If the early 2019 season has done nothing else, it has underscored the importance of not only a quality backup quarterback, but also one ideally with upside, either demonstrated earlier in their careers or with the bona fide potential to become a starter, or at least more than a journeyman.
While some of the NFL’s most elite franchises have committed themselves repeatedly to giving as many spins of the QB wheel as possible, even with top quarterbacks already in place, the Bears during the tenure of general manager Ryan Pace have largely taken a pass on such passers.
The result is a level of vulnerability where it can hurt the most.
This is somewhat surprising, given that when Pace began as Bears general manager, he declared quarterback to be an annual draft priority: "I think it's a good idea to add a quarterback every year," Pace said during the 2015 owners meetings. “It's a critical position. Because of that you can take a swing every year at it, increase your odds."
Pace has not turned philosophy into action, investing just one – Mitchell Trubisky, 2017 -- of his 32 selections over five drafts in the single most important position, not only in football, but in all of sports.
Trubisky returned from the shoulder injury suffered in the Minnesota game, and Chase Daniel returned to his career billet a backup. So the immediate impact of Trubisky’s injury was limited, at least in terms of time lost.
But beyond Daniel, who is well past the point of being accorded the tag of “potential” to be an NFL starter, the Bears have given themselves virtually no real options for increasing their odds for finding winning depth at their most critical position.
Best early guess: The Bears pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year, rookie-contract option next offseason and draft a young quarterback as well, although of course that latter step has been forecast for more than one Pace offseason. The fifth-year option is guaranteed for injury only, however, meaning that the commitment to Trubisky may be no firmer long term than the Bears’ current commitment to the run.
In the shorter term, the Bears may experience some painful lessons in the consequences for failing to avail themselves of viable, upscale options at the central position of their organization. And the lessons could have longer-term implications.
Those object lessons could start as early as their next game.
The New Orleans Saints, with Drew Brees in place, traded last year for former Minnesota No. 1 Teddy Bridgewater, then induced him to stay on for 2019 with a contract for $7.25 million guaranteed.
Since Brees went down with a thumb injury, the Saints are 5-0 in Bridgewater starts, including wins over Seattle and Dallas – and, of course, the Bears.
The Saints (6-1) are racing to stay ahead of the Carolina Panthers, (4-2) who have won all four games since Kyle Allen replaced injured Cam Newton as the Carolina starter. The Panthers put Allen, an undrafted free agent, in their quarterback pipeline in 2018.
Later this season the Bears with host the Dallas Cowboys, who were once headed into the 2016 season quarterbacked by Tony Romo. Romo was injured in the preseason and replaced by Dak Prescott, who became NFL offensive rookie of the year. Prescott had been an “insurance” pick in the fourth round of that 2016 draft
The week after Dallas, the Bears go to Green Bay, the long-time test kitchen on fortifying the quarterback position with players possessed of upside talent. The Packers, who traded for Brett Favre when they had Don Majikowski in place as their starter, drafted Aaron Rodgers while Favre still reigned as starter. Drafting quarterback insurance is the Green Bay Way, but that’s for another time.
Returning to present day: The Jacksonville Jaguars last offseason signed Nick Foles to be their starter. When Foles, himself once added as depth behind Carson Wentz and became a Super Bowl MVP for Philadelphia, suffered a broken clavicle in week one, the Jaguars turned to Gardner Minshew, whom they’d picked in the sixth round of this year’s draft – six weeks after they’d signed Foles.
If the sixth-round scenario sounds vaguely familiar, the New England Patriots, with Drew Bledsoe ensconced as their starter, used a “6” for Tom Brady in 2000.
Actually, that’s sort of a Patriots thing; Since Brady replaced Bledsoe in 2001, they’ve drafted 10 quarterbacks, most recently Jarrett Stidham in the 2019 fourth round. Stidham showed enough for the Pats to release veteran backup Brian Hoyer at the end of training camp.
Among those 10 depth picks: Matt Cassel (seventh round, 2005), Jacoby Brissett (third round, 2016) and Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, 2014). New England subsequently traded all three in deals that figured in bringing the Patriots a first-round pick, a second-rounder and a former No. 1.
The last of these was the trade of Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts, who had Andrew Luck in place, albeit dealing with injuries. Luck abruptly retired before the start of the season. Under Brissett, signed by the Colts the week before the opener to a two-year extension for $30 million, the Colts are 3-2 and tied with Houston for the lead in the AFC South.
The Washington Redskins went all-in on Robert Griffin III in 2012. But they also hedged with the selection of Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of that draft. With RGIII injured, Cousins won a critical game late in ’12 to get Washington into the postseason, then later succeeded Griffin and got the team to a second postseason (2015), the only two playoff appearances by that franchise in the last 11 years.
Paltry Bears QB-depth/development “efforts”
The Bears once helped saved a season by committing to increasing their odds at quarterback.
With Rex Grossman established as their starter, the Bears used a fourth-round pick on Kyle Orton in 2005. They went 10-5 in Orton starts and reached the playoffs, albeit on the strength of a truly elite defense.
Not only has Pace eschewed drafting young quarterbacks into the pipeline; he has rarely in any form staffed the position with potential solutions at a position that has bedeviled the Bears franchise for decades.
What quarterbacks have been brought in to Halas Hall have largely fit little more than roles of stopgap, bridge/interim or training-camp players, up to and including Mike Glennon and Jay Cutler, neither being viewed as long-term solutions (irrespective of misspent monies).
2015 Jay Cutler
Jimmy Clausen (retained from Emery regime)
Shane Carden, (training camp)
David Fales (Emery draft pick)
2017 Mike Glennon
2019 Austin Allen (rookie minicamp)
Trubisky has returned from his injury, but with a performance that raised questions rather than answered them.
Top organizations, however, plan beyond the season at hand, plan for both the best and the worst. The Bears at this point, and beyond, need very, very badly for Trubisky to both develop into what they envisioned when they traded up to draft him; and also, with no slight to Daniel, that Trubisky stays very, very healthy while that development curve plays out.
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