Bears

Bears failure to stay with QB 'plan' has left development pipeline empty beyond Trubisky

Bears failure to stay with QB 'plan' has left development pipeline empty beyond Trubisky

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.

Case studies

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)

2016 Cutler

Fales
Matt Barkley
Brian Hoyer
Connor Shaw

2017 Mike Glennon

Mitch Trubisky
Mark Sanchez

2018 Trubisky

Tyler Bray
Chase Daniel

2019 Austin Allen (rookie minicamp)

Bray
Daniel

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.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Khalil Mack pays off holiday debts at Walmart in his hometown

Khalil Mack pays off holiday debts at Walmart in his hometown

Khalil Mack is doing good in his hometown during the holiday season.

Mack paid off more than 300 layaway accounts at a Walmart in his hometown of Fort Pierce, Fla. Mack paid through the Khalil Mack Foundation.

The Fort Pierce Walmart announced his good deed on their Facebook page:

“We have some wonderful news! If you have an active Holiday Layaway account at your local Ft. Pierce Wal-Mart, you account has been paid off!

“We here at Walmart would like to thank the Khalil Mack Foundation for your generosity, and for making so many families happy for the holidays!”

Mack has been a big play player for the Bears defense since joining the team last year. Here is an example of a big play off the field from Mack.

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

2020 NFL Draft: Bears land CB, OT in 7-round mock draft

The 2019 NFL season is in its final quarter, and with the Bears essentially needing to win out while also getting some help around the league to make the playoffs, it's important to keep track of the trending NFL Draft narrative building around this team.

The funny thing, however, is that that narrative continues to change.

Just a few weeks ago, the Bears were considered a team that would potentially dip into the pool of quarterback prospects in the early second round, but with the emergence of Mitch Trubisky (he's thrown for 582 yards and six touchdowns in the last two games alone), it appears less likely that GM Ryan Pace will use one of his few draft assets on one.

Tight end was also considered a target for the Bears in the second round, and that could remain the case as the season marches on. But Jesper Horsted is beginning to look like a legitimate sleeper to emerge as part of the answer at such a critical position in coach Matt Nagy's offense.

So where does that leave this team's hierarchy of draft needs as the offseason inches closer? 

According to CBS Sports' new seven-round mock draft, the first two positions the Bears will address with their two second-round picks are cornerback and offensive tackle. In this mock, Chicago grabs TCU corner Jeff Gladney (No. 49 overall) and Iowa offensive tackle Alaris Jackson (No. 50 overall).

Gladney will participate in this year's Senior Bowl at the end of January after a standout career with the Horned Frogs. He was rated the No. 1 cornerback in the Big 12 by Pro Football Focus in 2018 and has been solid once again this season, although he's managed just one interception on the year. 

At 6-foot, 183 pounds, Gladney has an NFL frame and the kind of high-end coverage skills the Bears should be looking to add to the roster. Prince Amukamara's contract expires at the end of next season, and drafting a player like Gladney, combined with 2019 sixth-round pick Dukey Shelley, would strengthen the team's pipeline of young cornerbacks who will eventually be called upon to play.

Jackson, who the Bears take with their second second-rounder in this scenario, suffered an early-season knee injury but returned to earn Third Team All-Big 10 honors this year.

Jackson combined with Tristan Wirfs to give Iowa one of the best offensive tackle duos in college football, but Jackson offers a little less upside on the edge moving forward. Still, the Bears have suffered from underwhelming offensive line play all season and won't hesitate to add a player with Jackson's pedigree early in this year's draft.

As for the rest of the Bears' draft haul, here are some highlights:

Round 4 (projected compensatory pick): Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford

Parkinson began the 2019 season with some chatter that suggested he'd end the year as the top tight end in the class. And while he ended the season with 48 catches for 589 yards and a touchdown, it wasn't quite the production expected from a player who was supposed to be the next in the long line of promising Stanford tight ends. 

Parkinson's underwhelming season could be the Bears' gain, however. The best part of his game is his ability as a receiver, which is what Chicago is missing most from its offense right now. If he slides into Day 3 and the Bears end up with a compensatory pick in this range, he'd certainly be a viable target.

Round 5 (from Eagles): K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford

Why not tap into the Stanford program twice on Day 3? This time, the Bears go with the guy who was throwing passes to Parkinson. Costello is a solid Day-3 quarterback prospect who has some physical limitations and an awkward throwing motion, but it's critical that Pace adds a developmental passer to the roster even if it's just to become a long-term backup for Trubisky (assuming Trubisky keeps the job).

Costello's been injured all season and was limited to just five games in what was supposed to be a senior year that put him in the first-round conversation. Instead, he'll slide into the third day (at least, he should). He'd make a lot of sense for the Bears, especially from a public relations standpoint. He isn't quite good enough to legitimately challenge Trubisky in 2020, but he has enough talent to potentially develop into a respectable starter down the road.

Round 7: Tucker McCann (K, Missouri)

Kicker alert! Would the Bears dare using a draft pick on a kicker? It seems highly unlikely, especially since Eddy Pineiro is beginning to play better. He's made all of his field-goal attempts during Chicago's three-game winning streak.

That said, Pineiro is connecting on just 76% of his kicks this season, which ranks 25th in the NFL. Not good.

Pace is a pretty loyal guy, and with Pineiro kicking under some of the most intense pressure of any kicking situation in the NFL, one could argue he's weathered the storm pretty well.

The next three games will determine whether Pineiro's roster spot is safe in 2020. If he remains hot, he'll be back. It's as simple as that.

Here is the total Bears' mock draft:

Round 2: Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Round 2: Alaric Jackson, OL, Iowa
Round 4: Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford
Round 5: K.J. Costello, QB, Stanford
Round 5: Larrell Murchison, DL, NC State
Round 5: Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt
Round 6: Tyler Higby, G, Michigan State
Round 7: Tucker McCann, K, Missouri

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.