Top 25 most important Bears in 2021: Dalton will start as long as his play allows it
Leading up to training camp we're counting down the Top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.
What makes one player more important than another is subjective. For our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can't play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
No. 3 Andy Dalton
NFL experience: 11th year
Looking back: A decade ago, Andy Dalton started all 16 games for the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie second-round draft pick. He took the Bengals to the playoffs five times in his nine years in Cincinnati, but went 0-4 as a starter in the playoffs (he missed the end of the 2015 season with an injury).
The Bengals drafted Joe Burrow a year ago and released Dalton in late April. At that point in the offseason -- after the draft and free agency -- his chances of finding a starting job weren't great. He settled for a gig backing up Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. After Prescott injured his ankle, Dalton started nine games down the stretch.
Dalton has started 142 regular season games in his NFL career, while throwing for more than 33,000 yards with 218 touchdowns and 126 interceptions. He brings experience, first and foremost, to the quarterback position.
Looking forward: Dalton signed a one-year contract with the Bears in March with the expectation that he will be the starting quarterback. That is the case, for now. How long that will remain the case is anybody's guess. Rookie first-round draft pick Justin Fields is knocking at the door.
The Bears are going to run with Dalton until they can't anymore. For that reason alone, he comes in one spot ahead of Fields on the Top 25 countdown. Dalton's play -- for better or worse -- is going to go a long way toward determining when Fields earns his first regular season start. If the Bears are winning and are in the playoff hunt with Dalton as the starter, there will be no reason to change quarterbacks. As frustrating as that might be for fans, that appears to be the course that Matt Nagy and the Bears are plotting.