LAKE FOREST, Ill. — It’s not an overstatement to call quarterback Justin Fields’ arrival in Chicago the city’s most celebrated sports moment since the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.
The Bears — almost universally panned for their spotty Day 1 draft record over the past decade — administered a shot of adrenaline to the fan base when they pulled off a draft-night blockbuster trade with the New York Giants in order to move up nine spots and select Fields 11th overall.
Fields is no Mitchell Trubisky, who sat on the bench at North Carolina for years until a very good junior season (the 8-5 Tar Heels lost the Sun Bowl to Stanford in Trubisky’s final collegiate game) convinced the Bears to take him with the second pick in 2017.
Rather, Fields played at Ohio State — one of the nation’s preeminent college football powerhouses.
In two seasons as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, Fields passed for 63 touchdowns with nine interceptions as Ohio State went 20-2, won two Big Ten Championships and made two College Football Playoff appearances. Fields, a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns in a brilliant semifinal performance against Clemson.
The resume checked every box, at least for the Bears.
“It’s the arm talent, it’s the accuracy, it’s the athleticism,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said of Fields. “When you see a guy with that kind of arm talent, with that kind of quarterback makeup that he has, with that kind of work ethic that he has, that’s played in really big games and really big moments and performed in big moments, that’s extremely tough.
“You know, I was at the Michigan game a couple years ago when he came back in from a knee, and we know about the ribs and the hip, and this guy’s toughness on a scale of 1-10 is an 11. And you just love that about him. Oh, and then, by the way, he runs a 4.44. You throw all that in together and it just feels good.”
The wisdom behind the Fields pick is undeniable — the Bears have been without a true franchise quarterback for 70-plus years — but what happens next is up for debate.
Fields is Chicago’s quarterback of the future. No controversy there. The same held true for Trubisky when the Bears drafted him four years ago.
The sticky part is when to play a quarterback, if at all, during their rookie season.
Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton‘s time in Chicago is likely to be brief — he signed for one-year, $10 million — but Dalton can still provide the Bears with a valuable service.
The Bears and coach Matt Nagy want to follow the blueprint from Kansas City, where former league MVP and Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes sat almost his entire first season behind veteran Alex Smith. The belief is Dalton can be Smith, but with red hair.
“You look at a guy like Andy Dalton and his experience and the time he’s seen, that part is extremely similar to Alex at the same point in their career, where Andy has seen every defense made to man, he’s watched a lot of tape,” said Nagy, who served as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Mahomes’ rookie season. “He’s seen a lot of different schemes that people throw at him. He’s been in playoff games. He’s done a lot of things the right way. So how great is that for a young rookie to come on in and learn from a guy like him and Nick Foles.
“And so the timing element of Justin, you know, we will know and there’s some observations from all of us as coaches every single day, and just like we would tell any quarterback, when you come in here, you do everything you can to be the best quarterback that you could be, whether it’s in the meeting room or whether it’s in practice, and everything else will take care of itself. … I promise you every single person will know including Justin when it’s the right time and that’s naturally how it happens.”
You understand the Bears cautious tone when it pertains to Fields’ readiness.
“Andy is our starter, and we’re going to have a really good plan in place to develop Justin and do what’s best for our organization and win games,” Pace said.
Pace and the Bears were badly burned in Trubisky’s first year by Mike Glennon, the veteran quarterback the team added (and guaranteed $18.5 million) before the draft to be their 2017 starter. Even after taking Trubisky as high as they did, the Bears’ plan was for Glennon to be the starting quarterback for most of, if not all of, Trubisky’s rookie year. The plan changed when Glennon bombed and Chicago installed Trubisky in Week 5.
The rest is history.
Perhaps Trubisky’s fate would have been the same even had he sat on the bench his entire rookie year. Nevertheless, there is no denying Trubisky was not ready when the Bears turned to him, and some of those early career limitations never improved over time.
Dalton is a much better quarterback than Glennon.
To compare Dalton to Alex Smith circa 2017, though, is a stretch. That’s the conundrum.
People forget the great run Smith enjoyed in Kansas City. Smith passed for 4,042 yards, 26 touchdowns, five interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 104.7 in his final season with the Chiefs. No wonder Kansas City felt good about keeping Mahomes in a backup role until the end of the season.
Before the draft, Bears fans complained about the Dalton signing, but since the Fields pick, the Dalton move has largely been forgotten.
It should not be.
The key to the Bears’ future, ironically enough, is in Dalton’s hands. The longer he keeps Fields on the sideline, the better off the Bears may be.
Pittsburgh Steelers release guard David DeCastro, agree to terms with Trai Turner
DeCastro was released with a non-football injury designation.
The Steelers later agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner on a one-year deal, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The 31-year-old DeCastro has been battling ankle issues and is evaluating whether surgery is required, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, adding that retirement is a strong option for him.
He didn’t participate in minicamp recently. When asked a week ago about DeCastro, coach Mike Tomlin said, “If I thought injury circumstances or reasons why people were not participating were significant, I would share them with you.”
DeCastro was in the final year of his contract with a $14.2 million cap hit. Releasing him saves the Steelers $8.75 million in cap space. He was the Steelers’ first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2012 draft.
“David was without a doubt one of the premier offensive linemen during his time with us,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement. “He helped us win a lot of football games, but it was David’s consistency, reliability and professionalism that stood out more than anything else. We wish him the best moving forward in his career.”
DeCastro missed the first two games of 2020 with lingering knee issues but appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s final 14 games.
With DeCastro’s release, the Steelers will have one returning starter on the offensive line: Chukwuma Okorafor, who is likely moving from last season’s spot on the right side to left tackle. Kevin Dotson also started for DeCastro a few times last season, but he’s slated to be the left guard.
The Los Angeles Chargers released Turner in March after first attempting to trade him. Turner, 28, was limited to nine games last season because of a groin injury, but he said recently he was “back at 100 percent.”
Turner had no guaranteed money left on a four-year, $45 million extension he signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2017.
Turner was selected to five Pro Bowls in his first six NFL seasons. Chosen in the third round of the 2014 draft by Carolina, he has played in 93 career games with 89 starts.
ESPN’s Brooke Pryor and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
San Francisco 49ers’ George Kittle says tight ends ‘do everything,’ deserve respect
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle feels it’s time to put some respect on his position. That’s why he made it a point to gather 49 NFL tight ends together for this week’s Tight End University.
The program, which Kittle is conducting along with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and former tight end Greg Olsen, began Wednesday and will continue through Friday in Nashville.
“100% it does,” Kittle told ESPN when asked if the way his position is being undervalued bothers him. “I think TE is the most unique and diverse position. It’s the most fun position because it’s the only one on the field where you get to do everything that a football player does. You run block, you pass pro, you get to run routes and catch the football. We do everything!”
Kittle said his position deserves a little more recognition, given how players such as himself, Kelce and others have become focal points of NFL offenses.
The group of tight ends at TEU got to share trade secrets in hopes of collectively helping each other sharpen their playmaking ability. The summit offered on-the-field workouts, film-study sessions and some evening activities.
“I’m a big believer that you surround yourself with good people which brings the best out of you. We’re sharing our strategy with guys. Our mindsets, how you approach the game. All of this is for the tight end position to take a step forward. I’m excited that we have such a great group of guys,” Kittle said.
Alternate helmet approved by NFL for use with throwback uniforms in 2022, sources say
The NFL on Thursday approved that teams can wear alternate helmets with their throwback uniforms starting in 2022, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Teams have been limited to one helmet since 2013, when the rule was put in place for safety reasons.
According to ProFootballTalk, the second helmet could also be used with an alternate or Color Rush uniform.
But allowing an additional helmet design would likely be most popular with throwback looks, which could include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ white helmet with an orange buccaneer logo, the New England Patriots‘ Pat Patriot look and the Tennessee Titans‘ Oilers throwback.
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