Back in February, Matt Nagy said something that at the time I thought pointed to the possibility of an early-season quarterback change.
“We got to figure out what our identity is and that's going to be an objective for us,” Nagy said at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “And then last year you heard me say, sometimes it takes five or six weeks. I feel like personally that's always the case, but there's a sense of urgency for us going into this year. It needs to happen sooner.”
It needs to happen sooner. That was the mentality with which Nagy benched Mitch Trubisky halfway through the Bears’ third game of the season. Nick Foles took over from there with the organization hoping he could quickly establish the kind of offensive identity Nagy wanted.
We’re six starts into the Nick Foles era and the Bears indeed have an identity – just not the one anyone wants. It’s an identity of being an awful, unwatchable catastrophe of an offense. But we’re not hearing “it needs to happen sooner.” We’re hearing “give it time” or “trust the process.”
Still? We’re still giving it time?
“(Foles) has strong convictions on what we’re trying to do offensively,” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said this week. “He’s been in a similar – no system is the exact system – but a very similar system before, a certain number of times, and knows the time it takes when there’s a lot of new pieces in there for things to mesh and he understands that.”
We were sold on it not needing to take time with Foles. The reason the Bears traded a fourth-round pick for him, and guaranteed $24 million to him, was because he was supposed to be the best Trubisky insurance policy on the market. He was supposed to be the guy Nagy could turn to at the first sign of trouble, able to step in and steady an offense relatively familiar to him.
And so the Bears did everything they could to get the quarterback they wanted, a sentence that has so rarely worked out for this franchise in recent memory (see: Glennon, Mike; Trubisky, Mitch; Cutler, Jay).
Bears games are now driving fans to shut off their TVs and find something else to do that might actually be fun. Again. In the middle of a pandemic when there's not that many fun things to do.
The only thing stable about this offense is how bad they’ve been since Foles took over.
In fairness, the pandemic meant Foles didn’t have a face-to-face meeting with any of his new teammates or coaches until July. And the delayed, unprecedented nature of 2020’s offseason did seem to have a long-lasting impact on Foles’ readiness.
“I think it’s just human nature. You’re with new people, you’re with a new offense, you’re in a new place, your family just moved,” Foles said. “There are a lot of moving parts, so getting the rhythm of where you are and for people to understand you and understand how things are going – I’m in this offense, but it’s not like I’m stepping into my Philadelphia offense and I can go run it like I did in Philadelphia. I’m starting over from phase one. There might be some similarities to have that set foundation, but that takes time.”
But there also was a thought inside Halas Hall back in March – before we knew just how bad the COVID-19 pandemic would get, and just how long we’d be dealing with the disruption it’s still causing – that Foles was the right guy for These Uncertain Times. If there wasn’t going to be an offseason program, or if training camp was going to be shortened, or if preseason games were going to be canceled – fine. At least Foles knows a version of Nagy’s offense, and has existing relationships with the head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“That’s something that’s really easy for a lot of people to connect the dots with,” Nagy said in April. “That certainly helps. More than anything, it’s relationships and being able to understand how these coaches teach.”
I’m not sure the Bears would be in a better place with Cam Newton or Andy Dalton right now, on Nov. 12. The offensive line is an absolute disaster thanks to a prophetic lack of offseason investment in it. Few quarterbacks could have legitimate, sustained success playing behind that group right now.
But at least those other quarterbacks only signed one-year contracts. Foles will be with the Bears in 2021 and will hamper the team’s already slim chances of freeing up enough money to pursue one of the good quarterbacks who may potentially become available (like Dak Prescott). The Bears are again stuck in quarterback hell, the same place they've been for most of our lives.
Meanwhile, nobody in Tennessee was talking about how much time it was going to take after Mike Vrabel benched his own former No. 2 overall pick last year:
Ryan Tannehill, first six starts (2019): 115/160 (72 percent), 1,458 yards, 9.1 yards/attempt, 12 TDs, 3 INTs, 117.1 passer rating
Nick Foles, first six starts (2020): 171/256 (67 percent), 1,558 yards, 6.1 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 6 INTs, 82.5 passer rating
The expectation for Foles was not for him to suddenly turn into one of the best quarterbacks in football, like Tannehill did after taking over for Marcus Mariota in 2019. But there was a baseline expectation of competence that the Bears were supposed to get out of Foles, suboptimal offensive line or not. You pay a fourth round pick and financially tie yourself beyond 2020 to a quarterback for, at the very least, competence.
Whether it’s the offensive line’s fault, or Nagy’s fault, or Foles’ fault – or, really, some combination of all three – Foles has, so far, been a failure.
And if the Bears’ offense doesn’t show signs of life on Monday night against the surging Minnesota Vikings, we’ll be at the point where Nagy will need to give serious consideration to benching Foles as soon as Trubisky is healthy.
By start No. 7, we'll know who Foles is. We probably already know the answer right now. And Nagy will need to harness the same urgency he talked about in February, and displayed in September, to try to save a sinking season. Even if that means going back to Trubisky.
Because hey, it can't possibly get worse, right?