10:16 AM ET
Kevin SeifertESPN Staff Writer
- ESPN.com national NFL writer
- ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
- Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
When Matt Nagy took the Chicago Bears‘ coaching job in 2018, his top priority was to level up a quarterback who had struggled 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 couldn’t produce a consistent winner after inheriting Mitch Trubisky from predecessor John Fox, while Pace has been unable to solve the team’s quarterback position since he inherited Jay Cutler when the Bears hired him 2015. The Bears moved on from Trubisky last spring, but the struggles of his replacement — rookie Justin Fields — sealed the fate of both Nagy and Pace. And no matter whom the Bears hire to replace them, they will have little choice but to try to make it work with Fields.
You could make the argument 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 drafted Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, ahead of Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes.) That the Bears went 25-13 in games Trubisky started under Nagy could be viewed as a resume booster, not an argument to fire him.
Eleven of those victories came in their first season together, when Nagy introduced an offense that limited Trubisky’s responsibilities and sprinkled in a series of innovative formations and playcalls to score points. That model proved unsustainable in the long term, however, and the Bears’ efforts to stack veteran backups who could rescue a playoff team if needed — Chase Daniels and Nick Foles among them — were not effective.
Even so, Trubisky was in many ways better in his rookie season of 2017 than Fields was in 2021. By the eye test, Fields turned in one of the NFL’s worst performances by a quarterback all season. By 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 bad 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 statistic was conceived in 2006. (Trubisky’s rookie QBR of 33.3 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 at No. 1 overall a year after selecting Josh Rosen (24.1 QBR) at No. 10 overall. It was only the second time in modern draft history a team had drafted a quarterback in the first round in consecutive years.
Why couldn’t the Bears do the same thing for Nagy’s successor, with a record that would put them in the top 10 of the 2022 draft? Because part of their deal to move up and draft Fields was giving up their 2022 first-round pick to the New York Giants. There are plenty of reasons why teams almost never move on from first-round quarterbacks after one season, from salary cap management to scarcity to pride, but the Bears don’t have the draft assets to replace Fields even if their new coach doesn’t want him.
The Bears’ history at the position is no secret. They’re the only franchise never to have a 4,000-yard passer, and it’s not for lack of trying. Their 37 starters at the position since 1989 is tied for the second most in the NFL over 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 2022 first-round pick would pose a hurdle for any kind of blockbuster deal.
All of which makes maximizing Fields a top priority for the Bears as they search for their next general manager and coach. It can’t be the only criteria, however, especially in selecting their coach. Too many NFL teams are blinded by pursuit of quarterback “gurus,” without inspecting and vetting candidates for skills such as leadership, organization and emotional intelligence. But whomever takes these jobs should know their success will likely be tied to improvement from a young quarterback they played no role in drafting.