Jay Cutler 'wouldn't play' Justin Fields to begin Bears season

As is the tale when any club selects its franchise quarterback of the future, talk and headlines are immediately devoted to when said signal-caller of the future will take the field.

That's certainly the case with the 2021 Chicago Bears, as the plan for when Ohio State product Justin Fields makes his debut has been the hot -- and often times seems to be the only -- topic for the NFC North squad since it traded up to take him at No. 11 in the 2021 NFL Draft.

With veteran Andy Dalton on board and Fields finding his way, the question is whether to ride Dalton for as long as possible and delay the inevitable start of the Fields era or throw Fields to the Lions -- and Packers and Vikings and more -- from the onset.

The most prolific passer in Bears history believes in going the conservative route.

"I wouldn't play the kid to start," Jay Cutler said this week on Waddle & Silvy on WMVP-AM 100, via the Chicago Tribune. "That's where I'd start. I'd let him watch. I think it's just a tough spot to just throw someone out there, especially in Chicago. And I think Andy is more than serviceable. I think they can win games with Andy and kind of pull the ship along until [Fields] is ready."

Starting Fields in the season opener would mean the rookie's first NFL game would be against Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and the fearsome entity known as the L.A. Rams defense, which was the top-ranked defense in 2020.

Cutler gets a bit of a bad rap from Bears fans -- and, perhaps, non-Bears fans. But throughout most of his career he had an elite NFL arm, he held down the Chicago starting job for the better part of eight seasons and holds Bears career records for passing yards and touchdowns by a large margin.

So, at the least, Cutler can speak on playing for the franchise, but before his Bears days he was a ballyhooed first-round pick for the Denver Broncos and wouldn't you know it, he was drafted at No. 11 -- just like Fields.

"I remember the first game [of the season] and there were rumblings that I might play," Cutler said. "And I was like, 'I don't even know what's happening here. Let's figure this thing out for a minute.' We were in the old dome in St. Louis [in Week 1] and it was insanely loud. We had a million checks that game [as an offense]. We were checking everything. And none of it worked.

"We got beat down that game [18-10]. But I was like, 'If I go in this game, they better dial it back to day one or I'm screwed.'"

Every fan of a franchise with a first-round QB is a kid on Christmas morning who can't wait to open this gift that was atop the wish list. But a young quarterback is a fragile gift, at that.

Though Cutler sang Fields' praises, he's simultaneously playing the proceed-with-caution card.

"No one knows if he's ready or not," Cutler said. "It's preseason and training camp and all this stuff. You don't know.

"But at the quarterback position, especially [being] drafted in the first round and especially with a team that's struggled a little bit, I think it's going to be hard to say, 'All right. He's 100% ready. We're good to go with him.' But I hope I'm wrong."

Though Cutler doesn't pretend to be an expert on Fields, he was quick to admit he likes what he's seen. His assessment matches that of many when it comes to Fields, a prospect with a stellar arm, the ability to move, the pedigree of an esteemed program and many of the intangibles that are so often exclaimed about when pads have yet to be donned.

"He's obviously talented," Cutler said. "He can move. He can throw. He won a lot at Ohio State. He seems to have a little chip on his shoulder, which I don't think is a bad thing. But like we've talked about numerous times, when you're playing quarterback (in the NFL), there are a lot of moving parts.

"They have to get the line [stabilized]. They have to get some weapons. … And I really like [head coach Matt Nagy]. That's never been an issue in my mind. I think he's going to put together a plan."

Since winning AP NFL Coach of the Year for the 2018 season, Nagy has struggled to find endorsements such as Cutler's. Much of that came as the quarterback position floundered, with the majority of the criticism pointed at Mitchell Trubisky and some more aimed at Nick Foles after experimenting with him also sputtered last season.

Now, how Fields -- and Dalton -- are handled before and during the 2021 campaign falls on Nagy with his job status possibly hanging in the balance.

In the larger, all-encompassing view, it's one season. It's a hugely important season for Nagy after two 8-8 years, but for Fields, Cutler argues if the hope is a stellar career lies ahead, one year watching and learning isn't all that much.

"Everyone's different. I've just always been on the side of, what's 10 games? What's a season [of sitting] in the grand scheme of this kid's career? If you believe he's the guy, get everything set up so that when he's thrown in there, he's supported and he can make things happen the way he should instead of battling through all this stuff and seeing ghosts five years from now or three years from now," Cutler said. "He came from Ohio State. He has played in big games before. So I don't think he's going to mind it much. But I will say this isn't Ohio State. This isn't college football. The playing field gets leveled really quickly in the NFL. You're going to get humbled. Bad things are going to happen. You're just going to have to deal with it."

Just when Fields has to deal with being the Bears starter will remain the top story for the Bears until he trots on to the field. Cutler's one vote for later rather than sooner.

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