Playing the 'what-if' game with the Bears and Mitch Trubisky


Playing the 'what-if' game with the Bears and Mitch Trubisky

Random musings at the end of a dismal season… .

Second-guessing is absolutely the easiest of efforts, hindsight being blessed with its inherent clarity. And NFL years with double-digit losses are by definition replete with “what-if’s,” particularly this one for the Bears, dating back to before it had even started:

“What if…the Bears hadn’t given up picks to trade up a spot to draft Mitch Trubisky?”

“What if…Cam Meredith and Kevin White hadn’t been lost for the year before the season was even a week old?”

or the big one…

“What if the Bears had started Trubisky from Day 1, as some in the decision room were advocating?”

How much better would he be going into Week 17 than he is even now, which is pretty good, for a rookie?

Would even a slightly better Trubisky have gotten the Bears past Green Bay, San Francisco, maybe even Detroit, New Orleans or Minnesota, all games decided by a touchdown or less?

The debate not all that long ago (even though it seems like a long time ago, given the slog through the schedule that has played out) was whether or not Trubisky should be allowed to marinate for a season or so, learning as a student rather than being flung into live action from the get-go.

The organization invested $18.5 million in Tampa Bay backup Mike Glennon to give itself two shots at hitting on a quarterback and aside from the money, there were decent reasons for going to Glennon first. Trubisky was not a case of the coaching staff not knowing what it had in the rookie; they knew.

The variable was Trubisky, specifically, whether the moment would prove too big for a quarterback coming off a resume of just 13 college starts. It turned out that the moment was in fact palpably too big for Glennon, while Trubisky proved more than comfortable with pressure in every form.

And Trubisky did want to start, felt he was up to it, way back on opening day, but doesn’t in the least fault the decision and program laid out for him from GM Ryan Pace on down.

“I think every situation’s different,” Trubisky said this week. “For me personally, I wanted to be thrown in as quickly as possible, but I respected and appreciated the plan they had for me and I think it worked out. You can’t go back and change things, but knowing what I know now, it worked for what we were trying to do here, but every situation’s different.

“For me the best experience is to actually go through it. But you can also gain a lot of experience from sitting and watching. It all depends on the person and how much you can benefit from each situation.”

Suppose those situations had started sooner. Organizationally, a question might be how the Trubisky Experience might influence handling of future young players, but as Trubisky says, it’s different for different individuals. Peyton Manning went 3-13 his rookie season with zero hold-the-clipboard time. Trubisky already has topped that win total, and he didn’t have Marshall Faulk, Marvin Harrison and Ken Dilger the way Manning did (if you’re looking for meaningless comparisons).

Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains says that adversity builds character; I think it more accurately reveals character, but either way, adversity did not set Trubisky back in the slightest.

“Going through these tough games, battling through a tough season, it’s going to help [Trubisky] long-term,” Loggains said. “It’s like when you go back and study Manning, some of these guys when they first got in the league, you got to grind through these things and battle. How many sacks did Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith take early in their career?

“[Trubisky] has a unique ability not to turn the football over. I say that with one game left. He took too many sacks early on. Now you start to see him extend plays with his legs and throwing balls away. Just the growth that keeps happening.”

One is left to wonder what that growth would look like going into this weekend if it’d been started four games earlier… .

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.