same challenge.
The Bears fired Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace on Monday. Nagy could not produce a consistent winner after inheriting Mitch Trubisky from predecessor John Fox, while Pace has been unable to resolve the team’s quarterback position since inheriting Jay Cutler when the Bears hired him in 2015. The Bears moved on from Trubisky last spring, but his replacement’s fights – rookie Justin Fields – sealed the fate of both Nagy and Pace. And no matter who the Bears hire to replace them, they will have no choice but to try to make it work with Fields.
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You could argue that Nagy took a job with one hand tied behind his back, weighed down by a quarterback who will go down as one of the biggest busts of this generation. (The Bears hit Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, ahead of Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes.) That the Bears went 25-13 in matches Trubisky started under Nagy could be seen as a resume booster, not an argument to fire him.
Eleven of those victories came together in their first season when Nagy introduced a misdemeanor that limited Trubisky’s responsibilities and sprinkled in a series of innovative formations and playcalls to score points. That model, however, proved unsustainable in the long run, and the Bears’ efforts to stack veteran backups that could save a playoff team if needed – Chase Daniels and Nick Foles among them – were ineffective.
Still, Trubisky was in many ways better in his 2017 rookie season than Fields was in 2021. At eye test, Fields delivered one of the NFL’s worst performances of a quarterback all season. Of the Total Quarterback Rating, which incorporates a cross-section of metrics from third-down and red zone throws to scrambling for first downs, Fields was historically poor in 2021. His QBR of 26 ranked last in the NFL and was the fourth lowest for anyone who has made at least 10 starts since the statistics were devised in 2006. (Trubisky’s 33.3 rookie QBR ranks No. 21 on that list.)
It’s not realistic to think that the Bears’ next general manager could give their next head coach a fresh start, at least not the kind that the Arizona Cardinals gave Kliff Kingsbury when they drafted Kyler Murray as No. 1 overall a year after have selected Josh Rosen (24.1 QBR) at No. 10 overall. It was only the second time in modern draft history that a team had drafted a quarterback in the first round in consecutive years.
Why could the Bears not do the same for Nagy’s successor with a record that would place them in the top 10 of the 2022 draft? Because part of their deal to move up and draft Fields was to abandon their first-round pick in 2022 to the New York Giants. There are plenty of reasons why teams almost never advance from quarterbacks in the first round after a season, from salary cap management to scarcity to pride, but the Bears have no draft to replace Fields, even though their new coach has not. want him.
The Bears’ story on the position is no secret. They’re the only franchise that never has a 4,000-yard pass, and that’s not because of a lack of attempts. Their 37 starters at the position since 1989 are just second most in the NFL in that period, and it’s worth noting that they aggressively pursued Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson last spring, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Wilson could become available this offseason, but the Bears’ lack of a first-round pick in 2022 would constitute an obstacle to any kind of blockbuster deal.
All of this makes maximizing the Fields a top priority for the Bears as they look for their next general manager and coach. However, that may not be the only criterion, especially when choosing their coach. Too many NFL teams are dazzled by the pursuit of quarterback “gurus” without inspecting and examining candidates for skills such as leadership, organization, and emotional intelligence. But whoever takes these jobs should know that their success is likely to be tied to improvement from a young quarterback they played no part in drafting.