Jake Locker. Blaine Gabbert. Christian Ponder. Brandon Weeden. E.J. Manuel. Johnny Manziel. Teddy Bridgewater. Paxton Lynch.
And now, Mitch Trubisky.
As has long been expected, Trubisky will become the ninth quarterback taken in the first round to not have his fifth-year option exercised (20 quarterbacks in total have been eligible for a fifth-year option). That’s not the kind of list you want to be on. Eight busts and one guy who had a gruesome, horrific knee injury.
History does not offer much encouragement for Trubisky. Getting your fifth-year option declined, as a quarterback, is almost always a death knell for a career.
Trubisky, though, will have a chance to change that narrative. That’s why, for now, this news doesn’t change anything for the 2020 Bears.
Training camp will open with Trubisky taking the first snap of the “open competition” between him and Nick Foles, something coach Matt Nagy made clear after the Bears dealt for Foles. The Bears’ best-case scenario has always been for Trubisky to not only keep his job, but realize the potential that led Ryan Pace to trade up one spot to draft him three years ago. In other words: If Foles never takes a snap in 2020, it’s almost certainly a good thing.
So let’s say that happens. Nobody in the Bears’ front office is panicking about declining Trubisky’s fifth-year option. The process is easy: The Bears can try to work out a contract extension with Trubisky after the season; if one isn’t agreed to by early March, they can slap the franchise tag on him and continue negotiating until a few weeks before training camp.
Either way, if Trubisky has a breakout 2020, he’ll still be in Chicago in 2021.
That's why declining to exercise Trubisky’s fifth-year option makes sense. There’s no reason to commit to Trubisky beyond 2020, not with three years of film that shows far too many mistakes and inconsistencies. Yes, Trubisky’s fifth-year option would be guaranteed for injury only (so the Bears could pick it up and rescind it, as they did with Leonard Floyd), but what if they pick it up, he struggles and then gets hurt?
He’ll be on the roster in 2021 for a cap hit of around $24 million, with no wiggle room to get rid of him. There’s no reason to risk that, even if it means paying him more on a franchise tag. If the Bears have to use the tag on Trubisky next year, he’ll have done something to make it worth the extra money.
The problem, of course, is that the Bears are even in this spot. They made a good decision on Trubisky in the narrow sense, but zooming out, it’s a decision they had to make because the guy they pegged as a franchise quarterback hasn’t turned out that way. One small, correct move three years after a disastrous big move does not make up for the disastrous big move. Not while Patrick Mahomes will reset the quarterback market and Deshaun Watson will get paid too.
Trubisky will have one more opportunity to make the Bears’ decision to draft him look genius, and not like a punchline up there with Sam Bowie and Ernie Broglio (I didn’t forget about the White Sox here, too — James Shields?). It might not be a long opportunity, but it’s an opportunity.
Today’s news about his fifth-year option doesn’t change anything. The only thing that’ll change in 2020 is if Trubisky earns a place on the 2021 roster.
But based on recent history and the Bears’ actions, that’s not particularly likely.