The fate of coach John Fox will be a dominant story line through the remainder of the 2017 season, right above or just below the ongoing state of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. But while Trubisky’s draft selection hangs heaviest on the career shoulders of GM Ryan Pace, the link between Fox and Trubisky is worth more than a passing look, because Trubisky may figure prominently in whether Fox sees the fourth season of his Bears contract from a Chicago sideline.
Fox may or may not have known specifically which quarterback Pace was going to grab with the third-then-second pick of the draft. He actually didn’t really need to know, having spent very in-depth time with all of the top four (Trubisky, Pat Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer) in advance of the draft. His thoughts on each were on file with Pace, who would never have saddled his head coach with someone he didn’t want.
The real discussion between Fox and Pace wasn’t which quarterback; it was whether an impact-now player (as in Solomon Thomas, whom the 49ers took after the flip-flop with the Bears). Coming off two seasons with a combined 9-23 record and coaching for his job, Fox would not have been out of line to demand a defensive difference-maker.
That didn’t happen, and Fox went along with two years of trying it with Jay Cutler, allowing the organization not to have to walk away from a lot of money guaranteed to Cutler. Pace for his part did not use a single pick in his first two drafts on a quarterback. Meaning: Fox was going into this pivotal season with a career backup (Mike Glennon) and not much else.
It strikes this observer as a stretch for Pace and the organization to summarily jettison Fox after he’d made do with little in the way of quarterbacking – after operating with Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, winning a game with each, and after Fox’d gone with a rookie with 13 college starts in what is a developmental year for Trubisky. I don’t think Pace or the organization operate that way.
As Fox and every coach makes clear, however, coaches don’t make decisions on players; players make those decisions for them. Up one level, GM’s don’t necessarily make decisions on coaches; coaches effectively make those decisions on themselves in a results-based business. If the Bears go 5-0 over the final games, Fox will see year four. If he’s 0-5, he’s made Pace’s decision for him.
Where it becomes intriguing is if Fox’s Bears go, say, 3-2 the rest of the way. If the situation is on the cusp, ownership may look at escalating numbers of empty seats and press for change. Or if progress (Chairman George McCaskey’s mantra) has happened, maybe in the form of wins over San Francisco, Cleveland and Cincinnati, and strong matchups with Detroit and a caring Minnesota, do Pace and the organization look big picture, honestly assess what Fox has done with the quarterback situation, and let it ride?
If Fox and his offensive staff have brought Trubisky to an NFL level in the span of 12 games – and there were signs even in the Green Bay and Detroit gaffes that the kid has some right stuff – Fox returning for year four may be the right thing to do.
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Nothing like a little quarterback controversy to generate interest, buzz, whatever. But to have two in the same week, side by side, going to be on the same field….
That’s the situation leading up to Sunday’s game between the Bears and San Francisco 49ers, the Bears with their franchise quarterback still wobbly on training wheels, and the 49ers hoping they got theirs and he’s as good as the New England Patriots thought he was. Both the Bears and 49ers traded to acquire their guys; both had free shots to get the other’s guy earlier this year.
Bears-49ers is sort of a mini “who-got-the-better-deal?” deal. Which is sort of a big deal, seein’ as how both teams are desperately looking for their franchise quarterback to happen.
Mitch Trubisky vs. Jimmy Garoppolo. They won’t ever be on a playing field at the same time but they project to face each other with some measure of frequency, which means a whole lot of potential second-guessing for both organizations.
The Bears draw the 49ers next season at Levi’s Stadium based on the division rotation that has the Bears vs. the NFC West next year, making it five straight years for Bears-49ers.
(The Bears also are on pace to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the fifth straight season, both teams pretty solidly ensconced in last place, and the Bears draw the same-place finishers in the NFC East (Giants) and South (Bucs) next year.)
If Trubisky goes supersonic, San Francisco GM John Lynch will be saddled with explaining why he didn’t see what Trubisky could be when Lynch was sitting there on draft day at No. 2 and his caller-ID blinking, “Bears – Ryan Pace.”
If Trubisky doesn’t go supernova, and Garoppolo turns out to be the goods, Pace could be excused for what-if musings over whether Garoppolo would have been worth giving New England the No. 1 and No. 3 picks the Patriots demanded in a trade for Garoppolo back in the Spring. And Pace well could be doing those musings somewhere other than Chicago.
Longtime NFL reporter Peter King was allowed to cover the draft from inside the San Francisco draft room, and in his story Peter gleaned that the 49ers had another team sniffing besides the Bears. Still, the general conclusion has been that the Bears stood a very good chance that Trubisky could still have been theirs if they’d stood pat at No. 3.
The problem with that is the word “chance.” Does an NFL team allow “chance” to be an element in the process of securing what it believes to be a franchise quarterback? Among one sampling of distinguished opinions from sources more than a little familiar with quarterbacks – Ernie Accorsi, Jon Gruden, Bill Polian, Ron Wolfe – the reaction was absolute: Pace should not have waited and taken a chance that Trubisky would be there at No. 3.
The net was that, after Pace traded down in round two and added picks, was that the Bears gave up basically a third-round pick to move up for Trubisky. For what it’s worth, which of course isn’t a whole, whole lot, the Bears actually “won” the Trubisky trade, by a few points, based on the ever-popular draft tables that place a points value on every draft slot.
Who won or was jobbed in the draft-day trade really doesn’t matter now. What matters will play out Sunday in Soldier Field.