Matt Nagy, You've Been Played
Chicago Bears Coach Matt Nagy, you’ve been played. No, I’m not talking about being played by Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay coaching staff who figured you out at halftime and took you to school in the second half, nor am I talking about being played by the refs who have probably cost you two games this year already with blatantly incompetent calls. I’m talking about being played by your good friend and boss, Ryan Pace. I can even tell you the moment you got played—the moment he drafted Justin Fields.
As a Denver Broncos fan who lives in Chicago, I have a passing interest in the Bears (usually because we end up with each others players and coaches eventually), but I am not truly a fan. This gave me kind of a unique perspective on draft day. I watched Denver pass on the chance to take Fields and while I admit slight to slight disappointment (I think every fan wants a QB on draft day), I trusted the brain trust to do their homework and make the right decision. Clearly, there was something they didn’t like about Fields. Then came the Bears. I was expecting, as I think everyone was, to see them take an offensive lineman, a wide receiver, or perhaps even a defensive player. Instead, of course, they took Fields.
The reason most people were expecting the Bears to take an offensive lineman, a receiver or a defensive player is because the Bears had an atrocious offensive line, a questionable receiver corps led by a number one who clearly didn’t want to be there, and a rapidly-aging defense, particularly up front. So to see a QB taken here, to me, is the equivalent of seeing someone buy a top-of-the-line car audio system when they don’t actually own a car. While my Bear fan friends were having visions of some new incarnation of Patrick Mahomes picking apart every secondary in the NFC North, I was having visions of Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, running for their lives behind collapsing protection, desperately trying to find receivers that just can’t seem to get open. There were also flashes of David Carr and Robert Griffin III, athletic QB’s with potential who got ground to a bloody pulp on lousy teams before they ever came close to realizing their potential.
None of this is to say that I had any faith in Nagy, either. He clearly has a knack for trying to shove square pegs into round holes until his hands are bruised and sore, and values his system to the exclusion of the skills of any of the players expected to run it. He was a big part of the reason that Justin Fields could not succeed in Chicago, not the first year, maybe not ever. However, I do believe that if Pace had drafted pieces to shore up Nagy’s crumbling team, and Nagy had been allowed to have a “System guy” run his offense (a guy like, say, Andy Dalton) for the whole season, the result would have been respectable. Maybe a game or two over five hundred, possibly a playoff win, and probably Nagy keeping his job.
Instead, Nagy got Fields, a “Not-ready-for-prime-time” rookie QB for him to babysit while trying to win enough games to keep from getting fired, all with the media and fans clamoring to see the rookie on the field. His initial plan made the best of an impossible situation. He had his system guy calling the plays, but the fans got a little taste of the Justin Fields experience for a few plays per game. But that wasn’t enough for the fans or the media. They “Ooohed and Aaahed” about the rookie’s athleticism and demanded that he get more playing time, regardless of whether he understood the system or could read a defense in a timely manner. When Dalton went down with an injury, Nagy would have been tarred and feathered if he didn’t start Fields, even though he knew deep down it was exactly the wrong thing to do. So Fields became the starter. Since then he has been beaten down, injured repeatedly and taught the mystical art of losing, over and over again. Pace sits in the shadows while the lynch mob forms for Nagy and he will step out to join, and perhaps lead, the mob when the time is right.
Then it begins anew. Fields will take the field next year with a new coach, a new system to learn, the same patchwork offensive line and retread receivers and not enough draft picks to replace them (those were spent in acquiring Fields). He will be bruised and beaten and confused and he will learn to lose. Again. Pace can work on finding a soft landing spot or perhaps using another job-saving strategy, getting himself promoted to Head of Football Operations or something so he can hire a new GM and buy himself another decade of big paychecks, regardless of what is happening on the field. Nevermind that he set up his coach and now two young quarterbacks to fail. Nevermind that Bears fans have never, in all of their storied history, had the pleasure of watching a truly elite quarterback play for their team. Nevermind that the elite quarterback who plays up north “Owns them” and will until he retires, and then probably his successor will too, because Green Bay seems to understand how to draft, groom and support a QB prospect. To Bears fans and ownership I say this: “You deserve what you tolerate.”