(670 The Score) After making a memorable phone call to quarterback Justin Fields, Bears coach Matt Nagy had another number to dial Thursday evening. He called veteran Andy Dalton, and a plan began to take shape.
Nagy informed Dalton that he was still the Bears' starting quarterback after the team traded up to No. 11 overall in the first round of the NFL Draft to land Fields, the Ohio State star.
"He handled it as a true pro," Nagy said of Dalton.
The Bears' phone call to Dalton was part of how they plan to handle this quarterback transition differently than a similar situation in 2017, when they moved up to select Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick and brought him to Chicago without a clear transition plan in place. On that evening in 2017, veteran quarterback Mike Glennon was at the team's draft party inside a section of Soldier Field and just as stunned as the fans surrounding him when Chicago selected Trubisky.
The Bears didn't just put Glennon in a difficult situation after signing him to a three-year deal a month earlier. They also failed Trubisky, who was allowed to leave as a free agent this March after four unfulfilling seasons in Chicago. This time around, the Bears want to use the lessons learned from 2017 in bringing Fields into the fold and making a quarterback transition.
"Andy (Dalton) is our starter," general manager Ryan Pace said in his opening remarks Thursday night. "We're going to have a really good plan in place to develop Justin and do what's best for our organization to win games."
After a fifth non-winning season in six years, Pace was granted a second chance at bringing the Bears the franchise quarterback they have long coveted. Ownership put faith in Pace by allowing him to mortgage a 2022 first-round pick and other draft capital to land Fields, whom the organization now must guide to success on a proper timeline.
In 2017, the Bears entered the regular season with Trubisky as the backup to Glennon. The Bears' trouble was that in deciding when to make their quarterback transition, they were waiting for Glennon to fail rather than for Trubisky to prove his readiness. That transition took place just four games into the season, following an ugly 35-14 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 4.
After starting just 13 games at North Carolina, Trubisky didn't get the chance to grow professionally before being thrust into the fire. He played out his rookie season under John Fox's lame-duck coaching staff and then had to learn a new offense in 2018 after Nagy was hired. Trubisky never seemed comfortable in four seasons as Chicago's quarterback.
Nagy had just concluded a 2017 season in Kansas City in which he was instrumental in the development of quarterback prospect Patrick Mahomes, whose raw talent began to transform into his superstar play of today. Veteran quarterback Alex Smith started 15 games that season and led the Chiefs to the playoffs. Mahomes started only in the regular-season finale, with the Chiefs' postseason seed already decided.
Fields might never be Mahomes and Dalton may not be Smith, but the Bears believe in the plan enacted by the Chiefs in 2017 -- and also regret their own mistakes of that season.
Fields, 22, was an accomplished star at Ohio State, a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year selection who led the Buckeyes to the national championship game this past January. He should have no problem adapting to the NFL, learning a new offense, understanding more complex coverages and becoming a leader for a team ready to win.
The Bears just want Fields, rather than Dalton, to prove when it's time to make a change at quarterback. When that happens is up to him.
"I promise you, every single person will know, including Justin, when it’s the right time," Nagy said. "And that’s naturally how it happens.”
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.