Barring the long-shot acquisition of disgruntled quarterbacks Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was unlikely to get a sure-fire upgrade from Mitch Trubisky/Nick Foles in free agency this year.
So why Andy Dalton? The former Bengals quarterback has been a starter for nine seasons in the NFL, but he’s been below average in four seasons since last making the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2016 — ranking 18th in 2017 (86.6), 26th in 2018 (89.6), 32nd in 2019 (78.3) and 25th last season with the Cowboys (87.3).
“Obviously his experience — he’s a nine-year starter,” Pace said. “He’s been to three Pro Bowls; a lot of leadership with Andy Dalton; decision-making; he’s won a lot of games in this league. Andy’s been a durable player — I think that’s something that’s understated.”
Pace also pointed to Dalton’s 64.9 completion percentage in 2020 with the Cowboys — his best percentage since his career-best 66.1% in 2015, when he was second in the NFL in passer rating (106.2).
But other than that, Dalton is long removed from that career year. What it seems to have come down to was Dalton’s fit for Matt Nagy’s offense.
“Andy really fits our style of offense,” Pace said. “When you go through it with our scouts and coaches, he can handle the drop-back game, he can handle the RPOs, the play-actions, the movements. Ad we just felt, as we went through those free-agent quarterbacks, he’s one of the more complete quarterbacks we evaluated in free agency. And we’re excited to have him.”
Pace confirmed that Dalton will go into the 2021 season as the Bears’ starter, regardless of whether he acquires a quarterback in the draft. And coach Matt Nagy said he will take over play-calling duties after giving them to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in Week 10 against the Vikings last season — even though Dalton has previous experience with Lazor calling plays for him with the Bengals.
Nagy said the better fit relates to offensive scheme, but didn’t want to get into details, in part because he didn’t want to denigrate Mitch Trubisky or Foles.
“Some things will be a little bit different,” Nagy said. “There’s going to be some things that Andy likes that Mitch and Nick hated, and vice-versa. But we’re going to work together to figure out what that is. So as a personnel department — as Ryan as the GM, myself as the head coach and a coaching staff — when you through free agency and look at everybody that’s available, it was really a consensus for us to get Andy in here.”
The signing of Dalton — especially considering his recent mediocrity — is a tacit rebuke of not only the drafting of Trubisky, but the signing of Foles as a potential starter last season.
Foles struggled in nine games (seven starts) last season — an 80.8 passer rating (10 touchdowns, eight interceptions). He had a difficult circumstances — facing four top-10 defenses as the Bears’ offensive line was crumbling. But that wasn’t enough of a mitigating factor for the Bears to not look for an upgrade.
Coming off misses with Mike Glennon in free agency and Trubisky in the draft prior to Nagy’s arrival, Foles’ failure as an acquisition with Nagy in place — plus Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo — is particularly dubious for Pace. But neither Pace nor Nagy was interested in discussing that in detail.
“I think every year is a little bit different and there [are] different whys behind all of it,” Nagy said. “When you look at the way things went last year, it took us a little bit with the change that we made of starting Nick [in Week 4] and then going back to Mitch. And within there, there were some things that went on.
“We feel like this is the best for us as an organization right now, and things are always fluid every year and this is where we’re at right now and we’re excited about it. Nick understands where we’re at. Andy understands where we’re at. Our coaches know — Ryan, myself, and that’s kind of where we’re at right now. There’s just a process to it.”