Justin Fields had to wait almost two hours from the start of the 2021 NFL Draft to find out where he'd begin his NFL career. Of course, the Bears have been waiting much longer to find him.
Chicago's aggressive trade for the coveted quarterback prospect instantly cultivated a buzz unfamiliar to the franchise in years. Naturally, everyone wants to know when Fields will take the field.
Bears coach Matt Nagy shares your enthusiasm, but that question isn't one he's ready to answer.
"It's gonna be exciting for him to just come in here and learn how to be a professional quarterback," Nagy said Saturday in his post-draft news conference, per NBC Sports Chicago's Alex Shapiro. "It's not gonna happen overnight."
It doesn't have to either, not with the presence of veteran Andy Dalton and, to a lesser extent, Nick Foles. Nagy has navigated similar sea before, serving as the Chiefs offensive coordinator when the club traded up in the 2017 draft to nab Patrick Mahomes with Alex Smith as the incumbent.
The situations are not parallel, however. Smith was coming off a career year and had led Kansas City to three postseason appearances in four tries. Dalton joined the Bears, who made the playoffs this past season as an 8-8 seventh seed, less than two months ago. The Red Rifle is also five years removed from peak play.
"So how great is that for a young rookie to come on in and learn from a guy like [Dalton] and Nick Foles, and see there's things that he can take from them, and really put into his toolbox and use to make him be the greatest quarterback he can possibly be," Nagy said. "As everybody has talked about, I went through that in 2017. So is it gonna be the same thing? I don't know. But at least we have some type of blueprint to at least work off of and be able to just kinda use that to start and see where it goes."
It will eventually end up with Fields playing.
As NFL Network's Cynthia Frelund reported, several general managers had the dual-threat QB graded higher than No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence. Fields is highly unlikely to redshirt his first pro season the way Mahomes did, especially with Nagy and Bears general manager Ryan Pace seemingly in a prove-it year. Plus, the Ohio State product has big-game pedigree. Despite being the fourth QB to come off the board, only Lawrence had more starts against top competition among the five quarterbacks to go in the first round.
"He's a complete quarterback that has a ton of intangibles," Nagy said of his rookie. "He's a threat every time the football is in his hands as a passer and a runner, yet he makes really good decisions. He's played in big-time moments. He's one of the toughest quarterbacks, and I've been around a lot of tough quarterbacks, but he's definitely up there in regards to his experience at the college level. I think he hangs his hat on that. And as we all grow with him, I think we're gonna sense that he really has a little bit of that 'it' factor to him, too, which is neat. That has to come naturally to everybody. Some have it, some don't."
The Bears know that all too well, having been in a looping search for a franchise quarterback for decades. Only about a handful have had extended stretches as the starter, and even fewer have been successful. The most notable of those remains Sid Luckman, whose Hall of Fame career concluded in 1950. None of his successors have come within 80% of his total games with the Bears (128). Jim McMahon helped guide Chicago to its lone Super Bowl title, but injuries limited him to just 61 starts in blue and orange. (For comparison's sake, Dalton played 133 games for the Bengals.)
This is the checkered QB lineage Fields enters.
And it's why the more important talking point surrounding him isn't when he will start, but for how long and how well. Nagy sounds like he's keeping all of that in mind.
"When the time is right, I promise you every single person will know, including Justin, when it's the right time," the fourth-year coach said. "And that's naturally how it happens."