The Bears need to stick with Mitch Trubisky to see if Matt Nagy can make him work

The Bears need to stick with Mitch Trubisky to see if Matt Nagy can make him work

The Bears have three broad options when it comes to their quarterback in 2020. They can: 

1) Keep Mitch Trubisky as their unquestioned starter.

2) Bring in one or two quarterbacks to compete with Trubisky.

3) Acquire a quarterback and anoint him their starter before/during OTAs.

You, the person reading this, may have already made up your mind on Trubisky. But the Bears do still need to evaluate him over the final eight games of 2019, specifically in how he can operate in Matt Nagy’s offense. 

Trubisky has not had success running the “Football 202” version of Nagy’s scheme to date, with a lot of his numbers either as bad or worse than they were during his rookie year under Dowell Loggains and John Fox. While it's not realistic to expect Nagy to blow up his offense halfway through the season, he can tweak a few things in the offense to try to give Trubisky the best chance to succeed. 

The Bears have already started that process: They ran 40 percent of their plays from under center against the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles, as opposed to 22 percent in their previous six games.

The Bears averaged six yards per play when Trubisky dropped back to pass from under center against the Chargers, but he only completed one of four passes from under center against the Eagles (with that one being a 53-yard heave to Taylor Gabriel). Perhaps the Bears can try to get Trubisky more play-action/rollout opportunities from under center going forward, seeing as he’s comfortable with being on the move and this offense has the weapons to beat coverage downfield. 

“You’re changing the launch angle, you get him on the move which is something he likes to do,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said of that deep ball to Gabriel. "But then you’re re-setting his feet and taking a shot, which you’re complementing the run game in that situation and getting our speed guys in space, so that was kind of a best-case scenario.” 

Trubisky’s ability to throw on the run is one of his better abilities. He hasn’t proven to be an adept pocket passer, so why not try to get him outside the pocket more often? It depends on how opposing defenses play Trubisky, yes, but when little is working, everything's on the table. 

This is just one example of a way the Bears can pare things back and try to scheme success out of Trubisky. Establishing the run and allowing Trubisky more opportunities on play-action could help get him easier completions, especially downfield, too. 

But Trubisky has to complete those passes and make the most of whatever good plays Nagy does scheme and call. Against the Chargers, Trubisky overthrew a wide open Gabriel on a perfectly designed and perfectly executed play-action pass (out of the shotgun) — if he hits that throw, the Bears win, and he doesn’t lose a fumble on the next play that wounds up costing his team the lead in the fourth quarter. 

“Right now there’s been more frustration than success, and we want to be able to understand the ‘why’ part,” Nagy said. “Well, we’re hammering through that and we do really feel like we’re right there, we do. We believe it’s close. 

“But what happens is all-in-all regardless of any changes that you would end up making, it really does come down to just some success somewhere that can kind of build off each play or each game or each week, and that hasn’t happened with the offense. It hasn’t.”

The general feeling around Halas Hall is that the Bears’ offense is not too far off from finding its groove. There’s probably some reflexive positivity in that — if we speak it into existence and believe it’ll happen, it’ll happen — but it does not mean the Bears can keep doing what they’ve done over the first eight games in their final eight games.

That, though, does not mean changing quarterbacks in 2019, which at this point would not accomplish anything in a 3-5 season. But it does mean trying to find every possible avenue for Trubisky to turn his season — and Bears career — around. 

If he does, there’s still enough time in 2019 for him to dodge a competition for his job in 2020 (though time is perilously close to running out). If he sort of does — perhaps inconsistently — then the Bears can enter 2020 looking for a quarterback to compete with him. 

And if he doesn’t at all? 

The Bears should have no reservations about acquiring a no-questions-asked starting quarterback next spring. 

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Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Calling a quarterback battle an “open competition,” as Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy did Friday, leaves that comment open to interpretation. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Nick Foles is going to emerge from that competition as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

The Bears are not going to hand Foles their QB1 job — he’s not even going to take the first snaps of the competition. Those will go to Mitch Trubisky, the incumbent here. Foles will have to win the job, and there’s a chance he won’t. I’m not ready to call the Bears’ quarterback competition for Foles before a single practice is held. 

But for Trubisky to win the job, and not Foles, the Bears will have to not only see the 2017 No. 2 overall pick out-play his challenger during training camp. They’ll have to convince themselves it’s not a mirage, and that the last three years of inconsistent-at-best tape aren’t a mitigating factor against a guy who threw for 373 yards as the MVP of a Super Bowl. 

“I think when we say open competition, this is a open competition, they’ve both been told that and I think it’s the best way to do it,” Pace said. “I think the good thing is honesty and transparency with both players as we go through it. We want what’s best for the Chicago Bears. It’s as simple as that.”

The quote that really stands out to me, though, after Friday’s hour-plus of teleconferences with Pace, Matt Nagy, Nick Foles and Robert Quinn is an old one from February. It’s Nagy talking at the NFL Combine in February about wanting Trubisky to know the offense better than he does. It felt like a challenge to Trubisky at the time; it felt like an even greater challenge when Foles — who has experience running versions of the Bears’ offense in Kansas City and Philadelphia — was brought in. 

Essentially, the Bears told Trubisky through their words and actions: If you don’t know the offense to the level we want, we have a guy in place who does, and he'll take your job. 

Foles has a working knowledge of the Bears’ offense, one Nagy figured could get him through a game right now if need be. But there are plenty of different things the Bears do on offense compared to the Chiefs and Eagles (insert your own joke here about those offenses, most importantly, being better). There will be a learning curve for Foles to know Nagy’s offense better than Nagy, especially with the expectation of no OTAs or spring minicamps.

But Foles did an excellent job of explaining why a quarterback needs to know the offense better than its playcaller, one which resonates after watching so many Bears games spiral offensively in 2019. 

“I think if I can (know) this offense just as good, if not better, than the coaches,” Foles said, “when you step in the huddle, then you're able to face adversity better because there's gonna be times when Nagy calls the play and it's a different defense than it should be and it's up to the quarterback to change it.”

The Bears can try to simulate that adversity in practice, but also have a couple years’ worth of information that Trubisky can’t pull out of it. If everything is equal on the practice field, wouldn’t the Bears choose the guy who they hope can fix things in the middle of a game, rather than the guy who’s shown he can’t?

“This is a kid (Foles) who’s been through a lot of different situations,” Nagy said. “He’s been a Super Bowl MVP, he’s been in pressure moments and he understands a lot of the things that we’re looking for.”

Again, the Bears have not named Foles their starter. He carries a lower cap hit in 2020 than Trubisky, meaning the Bears will be okay financially with him being a backup. Trubisky could be sparked by the mere presence of Foles into being some version of the guy Pace hoped he was getting three years ago. 

If that’s the case, Foles may never play a down for the Bears in 2020. That’s actually the team’s best-case scenario. It’s what the Bears — and Bears fans — should be hoping for. 

But realistically, the odds are in Foles’ favor to be QB1 in Week 1. This franchise knows what Trubisky can do. A lot of Nagy’s coaches, including Nagy himself, know what Foles can do from past experiences working with him. And that gives an advantage to Foles. 

So if, in the absence of actual sports to gamble on right now, you’re looking for a safe bet: Take Nick Foles to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. 

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Nick Foles 'grateful' for Bears trade: 'If I don’t agree to restructured contract, I’m not traded'

USA Today

Nick Foles 'grateful' for Bears trade: 'If I don’t agree to restructured contract, I’m not traded'

Nick Foles wanted to be a Bear. He made that perfectly clear.

In fact, Friday’s conference call with the new Chicago Bears quarterback was pretty much over and Foles easily could have hung up and gone on with the rest of his day. Instead, he wanted to make sure the reporter who asked the last question about his trade to Chicago got the answer she wanted.

After further clarification, Foles went on to give an answer that lasted three minutes and nine seconds, addressing the details of his trade and restructured contract with the Bears.

“If I don’t agree to a restructure, I’m not traded, so therefore I’m back in Jacksonville,” Foles said. “This situation works best for the Jacksonville Jaguars and for the Chicago Bears and for me.”

Later, Foles actually called it a “crazy restructure,” most likely because it’s definitely a complicated and unique contract. But all parties had to get creative to make it work for the Jaguars, Bears and Foles.

So here’s essentially what happened: First, the Bears and Jaguars had to agree to a deal, but it was contingent on Foles agreeing to restructure his contract. At that point, Nick Foles’ agent David Dunn was notified of the trade and the quarterback had to weigh his options. This gave him some leverage, but he had to look at the situation in Jacksonville with Garner Minshew, the situation in Chicago with Mitchell Trubisky, compare the coaching staffs, and ultimately determine if it was worth moving his family. The COVID-19 pandemic also had to be considered because Foles’ wife, Tori, is pregnant and due to give birth in June. The couple endured a heartbreaking miscarriage last year and moving won’t exactly be easy in today's present world. 

“This is ultimately what I thought was best based on a lot of information from this last season to where agreeing to a crazy restructure was necessary to allow me to go play for Coach Nagy and the Chicago Bears,” Foles said. “It’s probably not the logistical move if you’re looking at numbers and contracts and moving and all that stuff, but it was necessary based on my heart and a lot of prayer and thinking. It was obviously a struggle.”

That said, Foles still sounded like a guy who wanted to be traded.

“I'm grateful for Jacksonville to allow it to happen,” he said. “Because ultimately (Jaguars general manager) Dave Caldwell and (owner) Shad Khan had to allow me to be traded and we were able to work behind the scenes to have these conversations to make it happen to where they would be open to trading me. And then ultimately it came down to the restructure and everything like that. But it took every single party to be on the same page and allowing this to happen.”

The restructure wasn’t simple, which is why some of the details are still unknown. What we know is that the Jaguars are taking a big cap hit this year to get out of Foles' contract in 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, the Bears needed to add legitimate competition for Trubisky, but do so without breaking the bank because they didn’t have a whole lot of cap space to work with. In the end, Foles will still get the nearly $20.125 million guaranteed that was left on his Jaguars deal, but the Bears turned his contract into a more cap-friendly 3-year, $24 million contract.

Instead of getting base salaries of $15.125 million in 2020, $14.875 million in 2021 and $20 million in 2022, Foles will get $8 million in each of the three years.

But why would he do that?

Well, under his previous contract, there was only a $5 million roster bonus guaranteed beyond 2020, so unless he played like an All-Pro this upcoming season, Foles could have become an obvious cap casualty and not received those high salaries in 2021 and 2022 anyway. By agreeing to the restructure, he helps his job security because the guaranteed money is more spread out.

But what happens if he actually does play like an All-Pro?

The Bears included additional incentives reportedly worth up to $6 million per year. We don’t know what the specific thresholds are, but it’s safe to say that if Foles beats out Trubisky and leads the Bears to a Super Bowl, he’ll be compensated for it.

And in that scenario, he’d also certainly be worth more than $14 million ($8 million plus maximum incentives) per year, so the deal reportedly allows Foles to void either of the final two years of the contract based on performance. That’s vague, but again, the Bears are giving Foles the ability to earn what he’s worth. They had to do so to get him to take a team-friendly restructure that allowed the team to address other areas of need on the roster.

It’s a very reasonable deal for all sides. And most importantly, in 2020, the Bears have two highly motivated quarterbacks in an true open competition.

“Ultimately it was time to make a change,” Foles said. “It really worked best for both parties because I love Gardner (Minshew). I think Jacksonville can build around Gardner and now I have an opportunity to play for a team that I played a couple of years ago (in the playoffs) that was honestly one of the best teams I've played against. To be with a coach that was there for me from the beginning like Doug Pederson was. I got Matt Nagy.”

And Nagy has Foles.