(670 The Score) Back in 2017, then-Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy was part of one of the most seamless and successful quarterback transitions ever. He helped oversee the development of first-round pick Patrick Mahomes as a rookie while veteran Alex Smith started and guided Kansas City to the playoffs.
Mahomes then took over in 2018 and has since led the Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship while becoming arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. Meanwhile, that all seems like ancient history for Nagy, who will likely be fired as Bears head coach by the end of Monday.
In this 2021 season, Nagy hoped to replicate the Chiefs’ blueprint for Mahomes with his Bears and rookie quarterback Justin Fields, whom Chicago traded up to select No. 11 overall in the NFL Draft last spring. The Bears had previously signed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton to a one-year deal in March, and Nagy soon shared his hopes of developing Fields like the Chiefs did Mahomes.
It seemed far-fetched then, and it turned out to be a misguided approach as the Bears (6-10) wind down a lost season. This has been an almost entirely wasted rookie season for Fields, one that has compromised his future. It's what chairman George McCaskey enabled by retaining Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace last January rather than starting fresh.
The Chiefs managed Mahomes as a rookie in 2017 with a future Hall of Fame coach in Andy Reid offering stability for him – in scheme, coaching and circumstances. That stability is part of why Mahomes converted his raw talent into a polished skill set that has made him an elite quarterback.
The Bears selected Fields as Pace hoped to save his job in Chicago, trusted his development to a lame-duck coach in Nagy and proceeded with little organizational direction. The Bears’ roster had bottomed out, and the team had little chance of contending in 2021. The playbook that Fields learned as a rookie and his coaches will likely all be gone next season. Instead of building off this season, he'll need to reset.
Beyond that, the management of Fields’ role was plagued by football politics. He was named the backup quarterback to Dalton immediately after the draft while the Bears also cast aside veteran Nick Foles, Pace’s previous quarterback gamble who's under contract through 2022.
Nagy, Pace and the Bears committed to Dalton as their starter while Foles had a nonexistent role as a third-stringer -- which left Fields stuck in the middle. The Bears saw in training camp that Fields wasn’t ready to start, but they kept him No. 2 on the depth chart, which put him one play away from stepping in for game action. Fields did just that when Dalton suffered a knee injury in the Bears' second game, which started the quick transition.
Fields' rookie season has been a fire drill since. Nagy and his coaching staff didn't implement an offense that best-suited his skill set, and a poor offensive line gave Fields little time to make plays and led to many setbacks along the way. Fields dealt with a hand injury in his first start, one in which he was sacked nine times as the Bears produced 47 yards of offense in a loss to the Browns on Sept. 26. He also suffered fractured ribs in November, missed the last two games with an ankle injury and now will almost certainly be sidelined by COVID-19 in the Bears' finale against the Vikings on Sunday.
Fields' rookie season is likely done. It was one that had flashes of potential but far more concerns than anything else.
This isn't to say Fields can't develop into a great NFL quarterback in the years to come. But he'll have to put much of this rookie season behind him and start anew in 2022.
1) Products of change
Each Black Monday in the NFL and round of firings affects countless families. That's why it's such a difficult day for many people in the league, and the Bears coaching staff is aware of the uncertainty of their respective job futures.
“My wife is a saint for having to go through that,” defensive coordinator Sean Desai said.
There’s no coach in Halas Hall more familiar with change than quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, whose father was a college coach and athletic director. Gene DeFilippo has been fired and made firings. For his part, John is working with his sixth NFL team in the last eight years.
“The people you worry about are actually the people that are outside in the noise: my wife and my daughter,” DeFilippo said. “Those are the people you worry about. My friends, my mom and dad. They read those things, because they have time to and they love me. So, those are the people you worry about.
“To say that you don’t think about it would be a lie, because you do have family and friends, and I consider a lot of people I work with lifelong friends.”
The Bears are finishing out a turbulent season strong as they're seeking a third straight victory to close the campaign. That's a credit to a coaching staff that hasn’t let distractions take a toll.
“You do your job,” special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. “That's what you're hired for -- is to do your job. I try to be where my feet are. As simple as that is, that's the approach that I take.”
2) Sophomore standout
Veteran safety Tashaun Gipson finally came clean.
“Now I can say we’re probably cousins,” Gipson joked about second-year pass rusher Trevis Gipson, who isn't actually his cousin (as far as we know).
The Bears feel a great sense of pride in Trevis Gipson, whose 6.5 sacks are second on the team to only the record-breaking Robert Quinn this season.
A fifth-round pick of the Bears in 2020, Gipson has emerged as a key piece in the pass rush rotation. His increased opportunity came as the coaching staff gained a greater trust in what he could bring.
“He’s continually getting stronger with his hands at the point of attack, and that has been a strength of his,” Desai said. “And he’s getting better there, so I think that’s one big thing.
“He was a D-end in college, so to understand the drops and the coverage parts of our system, he’s taken much more maturity and ownership in that. And I think that’s also shown for him.”
3) Jaylon vs. Justin
Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson spent an entire week studying and preparing himself to match up against Vikings star receiver Justin Jefferson in the teams' game on Dec. 20 before he tested positive for COVID-19.
It was a disappointment for Johnson to have his work go without the chance at a reward. That’s why he’s excited to square off against Jefferson this Sunday. But after a season of covering top receivers, Johnson doesn’t make too much of such matchups.
“I don’t look at it as no measuring stick,” Johnson said. “I feel like at the end of the day, we’re all good players, so just really being able to go out and there and do my job, I’m not measuring myself against nobody else but myself.”
4) Good guys
On Wednesday, the Chicago chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America named Quinn and Tashaun Gipson as the co-winners of the annual Good Guy Award. It meant much more this year because the award was renamed after our colleague and friend Jeff Dickerson, a beloved ESPN reporter who died last week at the age of 43 following a private battle with cancer.
It was a fitting honor to recognize JD with the award because nobody in our industry embodied being a good guy better than he did. Quinn and Gipson were worthy winners.
Quote to note
"A man's got two things: his words and his nuts. You don't want to lose either as a man. I try to be as honest as I can when I talk to people."
-- Quinn on his candor
DL Akiem Hicks (ankle) -- Hicks seems to realize this is the end of his Bears tenure, so I can’t see him missing the finale.
Edge rusher Robert Quinn (shoulder) -- This seems to be more of a precautionary matter for Quinn, who should play Sunday.
Prediction (12-4): Bears 24, Vikings 19
To his credit, Nagy has kept the Bears engaged and fighting down the stretch. Here's one more win for the road.
Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.