Bears Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2021

Bears Players with Most to Prove Ahead of 2021 Season

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears were a playoff team in 2020, albeit one with an 8-8 record. If head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are going to keep their jobs beyond the 2021 season, however, they may have to prove that 8-8 campaign was the beginning of something special.

    The arrival of first-round pick Justin Fields brings hope to Chicago. The Bears haven't had an elite signal-caller since, well, perhaps ever, and Fields has the potential to be exactly that. However, the Bears aren't going to rush Fields into the starting job.

    "Andy [Dalton] is the starter," Nagy said, per NFL Media's Adam Maya.  "Andy's going to get the one reps."

    Therefore, Chicago may have to prove that it can win without Fields this season. Along the way, several individual Bears will have plenty to prove in 2021.

    Let's take a look at three of them here.

QB Andy Dalton

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Dalton is not the future in Chicago. He's only under contract for one year and already has Fields looming over his shoulder. However, the three-time Pro Bowler is only 33 and should have a few good years left in the tank.

    If Dalton hopes to re-establish himself as an NFL starter, he's going to have to prove he can still take a team to the playoffs. He did so with the Cincinnati Bengals five times but hasn't been to the postseason since 2015.

    Dalton was serviceable while replacing Dak Prescott with the Dallas Cowboys last year, posting a passer rating of 87.3. However, he wasn't good enough to land a long-term deal from a quarterback-needy team like Chicago.

    The good news for Dalton is that the Bears have a playoff-ready roster and a true No. 1 target in Allen Robinson II. The TCU product could easily parley a strong 2021 performance into a prime starting opportunity elsewhere next season.

    The good news for the Bears is that if Dalton plays well enough to keep Fields on the bench, it will likely mean that Chicago is headed to the postseason.

WR Anthony Miller

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    While Dalton is likely playing for a future outside of Chicago, fourth-year wideout Anthony Miller is playing for a future with the Bears. The 2018 second-round pick is entering the final year of his rookie deal and was the subject of pre-draft trade discussions.

    Miller has shown flashes—he had seven receiving touchdowns as a rookie and 656 receiving yards the following year—but he has not developed into a consistent playmaker.

    "You know, you've got to see it," receivers coach Mike Furrey said of Miller's development, per Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. "... There's so much talk, but at this level, it's all about what you show and what you put on film."

    One piece clouding Miller's future is the fact that Darnell Mooney shone as a rookie last season. He finished with 631 yards and four scores and played 197 more offensive snaps than Miller did. Chicago may already have more concrete long-term plans for Mooney than for Miller.

    If Miller is going to secure a future in Chicago, he's going to have to make that long-anticipated leap in 2021. Perhaps the changes at quarterback will help him thrive. If Miller doesn't improve, though, he will likely be gone by next offseason.

Edge Robert Quinn

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    Last offseason, the Bears signed edge-defender Robert Quinn to a five-year, $70 million free-agent deal. To call their return on investment a disappointment would be an understatement.

    Quinn, who had 11.5 sacks with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, failed to live up to expectations in his first Chicago season. He logged a mere two sacks and 16 quarterback pressures. He only had 20 total tackles too, his lowest total since the 2016 season.

    Chicago signed Quinn to be the missing complementary rusher opposite Khalil Mack. He failed to fill that role and now enters a make-or-break season.

    While Quinn is due to carry a cap hit of $16 million in 2022, he will only have $9.3 million in dead money remaining on his deal. This means that the Bears could release Quinn, dismiss the final three years of his contract and still get a minor amount of cap relief.

    Obviously, Chicago would prefer not to eat $9 million just to dump a disappointing player, but that could be the advisable option if Quinn can't rebound in 2021. It's time for the 10-year veteran to prove he is worth the contract that the Bears doled out.


    Contract information via Spotrac. Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.