Bears Make Final Decision on Justin Fields’ Backup vs. Packers

Nathan Peterman Backup Justin Fields Packers

Getty Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears warms up prior to a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field on August 26, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Despite a strong preseason, Tyson Bagent will have to keep on waiting for his chance to serve as the true backup quarterback behind Justin Fields.

On September 5, the Chicago Bears unveiled their depth chart for Week 1’s opener against the Green Bay Packers and had veteran quarterback Nathan Peterman listed as the backup quarterback behind Fields with Bagent slotted in as the No. 3 quarterback.

Bagent had seemingly played his way into the No. 2 quarterback conversation for the Bears over the past several weeks, delivering an unexpectedly strong preseason that earned him a place on their initial 53-man roster. Chicago, however, acted quickly to re-sign 29-year-old Peterman to their roster after the cutdown and now appears set on trusting his veteran experience over the rookie Bagent’s early flashes of potential.

The Bears’ decision to give Peterman the backup nod should not be terribly surprising to anyone who heard general manager Ryan Poles talk about him during his August 30 press conference following roster cuts. He described Peterman as “important” to their quarterback room and was reluctant to declare a No. 2 quarterback at the time because he wanted to see if they would be able to re-sign Peterman back to the 53-man roster.

Now, Peterman is the next-in-line quarterback behind Fields — at least for Week 1.

The Bears will officially kick off the 2023 regular season at Soldier Field against the Packers at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 10.

Peterman Has Experience, But Can He Still Improve?

Peterman, a onetime fifth-round pick for the Buffalo Bills, is undoubtedly the Bears’ more experienced choice for the backup quarterback position. He has attempted 160 passes over the course of his 13 career games in the NFL, five of which were starts. He also spent time as Chicago’s No. 3 quarterback (on the practice squad) in 2022, which gives him an advantage over Bagent in terms of knowing Luke Getsy’s offensive system.

Exactly how valuable is Peterman’s experience, though, given the results he’s produced?

Peterman played in three games for the Bears in 2022 and completed just 56% of his passes (14 of 25), but he went 11-of-19 passing for 114 yards, a touchdown, and zero interceptions in his lone start during Chicago’s regular-season finale against the Minnesota Vikings. A statline like that is not going to blow anyone away, but it does show that Peterman can execute the system how the Bears want if he’s ever needed.

The real question with Peterman is how much can he really improve at this point in his NFL career. The 29-year-old has struggled to hold a roster spot over his six seasons and has spent quite a bit of that time on various teams’ practice squad, including the Bears’. If the Bears believe that what Peterman can do now is the best he’ll ever be able to do, then it could only be a matter of time before Bagent gets his opportunity.

Tyson Bagent Proved He’s a Talent Worth Developing

Nathan Peterman Backup Justin Fields Packers1

GettyBears rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent.

The Bears might not be trusting Bagent with No. 2 quarterback duties for the first week of his NFL career, but that is absolutely not an indictment of how he has performed.

Bagent — an undrafted rookie out of Division II Shepherd — played beyond expectations during his first NFL preseason, demonstrating a surprising amount of poise on the field as well as command in the huddle. Over his three performances, he completed 20 of his 29 passes for 156 yards and an interception and added another 25 rushing yards as well as two touchdowns on the ground. He also finished as Pro Football Focus’ second-highest-graded rookie quarterback (83.6) in the 2023 preseason.

“You got to give Tyson a lot of credit for how he handled the situation, really poised throughout the entire process,” Poles said last week. “[He] elevated his game every single week and got better, and you want guys like that to make the roster construction difficult and make it a challenge and for those guys to force themselves on the roster. And he did that and he earned it and I’m proud of him.”

The Bears, of course, have a better sense than anyone of how NFL-ready Bagent is at this point in his development. While fans were naturally excited to see him outperform Chicago’s original choice for the backup job — veteran P.J. Walker, who was released before the roster cutdown — he is still a rookie with a somewhat raw skill set who has not gone through the routine of a regular-season game week.

It may take some time, but there is always a chance Bagent could still capture the No. 2 quarterback role later on in the regular season if he maintained the strong work ethic and consistency that the Bears have valued in him up to this point.

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