We Cannot Yet Pass Judgement on Justin Fields

Through four games this season, Justin Fields has not been good.

The Bears are 2-2, but it has not been because of Fields.

He is currently 23-45 passing on the season, completing just 57% of his throws. He has 2 TDs and 4 INTs, and some of those INTs have been really ugly. He’s got just a 50 passer rating and a 23 QBR–and QBR is skewed toward QBs who can run, too. Yikes.

His sack rate is through the roof at 19%. He’s already been sacked 16 times in just four games. The thing is, while his line is terrible, some of those sacks are his fault for holding the ball too long. He looks hesitant to throw, and he looks overwhelmed out there.

I thought he would be the second-best QB of the 2021 class behind Trevor Lawrence. I had him ranked ahead of Lance, ahead of Wilson and ahead of Mac Jones. Thus far, the only QB out of that draft class that looks special is T-Law. And that really shouldn’t be surprise as he was a generational prospect.

But I thought Justin Fields was as well. He’s a big dude (6’3″, 230lbs), he’s fast as hell (ran a 4.44 forty-yard dash), he has a cannon for an arm, and he’s a great dude and teammate. He has everything you’d want in a quarterback.

Trevor Lawrence really looks to have “taken the leap” this year after a rough rookie season. You can credit that to Doug Pederson if you want, but give Lawrence some credit, too.

We have not seen that leap from Justin Fields.

Unfortunately, he just needs the proper guidance to turn his talent and potential into production. He hasn’t gotten it from the Bears.

This is about where I am with him:

It’s hard to add much more than that. Other than this from Dan Orlovsky, which I think is spot-on:

As a Bears fan, it’s tough to admit that basically we are the team where QB talent goes to waste away. But it just seems like no quarterback can or will ever succeed in Chicago. You can say the Bears have just had really, really bad luck with quarterbacks, but I don’t know if that’s the case. Justin Fields has talent, the Bears just can’t develop him. They haven’t given him an offensive line, he doesn’t have pass-catchers that can get open–this stuff matters. QBs can’t do it all.

They always seem to have a defensive-minded head coach and an archaic offense. And when they get an offensive-minded head coach, he’s either fraudulent or saddled with a quarterback who is legitimately just not a great talent. Like consider Mitch Trubisky vs. Justin Fields. Is there any debate over which guy is a better quarterback prospect? It’s clearly Justin Fields even though the Bears took Trubisky #2 overall in the 2017 vs. Fields at #11 overall in 2021. Fields is the superior QB talent.

The Bears hired Matt Nagy to develop Trubisky, and Nagy was an offensive-minded coach, but Nagy couldn’t turn Mitch into a high quality NFL quarterback. Maybe that was because Nagy was a fraud, or maybe it was because Mitch Trubisky simply wasn’t good. He did not look good in his starts with the Steelers; he’s already been benched. But then again, Matt Nagy didn’t get any head coaching looks after being fired by the Bears. So maybe him and Mitch were both bad.

But still: it just feels like the Bears are a franchise stuck in 1985; they don’t know how to build a modern NFL offense, and they are completely incapable of getting the QB position right. It feels like they’ve been trying to replicate the magic of the 1985 team for the past 37 years, when what they need to be doing is bringing the franchise into the 21st century. They are still the only franchise in the NFL that has never once had a quarterback pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season.

Think about that. From 1978, when the NFL moved from a 14-game schedule to a 16-game schedule, through 2020, the Bears had not one single 4,000 yard passer at QB. Every other franchise had at least one quarterback to throw for 4,000+ yards in a season.

And Fields will not break the streak anytime soon because the Bears just have no idea how to build a competent offense. It’s ingrained in the organizational culture–they are stuck in 1985. They haven’t the faintest idea how to build a modern NFL team.

The Bears haven’t been able to protect Fields, and they have not been able to get him weapons that can get open–it’s just pathetic

If you don’t think weapons make a difference, just look at the difference between Aaron Rodgers this year and last year. This year, the Packers are struggling through just about every game (except for their game against the Bears, lol). They barely beat the Patriots, they barely beat the Bucs (when the Bucs were missing basically all their receivers), and they got whooped pretty good by Minnesota. It’s a grind for them on offense now without Davante Adams. They are not picking up first downs easily; it’s hard for them to move the ball down the field this season.

And that’s with Aaron Rodgers at QB. If even Aaron Rodgers has tough sledding without elite weapons, what do you think it’s like for a young QB like Fields? It’s almost impossible.

There are a lot of franchises in the NFL that have failed to get the QB position right consistently. But pretty much all of them except for the Bears have, by this point, gotten it right at long last. The Browns now have DeShaun Watson and assuming he’s still the same player, they now have A Real QB. The Jags, who have had decent QBs throughout their history (Mark Brunell, Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, Blake Bortles for that one season), now have Trevor Lawrence, who looks to be A Real QB.

The Bears still have never gotten it right.

Look at every other franchise and they’ve basically all had at least one legit, franchise-caliber quarterbacks during the Super Bowl era. There are very few exceptions:

  • Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are an interesting team. Kurt Warner took them to a Super Bowl and almost won it in 2008, but he did not play a majority of his career with the Cardinals (61 games). Carson Palmer got them to an NFC Championship game in 2015 but he came to Arizona when he was 34 and played out his final 5 seasons there. Kyler is arguably a franchise QB. I know he’s not an elite QB, but I think he qualifies as a legit QB. You could honestly say the Cardinals are another franchise with terrible QB luck, but I think they’ve been undeniably better than the Bears. Plus, while Kyler isn’t perfect, he is their guy right now and nobody is really talking about moving off him.
  • Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan, Mike Vick. Obviously things ended badly with Vick, but they got Matt Ryan almost immediately after Vick got sent to prison. Matt Ryan won an MVP and had them up 28-3 in the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan is a franchise QB.
  • Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson has obviously won an MVP. Joe Flacco is the quintessential “Is he elite or not?” quarterback, but he led them to a Super Bowl Championship and won Super Bowl MVP, and then they gave him a huge contract. I wouldn’t consider him an elite QB, but I would consider him a franchise guy just from the perspective of the majority of the fanbase was probably more or less happy with him as QB for most of his time in Baltimore. I think that’s the standard we’re looking for here: are the fans happy with you, or do they want to move off of you?
  • Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen, Jim Kelly. The Bills went 22 years between Jim Kelly and Josh Allen, but both guys are undeniably franchise QBs.
  • Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton won an MVP and led them to a Super Bowl. He was absolutely a franchise QB during his time in Carolina. The questionable guy is Jake Delhomme. He quarterbacked the Panthers from 2003-2009 and even led them to a Super Bowl appearance. He had a 53-37 record, the highest win percentage of any Panthers QB ever. He had 120 TD passes vs. 89 interceptions, which isn’t bad. I don’t think I would say Jake Delhomme is a franchise QB, but he has somewhat of an argument.
  • Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler, Jim McMahon. Could you even categorize Jay Cutler as a franchise QB, though? He went 51-51 during his time in Chicago. He had the Bears in the NFC Championship Game in 2010, but there was always a sizable subset of the fanbase that couldn’t stand him. Jim McMahon was another guy who was arguably a franchise QB, but at the same time, everyone knows it was the defense that carried the Bears in the 1980s. McMahon was an awesome personlity, but he only completed 57.8% of his passes, and he was never considered among the best QBs of his era. He was never compared guys like Montana, Marino, Elway and Dan Fouts. This list I found had him as the 18th best QB of the 1980s. But Jay Cutler and Jim McMahon are the two best QBs the Bears have had in the Super Bowl era.
  • Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, Ken Anderson. Burrow is the first Bengals QB since Anderson who is a legitimate star QB. Dalton was steady and solid and always had the Bengals in the playoffs, but nobody ever considered him a star. Palmer was similar, although probably better than Dalton.
  • Cleveland Browns: Bernie Kosar, Brian Sipe, now they have DeShaun Watson although he’s not yet played a game for them. The Browns, if they never got Watson, would be in the running with the Bears for the worst history with QBs in NFL history. But then again, I would still say that Bernie Kosar was more of a franchise QB than anyone the Bears have ever had, even if he wasn’t widely recognized as a great QB. He still had the Browns in the playoffs consistently–7 times in the 1980s the Browns were in the playoffs (although two of those appearances were with Sipe).
  • Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo, Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach. Even Danny White, the guy who took over after Roger Staubach retired in 1980, had a 62-30 record as a starter over 8 seasons and made a Pro Bowl in 1982. Dak Prescott is one of those guys who is technically a franchise QB, but I think it’s also at the same time debatable. Like he’s really famous, but is he actually that good? I personally don’t think so; I don’t have him as a top-10 QB and I don’t think you can win a Super Bowl with him. So honestly I would leave him off this list. But the bottom line is that the Cowboys have had a pretty solid history of starting QBs. No
  • Denver Broncos: Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, John Elway. The Broncos have had good quarterbacks throughout their history. There was a bit of a rough patch in the 2000s between Elway and Peyton, but they had a guy named Jake Plummer and he was pretty decent. In fact, Plummer got them to the AFC Championship Game in 2005.
  • Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford is a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, but his time in Detroit was unsuccessful. They only made the playoffs twice with him. But I think most people pretty much knew Stafford was good, he was just in a horrible situation. Other than Stafford, the Lions haven’t had a good QB since Bobby Layne in the 1950s. But Stafford is still a much better quarterback than anyone the Bears have ever had in the Super Bowl era.
  • Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Bart Starr. Not much more to say here.
  • Houston Texans: DeShaun Watson. The Texans only had Watson a few years, and they’ve only been in business since 2002. But Watson is still better than anyone the Bears have ever had.
  • Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars: T-Law. Jury is still out on him but he looks to be taking the leap this season and it feels like he’s going to be leading that team for a long time.
  • Kansas City Chiefs: Mahomes, Len Dawson. The Chiefs also had Alex Smith for a few years and he went 50-26 as a starter there. Trent Green in the 2000s, who a lot of people forget about, made two Pro Bowls while he was quarterbacking the Chiefs. Obviously there’s a big gap between guys like Alex Smith and Trent Green vs. Patrick Mahomes, but again–both guys are better than anything the Bears have ever had. And obviously the Bears have never had anyone even close to the level of Patrick Mahomes, or even Len Dawson for that matter.
  • Las Vegas Raiders: Rich Gannon, Kenny Stabler. Derek Carr is arguably a franchise QB, kind of like right on the cusp. He’s led them to the playoffs twice in his career, but they haven’t won any games. I think I’d leave him off the list, honestly. But Rich Gannon won MVP in 2001.
  • Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert, Philip Rivers, Dan Fouts. No Super Bowls but they’ve been competent at QB most of the time.
  • Los Angeles Rams: Matthew Stafford, Kurt Warner. Franchise QBs have been few and far between for the Rams, but both those guys won Super Bowls for them. You could argue Marc Bulger during the 2000s was a franchise QB (I just remember he was 90+ overall in Madden at least a few times) but he ultimately had a record of just 41-54 with the team, so I’m leaving him off the list.
  • Miami Dolphins: Dan Marino, Bob Griese. Still too early to tell on Tua. Hoping he makes a full recovery from his concussions and that it doesn’t affect him long-term.
  • Minnesota Vikings: Fran Tarkenton never won a Super Bowl, but he got Minnesota there several times. The Vikings haven’t really had a long-term answer at QB since Tarkenton, but they’ve had some pretty decent QBs step in over the years: Daunte Culpepper for a while, Randall Cunningham in the late 1990s that year they went 15-1, Brett Favre got them to an NFC Championship in 2009, and now they have Kirk Cousins.
  • New England Patriots: Tom Brady. Six Super Bowl Championships. Enough said.
  • New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, Archie Manning. Bobby Hebert was decent in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Saints were really bad for a very long time prior to the mid-2000s. But they got 15+ years of Drew Brees and he got them a Super Bowl.
  • New York Giants: Eli Manning, of course, led them to two Super Bowls. But their other two Super Bowls came with Phil Simms at the helm. Nobody’s mistaking Phil Simms for Dan Marino, and those 1980s Giants teams that won Super Bowls were largely driven by that Bill Belichick defense, but Simms was still good enough to compile a 95-64 record over 15 seasons in New York. Giants QB history still clears the Bears by a mile.
  • New York Jets: Joe Namath, Vinny Testaverde, Mark Sanchez. Okay, the Jets are right up there with the Bears. 100%. People hear Joe Namath and think he’s an all-time great, but go look at his stats. He is not an all-time great quarterback statistically. He just played in New York and won a Super Bowl, and that’s why people think he’s great. He’s a big personality who wears a fur coat. If Joe Namath played in Minnesota he’d be a nobody. I think the Jets still clear the Bears in terms of QBs, but not by much. You could even argue they’re just as bad as the Bears. I wouldn’t fight you on that.
  • Philadelphia Eagles: Donovan McNabb, Randall Cunningham, and now it looks like Jalen Hurts is indeed a franchise quarterback. No true elite-level QBs, but way more competent than the Bears.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben, Terry Bradshaw, Kordell Stewart, Neil O’Donnell.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Joe Montana, Steve Young.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Matt Hasselbeck, Dave Krieg. Dave Krieg is a QB from the 1980s that is largely forgotten today outside of Seattle, but he quarterbacked the team from 1980-1991 and had a 70-49 record.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady. Look, the Bucs would be right there in the running with the Bears on the list of worst QB luck if the cut-off date was 2019. But they got the GOAT in 2020, and he immediately led them to a Super Bowl. Even if Brady retires after this season and was only there for three season, the fact that Tampa has had the greatest quarterback of all-time and won a Super Bowl with him immediately disqualifies them from consideration. Even if the Bucs had horrible QB luck going all the way back to the founding of the franchise in 1976, the fact that they got Tom Brady while he was still playing at an elite level, they can’t be considered alongside the Bears. Bears fans would kill to have three years of Prime Tom Brady–every team would.
  • Tennessee Titans: Steve McNair, Warren Moon back in the ’80s (when they were the Houston Oilers, before the move to Nashville). Tannehill has won them some games in recent years, but the Titans have not had anyone truly stellar at QB, but they’ve had decent stability at least. Steve McNair had them an inch away from winning a Super Bowl. By no means have the Titans been blessed at QB like the Packers have been, but they probably clear the Bears at least marginally.
  • Washington Commanders: Joe Theismann, Mark Rypien, Kirk Cousins. Better than the Bears, let’s just say that.

Teams like the Jets, the Jags, the Browns, the Lions and the Titans have not have great luck at QB over the course of the past 50-55 years, but I really believe the Bears have had worse luck than all of them.

Have they been bad at picking them? Absolutely.

But they have done next to nothing through the years to actually help their QBs succeed. I’m not going to go into a list of every team in the league to compare the Bears’ historical wide receivers to other teams, but let me just leave you with this list of the receiving yard leaders in franchise history, and you tell me if it looks like the Bears have come anywhere close to putting their QBs in position to succeed:

Four of the guys in the top-10 played prior to 1967 (Morris, Hill, Ditka, Kavanaugh). Two of the guys on this list are running backs (Walter Payton, Matt Forte). That leaves the following guys as the best wide receivers in Bears franchise history: Alshon Jeffrey, Curtis Conway, Marty Booker and Willie Gault. And Alshon Jeffrey had his best years in Philly. I would also add Brandon Marshall and Allen Robinson into that group, but neither was in Chicago very long.

The Bears actually drafted Greg Olsen back in 2007 with a first round pick, and then got rid of him in 2010, shipping him off to Carolina where he put together a borderline Hall of Fame career.

This is what I mean when I say the Bears have not done much to help their quarterbacks out. Maybe they’ve picked some busts over the years, but when the four greatest wide receivers in your franchise’s history are Alshon Jeffrey, Curtis Conway, Marty Booker, Willie Gault and Brandon Marshall, how can you ever expect any quarterback to succeed?

And so tying back to Justin Fields, like Orlovsky said, the Bears’ best receiver is Darnell Mooney. He’s a nice player, but he’s a #3 receiver. He’s not a #1. Justin Fields has basically nobody to throw to.

I’ll admit, once I saw CJ Stroud lighting it up at Ohio State last year, I started to worry about Fields. I thought to myself, “Maybe it’s the system at Ohio State. Because this Stroud kid looks even better than Fields as a passer.” That’s the thing that scares me.

I’m not giving up on Fields because he has a lot of talent, and he’s a great dude, but as much as I’d like to say it’s all the Bears coaching staff’s fault for not developing, some of it has to be on him. He’s got to be better. He admitted he played like “trash” against Houston two weeks ago.

I hope he can get it together here because the Bears cannot afford another bust at QB. It’s been over 70 years of pain and suffering for Bears fans with the exception of the 1985 season.

The Bears have been in the QB wilderness since Sid Luckman, who played during World War II. Justin Fields has to work. He just has to.

But I don’t see how any QB can work in this situation.

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