Bears see Andy Dalton as their starting quarterback, 'excited to have him'

In case Andy Dalton's word and the Bears' social media post wasn't enough, Chicago's general manager helped drive home a key point emerging from the team's offseason activity.

Dalton is the starting quarterback for the Bears entering 2021. GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy said as much Friday, further explaining when asked why.

"Cause that's how we see Andy Dalton, as a starting quarterback," Pace said. "And we're excited to have him. Again that went into the evaluation process. He's been a starter in the league for a long time and produced at a high level for a long time. Again, that's all of us collectively in the building, coaches and scouts coming to that conclusion as we went through the free-agency process. Yeah, he's our starting quarterback as we head into the season."

The acquisition of Dalton wasn't quite the splash Bears fans were dreaming of and hoping for, leading them to express frustration and disappointment with a tinge of surrender in the immediate hours and days following Dalton's arrival. But don't deliver that reaction to Pace, who remains excited about his team's potential with Dalton at the controls.

The fair question to ask Pace is quite simple: Isn't replacing Mitchell Trubisky with Dalton more of a lateral move than anything? Not quite, Pace said Friday, because Dalton has accomplished more in his significantly longer career, and that's worth something in today's game.

"The things we like as you look at it, obviously his experience, he's a nine-year starter. He's been to three Pro Bowls, a lot of leadership with Andy Dalton," Pace explained. "Decision-making, we like his decision-making. He's won a lot of games in this league and he's been a durable player, too. I think that's something that's understated.

"I think, really, Andy fits our style of offense. 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. And we just felt as we went through those free-agent quarterbacks, he's one of the more complete quarterbacks that we evaluated in free agency and we're excited to have him."

Decision-making wasn't at the top of Trubisky's strengths, nor was accuracy, so it's fair to point those out as areas Dalton will be expected to improve for the Bears. It's still not really a long-term plan, though, and while such plans don't just grow on trees, Chicago will have to eventually compile one for the franchise.

This regime isn't getting ahead of itself in that regard because it has to prove it's still worthy of the job. After the Bears snuck into the playoffs last season, Pace and Nagy held onto their jobs, but their seats are still warm. Their swing and miss on Trubisky is a big red mark on their resumes, and adding Dalton doesn't just strike that error from the record. A better offensive showing might help, though, which seems to be the line of thinking for 2021, a season that feels pivotal for the leadership duo.

The retention of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor -- who has a history working with Dalton in Cincinnati -- is a step toward that effort.

"Andy, having a background with Bill, that definitely helps," Nagy said. "There's a comfort level there. They know each other's strengths and weaknesses. That part is really good. Now what we've got to do is be able to say, OK, when the players get in here and we're rolling, what are some of his strengths and weaknesses? Every quarterback is different. It's gonna be different than Mitchell. It's gonna be different than Nick (Foles). It's gonna be different than what Alex Smith was at the end there in Kansas City. But that's the fun part."

It should be fun for Nagy as long as his team doesn't find itself mired in the same offensive bog that held the Bears back for much of 2020 and had the coach fielding weekly questions about play-calling duties. He got ahead of that topic Friday, telling reporters he will call plays in 2021, something he's excited to get back to doing.

Dalton's acquisition wasn't the sole move the Bears made in an attempt to get better, of course. Chicago retained Allen Robinson via the franchise tag, guaranteeing he'll be with the team for at least 2021, though neither ventured beyond that point when discussing Robinson's future. The Bears made a much-needed addition to their backfield as well in former Super Bowl LIV hero Damien Williams, who should join David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen.

They also had their own share of cap casualties, releasing standout cornerback Kyle Fuller because of financial restrictions, an outcome Pace described as "hard moves we have to make in order to construct our team."

A quarterback room with Dalton and Foles is ideal for a young signal-caller to enter, a possibility that remains with the draft less than a month away. For now, though, Chicago will hope it doesn't have to make another hard move a year from now under center.

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