And just like that, we've already reached the end of the 2021 NFL preseason. The Bears will conclude their dress rehearsals Saturday night against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. While it's unknown as to how many starters will suit up, Andy Dalton won't be one of them. The team announced on Tuesday that rookie Justin Fields will start the game and play at least the first half.
Even though head coach Matt Nagy reaffirmed that Dalton will be the Week 1 starter on Tuesday, Fields will eventually take over. And with that understanding, the rookie needs to get every chance to show that he's ready to take over when his time comes. This weekend will give both Fields, and the team, the perfect chance to make that happen. So here are five reasons why making this decision was the right thing to do.
1. Andy Dalton
With Dalton publicly declared the Week 1 starter again, it makes sense to sit him for the final preseason game. He'll have plenty of time to rest and get ready for the season opener on "Sunday Night Football" out in Los Angeles against the Rams. It's hard to fully evaluate Dalton by what he's done this preseason because of issues with the offensive line and some key injuries, but Chicago already has a good idea about what Dalton brings to the table. He still has the big arm and some accuracy, but not much else beyond that. It's safe to say that his skills have declined as he's gotten older, but there's not much more development he needs — unlike Fields.
2. Give Fields the chance to prove himself
He's already worked with the starters in practice, so why not let him do it in a game? Why not let him do it when there's full contact with first-teamers? After the Miami game two weeks ago, Fields said he wants the game to speed up. Letting him start this weekend is a good way to make that happen. The coaching staff can use this game as an opportunity to display their full confidence in the rookie.
3. Fields has proven that the offense moves better with him
The 11th overall draft pick has already shown that he's a difference-maker for this team. Over the last two weeks, the Bears have scored 29 points with Fields under center, as opposed to just six with Dalton on the field. The Bears have picked up 17 first downs with Fields at the helm, while they've only picked up three with Dalton. Fields also adds another element to this offense with his ability to extend plays with his feet, avoid the pass rush in the pocket, and keep defenses guessing. Dalton does not have that capability. Those are just some of the reasons why many are eager for Fields to take over the starting job, even if it won't happen in Week 1.
4. The uncertain future of Nick Foles
Nagy said on Tuesday that Fields will play the first two quarters before giving way to Foles. Even though Foles will finish off the Bears' preseason action, there's no guarantee that he'll be with the team by Week 1. Foles' name has already come up in trade conversations (mainly tied to Indianapolis after Carson Wentz suffered a foot injury), and although he had his struggles last year, Foles is still capable of being a starter in this league. The problem is finding a potential fit for him because of his contract. Foles is guaranteed $4 million in base salary this season and another million in 2022. He also carries a $4 million roster bonus for the 2022 season. The reality is that it would cost the Bears more in cap space than salary to cut him, so a trade appears to be the only option. If Foles sticks around, he does give Chicago plenty of injury insurance, but it doesn't come cheap. Even though it's the preseason, it will be interesting to see how Foles fares compared to Fields on Saturday.
5. Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace want to hang onto their jobs
It's plain and simple: If head coach and general manager want to keep their current positions, they need to show that they're committed to Fields' growth and development and likewise they are the best people in their roles to help Fields reach his full potential. By starting Fields and sitting Dalton, this gives Nagy more hands-on time in preparation for Saturday's game while a strong showing from the rookie will help validate Pace's decision to trade up to get Fields in this year's draft.
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.