By Michael Fitzpatrick
The simple answer as to what constitutes a successful 2021 for the Chicago Bears is making the playoffs. If they were able to do it with little to no quarterback play in 2020, Matt Nagy’s team should be expecting at least a playoff berth in 2021. If Aaron Rodgers really does end up leaving Green Bay, then anything less than winning the NFC North would seem disappointing for Chicago.
The Bears have one of the oldest rosters in the league, and the defense, especially, is getting old fast. The window to compete is nearly shut in Chicago. The Bears aren’t good enough to win a Super Bowl this year, but wasting a year and missing the postseason shouldn’t be acceptable, either.
There are other measures of success in 2021 for the Bears, too. The biggest one would be the offense improving. That would entail Cole Kmet, David Montgomery, and Darnell Mooney all taking steps forward, which would be a great sign for the future. It would also likely mean success at the quarterback position. Sometimes it seems that every discussion about the Bears comes back to the quarterback, but when a franchise has failed so miserably at one position for so long, it’s hard to look past it. Chicago seems insistent on Andy Dalton being the starter to begin the season, but regardless of how he does, the focus will be on rookie Justin Fields all day, every day.
Throughout the Bears’ tortured quarterbacking history, they have never had anyone with talent even remotely resembling Fields’. He can throw the ball all over the yard while also being one of the fastest guys on the field. He’s a special talent. The Ohio State product seemed ready for the NFL throughout his college career, but there are still a few areas where he could benefit from some teaching. He held the ball too long at times, which could be especially problematic playing behind a Bears offensive line that is rather inexperienced. Fields also has to adjust to reading NFL defenses. Even though the pre-draft narrative that he couldn’t go through his progressions was disproven, NFL coverages are so much more complicated than anything he saw at Ohio State, and that will take time to master.
There’s a fine line that Chicago has to walk between doing everything they can to get in the postseason and making sure Fields is set up for success. The Bears would hate to do what the Bengals did to Joe Burrow last year and throw their promising rookie into the fire with absolutely no help or way to rescue him. Walking that line is really the overarching goal for the Bears in 2021. Competing is important with an aging roster, but giving Fields everything he needs to blossom into the superstar and franchise savior that he can be is just as important, if not more.
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