Because I’m in the business of offering unsolicited advice and because I’m such a giving person, I thought I’d bestow guidance on the Bears and the Packers today. A twofer tip: Shut down your starting quarterbacks for the rest of the season.
The Bears should give the beaten-up Justin Fields the rest of the season off so he can get healthy and stay healthy, which is a nice way of saying “so he doesn’t end up checking into the Motel Deep 6.”
The Packers should tell the injured, struggling Aaron Rodgers that, although he has had a fabulous career and very well could go back to being fabulous next season, the franchise needs to find out if Jordan Love can play. Now.
The 4-8 Packers have a small chance of making the playoffs, the chance based on their going 5-0 down the stretch, on teams ahead of them in the postseason picture faltering, and on Mars and Jupiter getting together and having a baby planet named Fred. The Bears’ chances are even slimmer.
The longtime rivals play Sunday for all the … OK, for maybe one marble. Pride.
Fields, who didn’t play against the Jets last week, was limited in practice Wednesday. Rodgers said he plans on playing Sunday, despite a broken thumb.
If we agree that Fields is the Bears’ future, then we can agree that the most important thing is to make sure he has a future. His separated left (non-throwing) shoulder means that offensive coordinator Luke Getsy can’t afford to let him do what he does best: run with the football. That means he’ll be a neon target in the pocket. As much as I want to find out if Fields can be more than a running quarterback, as much as I want to find out if he can sling the ball with precision, this is a recipe for disaster.
The other reason for sitting him is one that has been repeated until its proponents are navy blue in the face: This is a rebuilding franchise that should be striving for the highest first-round slot in next year’s draft. The Texans, the front-runners, have one victory. The Bears are one of three teams with three victories. In order to win in the draft, you do what you have to do to lose on the field.
This comes at a cost for anyone looking for trace amounts of excellence out of the Bears. Removing Fields from the equation means leaving us with Sundays devoid of panache. But that’s what you sign up for when you agree a rebuild is the best way to get from Point Awful to Point Brilliant.
Fields needs to get a lot better at going through his progressions, and the offensive line needs to get a lot better at pass blocking. This is not the time for on-the-job training. This is the time for Fields to be bubble-wrapped and shelved. Unwrap him when general manager Ryan Poles finds the kid some help and protection.
Rodgers turns 39 Friday. He didn’t act his age the previous two seasons, winning back-to-back league MVP awards. Now he looks like a country singer who’s been tied to the back of a tour bus and dragged down dirt roads. The broken thumb surely has affected his play. So has below-average talent around him.
It’s a tricky spot for the Packers, who are paying Rodgers $42 million this season and will pay him $59.5 million next season. He’s one of the best players in NFL history. How do you give him the utmost respect and ask him if he’d step aside for a bit? How do you do what’s best for the franchise without doing a legend wrong?
It’s a cold business. Rodgers knows this, having taken advantage of that chill when the Packers chose him over an aging Brett Favre. Now with Rodgers nearing the end of his career, Green Bay has to find out if Love is the answer. It would be malfeasance to simply assume he is without giving him more game action. Since the Packers used their 2020 first-round pick on Love, he has thrown 80 passes. His one start came when Rodgers, despite being “immunized” against COVID-19, somehow came down with it.
That’s not a large sample size of a young quarterback. It’s a sip, a nibble, a toe in the water. Rodgers very well could be the Packers’ starter next season, but the team has to have a plan in place for the day he’s gone. Is Love part of the plan? Should the Packers pay him in a few years? How would anyone know right now?
Fields and Rodgers, two quarterbacks on different poles of their careers, are joined together by a strong desire to play Sunday. Somebody besides me should tell them they need a long rest.