When the Bears made their decision to make Justin Fields their starter going forward, it’s obviously very exciting. Fans, players, coaches, front office members一 practically everyone in the Greater Chicagoland Area and around the NFL wants to see how the first-round draft pick will develop and perform now that he’s leading the offense.
But for the Bears, it’s a bittersweet moment, because moving on to Fields means moving on from Andy Dalton. Forget X’s and O’s for a second. Football teams spend so much time together, they’re practically a second family. During the regular season they probably spend more time with their teammates and coaches than they do with their real families. So there’s a human element that colors the feelings surrounding these decisions.
“When you have to have these conversations with these guys that you are with every day and you build these relationships, I’m just going to be completely honest and real with you, man, it’s hard,” Matt Nagy said. “It’s not easy.”
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By all accounts, Dalton has been a consummate teammate ever since he arrived at Halas Hall. He didn’t complain publicly when the Bears drafted Fields, knowing that was a possibility. Instead he took Fields under his wing. In practice, and on gameday, he provided stability leading the offense, too. So Nagy made it clear this decision to change quarterbacks had more to do with Fields, and less to do with Dalton.
“Let's not forget how Andy was playing,” Nagy said. “We had some drives that were going on against a Rams defense that first week where they really try not to give you a lot of deep shots. And then the second game against Cincy, Andy was moving the ball pretty well, got a touchdown and was going down for another one and got hurt.”
So it’s not surprising that Dalton was disappointed to hear that he had lost his job. It’s understandable even, given the fact that he’d lost it because he got hurt at an inopportune time. But what’s not a given is how Dalton handled the news, after dealing with his initial disappointment.
“Some people don’t have this, Andy has it,” Nagy said. “When you are told that news, you are allowed to feel how you want to feel. Some people don’t have that next level where they can still be a great teammate and great person. Is it easy for him right now? No… that’s normal. You are allowed to feel that way. One thing that he has earned from me and our coaches is a hell of a lot of respect, because that guy is a freaking stud. I’m so glad he is on our team and I appreciate the way he understood it and the way he handled it but he also cares immensely about this team and I appreciate that.”
Dalton went as far as to call Fields to reassure him that Dalton’s disappointment wouldn’t affect the way treats Fields in meetings, in practice, or interpersonally.
“He just told me it was a great opportunity for me and that he'd be here for it all, for everything I needed,” Fields said. “He just didn’t want it to be awkward. He didn’t want our relationship to change because of the situation. So I told him that was very comforting to hear from him. I think our relationship has just grown over the past few months. And it’s going to continue to grow each and every day. Nick and Andy, they’ve both been great to me. They’ve taught me a lot and of course I’m going to be leaning on those guys for the rest of the season to just learn as much as I can from them.”
“I can’t say enough good things about Andy Dalton,” Nagy said. “I’ve been around a lot of special people — guys that have done things the right way. You look at this situation and he’s … I really think that he was playing well for us. I love the type of teammate that he is and continues to be.
“He’s as good as they get, really I mean that.”