Bears Roster Review is a weekly conversation about the state of the 2020 Bears roster from JJ Stankevitz and Cam Ellis. This week: Quarterbacks.
CAM ELLIS: JJ, hello. It's June 1, which means that the NFL calendar is about to get slower. Terrific! Because we'll be waiting for things to pick back up for the next six weeks or so, now seems like a good time to start previewing what the 2020 Bears may look like. Positional battles! At training camp! What a concept.
JJ STANKEVITZ: At quarterback, Cam! Those almost never happen in the NFL, especially when a rookie isn’t involved.
ELLIS: And here I thought it'd be another year charting kicks.
STANKEVITZ: For example: Ryan Tannehill, when asked about the Titans’ QB “competition” between him and Marcus Mariota, said: "I didn't know it was a story. I don't really listen to the media at all. Sorry guys."
It wasn’t a story because Mariota was going to start Week 1. But there’s legitimate intrigue in Chicago about who’s going to start the 2020 opener. That’s pretty cool!
ELLIS: For you and me, yes. For your standard issue Bears fan? I'm not so sure. How inspiring is a Mitch Trubisky-Nick Foles battle actually? Like, are we just deciding if the Bears are going to go 7-9 or 9-7?
STANKEVITZ: That’s the worry, right? I think the Bears will wind up with a better quarterback than they had in 2019 - be it Foles or a better version of Trubisky - but *how* much better is the question. Football folks will tell you competition brings out the best in everyone, but it’s better to have good players and not need competition. Eddie Jackson isn’t competing to start. Neither is Allen Robinson. But at the most important position in football, the Bears don’t have a clear starter right now, and that’s concerning.
It’s also why I don’t care at all when national types pick the Bears to win 4 or 6 or 7 games. It’s all fair if you don’t believe in their quarterback situation. And without a clear starter, I totally understand how some folks feel that way.
ELLIS: I think if I had to pick one thought that's stuck with me throughout the first part of this Battle Saga, it'd be this: why are we so certain Nick Foles is a starting caliber QB? He hasn't played more than 5 games in a season IN FIVE YEARS. I get the whole relief pitcher schtick, but not playing a full season in over half a decade seems important?! The Bears aren't asking him to be ready when Trubisky gets hurt in Week 12 – they're asking him to do something he just has not consistently done at any point in his career.
STANKEVITZ: Nick Foles last started more than half a season in 2015 with the St. Louis Rams, a team that does not exist anymore. That year he threw 7 TDs and 10 INTs in 11 starts. He's started 13 games since and was the Super Bowl MVP, of course, but his passer rating from 2016-2019 was only 90.7. That's better than Trubisky but again - not by much, and in a smaller sample size. Trubisky has an 85.8 passer rating in 41 starts from 2017-2019.
I think what the Bears are asking Foles to do is be a viable option if Trubisky doesn't pan out. Chase Daniel was never going to start over Trubisky if both were healthy. But that could mean asking Foles to be the starter before the season starts. You don't guarantee $24 million to a guy if you don't think he can play.
ELLIS: Right –– which to me, ultimately shows me where the Bears' priorities are at the end of the day. People laughed at them for guaranteeing Daniel close to $10 million; they're not doubling down on that investment just to have another mentor in the room. But I look at Foles' history of playing full seasons and really wonder how much more realistic putting hope in that is than relying on Trubisky to put it together – Mitch is, ultimately, the more talented QB at this point in their careers.
Whether that ever translates is its own conversation entirely, but neither dice roll feels particularly inspired.
STANKEVITZ: Sure, and it's probably a trope at this point to say the Bears' best-case outcome is Trubisky wins the competition and starts every game in 2020. But it's true! If Foles never has to play a snap for the Bears, it probably means Trubisky has improved enough to get the Bears into legitimate playoff contention.
The one thing I will say in favor of Foles just being on the roster -- the Idea Of Nick Foles, if you will -- is that he gives the Bears the best chance of wringing that potential out of Trubisky. Because he has a baseline knowledge of the offense and doesn't need OTAs to learn it - OTAs which aren't happening in person anyway - he allows for a true competition with Trubisky. I don't think the same could be said for Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston. Signing Teddy Bridgewater would've pushed Trubisky to the bench. Same with Cam Newton, if he turned out to be healthy, which is a huge question mark. But Foles, while perhaps uninspiring, gives the Bears a trustworthy backstop in case Trubisky does not pan out, if that makes sense.
ELLIS: It does. And while I actually think Nagy wasn't wrong to keep starters out of the preseason last year, it's probably for the best that both Trubisky and Foles play some meaningful snaps in August this year. Trubisky's 2019 camp was unspectacular; hitting Anthony Miller in 7-v-7's over undrafted FAs while in t-shirts and shorts didn't quite translate like the coaches wanted it to. What concerns me is, with Foles' reputation – even if Trubisky wins the battle in camp, how long is his leash? Even if Trubisky's far and away better than Foles for 6 weeks this summer, at some point, The Takes will appear.
STANKEVITZ: That's a really good point - how do Matt Nagy/John DiFilippo/Dave Ragone/Bill Lazor react when Trubisky inevitably makes a mistake, as all quarterbacks do? How much slack does Trubisky get, or does he have to be almost perfect to hang on to his job in camp?
And then what about the season? Will one bad game cost Trubisky his job? (Probably not.) But two? If the Bears really have the amount of trust in Foles they've indicated they do, that might be all it takes for the Trubisky era to end. Also, the preseason will matter a lot this year...assuming there actually is a legit, full preseason.
ELLIS: Would have been a good year for the Bears to be in the Hall of Fame game! To your question, though: it does feel like even if he wins the battle, Trubisky maybe has two bad games in him? If the Bears play like they did in L.A. or Philly last year, I don't see how Nagy keeps Trubisky on the field all game. At a certain point, Nagy's going to have to start coaching for his own job, not Trubisky's.
STANKEVITZ: I'm not so sure about that. I don't see any realistic chance Nagy is coaching for his job in 2020, not after winning 20 games his first two years. Same goes for Ryan Pace, actually - it's hard for me to envision the McCaskey family and Ted Phillips firing both Pace and Nagy after the 2020 season. Maybe if the Bears go 1-15, but the Bears are not going 1-15.
So that hopefully will allow Nagy, specifically, the job security to make tough decisions at quarterback instead of doing them out of an effort to save his job (like John Fox putting Trubisky in after 4 games of the Mike Glennon Era in 2017).
ELLIS: Fair enough – and I think that's an argument that gets under-discussed in a lot of this: the McCaskey's have, for better or for worse, a unique level of patience compared to many of today's ownership groups.
I also wonder how willing Matt Nagy is going to be to make Trubisky work from an X's and O's angle. Mitch quite literally told the media that there were aspects of the offense that he preferred to run last year, and Nagy was still hesitant to find the QB some runs and pick up the tempo. You can't run the 2-minute all game (OR CAN YOU?!) but it did seem like Nagy could have thrown Trubisky a few more bones last season. When SO many of Trubisky's teammates talk about how he needs to get out of his head and just play instinctually, Nagy needs to hear that too.
STANKEVITZ: So that is another conversation here. How will Nagy scheme the 2020 Bears' offense? If he wants to stick with what he did in 2018-2019, Foles has a much better chance to win the job. If he tailors it more to Trubisky's strengths - which I think can be a lot of play-action bootlegs from under center - Mitch can win the job.
But it comes down to trust. Can Nagy trust Trubisky to not only make the right reads, but make the right throws? I think there's a certain baked in trust with Foles when it comes to those two things. He can hit the layups. Trubisky hasn't shown he can.
ELLIS: Yeah, I tend to agree. Whether he admits it or not, there's undoubtedly a part of Nagy that feels motivated to show the NFL that his offense works. Having to spend an entire season hearing that teams have figured him out after exactly one (1) year couldn't have done wonders for his psyche (see: at-home draft room). Meeting in the middle for Trubisky's sake feels less likely than, as you said, safely hitting the layups with Super Bowl Champion Nick Foles.
OK, lastly, a two-parter: Who wins the job out of camp, and who starts more games in 2020?
STANKEVITZ: Nick Foles and Nick Foles.
The Bears have a super-talented defense that should be great. All they need to be legit contenders in the NFC is about an average quarterback. Foles, I think, gives them the best shot at just average. Maybe better! But while he doesn't have extensive starting experience recently, I see his floor being higher than Trubisky's. That Trubisky has a higher ceiling than Foles doesn't carry as much weight here. Would you rather risk wasting another year of Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks playing in their primes on gambling on Trubisky? I wouldn't. Who do you think?
ELLIS: So, I am a sucker and have decided to wholly buy into the hyper-competitive version of Trubisky in 2020. He's been handed the starting job with no questions asked since 2016! I do believe in what competition can achieve – to a degree –and think he'll win the job in camp.
With that said, Foles will start more games.
STANKEVITZ: That's legit. And let me just say I'm like 60% convinced Foles will be the guy in Week 1. I'm probably closer to 90% convinced he'll start more games than Mitch.
ELLIS: I think it's just a product of Foles' reputation. The Legend Of Nick Foles is eventually going to be too tempting to keep on the sideline, even if Trubisky is playing better than he did last year.
STANKEVITZ: That sums it up pretty well.
ELLIS: But then Trubisky will go play for another team and beat the Bears in 2022. So cheer up Bears fans!
STANKEVITZ: Cam, we're trying to leave on a good note here.
ELLIS: Be sure to tune in for next week's chat. Running Backs: Is This The Year The Bears Try It?
STANKEVITZ: There's a lot to get into there. For now, we'll have virtual OTAs covered for you here on NBC Sports Chicago and the Under Center Podcast this week!