There’s already been a ton of second-guessing around Ryan Pace’s decision to invest in Nick Foles back in March. Why not Cam Newton? Why not Andy Dalton? Why a fourth round pick and $24 million guaranteed to get Foles?
General managers often are judged on results, not process, and the answers to those questions are no longer theoretical. Newton got off to a strong start and will return from the COVID-19 list as the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback. And now Dalton, who signed for $3 million, will be the Dallas Cowboys’ starter after Dak Prescott’s gruesome, upsetting, awful ankle injury. While the Bears are 4-1, there exists the possibility both Newton and Dalton are starting games in the playoffs – and Foles is not.
The Bears did what they felt they needed to do to get the quarterback they wanted – a sentence which has not worked out for this franchise in the past – trading a fourth-round pick and guaranteeing $24 million to Foles. They could’ve had Newton, who signed an incentive-laden $1.75 million, one-year deal, or Dalton for much, much cheaper (though more on that later).
The Bears pitched Foles as an ideal fit A) to “increase competition,” as Pace put it, B) because of his performances in big games and C) because of his relationships with head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DiFilippo.
“We knew there were going to be a lot of options at quarterback in this free agency period so we knew we would have an opportunity to increase competition there with those options,” Pace said in April. “So we went through each one of those and talked about each one.
“When we got to Nick, it was really a collective effort. … A talented player and the fact that he’s played in some big games and performed well in those big games and that carries a lot of weight.
“Then you have a lot of people in our building that are comfortable with him as a person and his makeup, which made the decision easier. That all kind of came together to make him a target for us and someone we wanted to aggressively go get.”
The uncertain nature of the offseason certainly played a part in going to get Foles, rather than a quarterback who didn’t have prior experience in versions of the Bears’ offense. When the Bears traded for Foles, we didn’t know if OTAs would happen (they didn’t), though Nagy in early April did field questions about whether he’d play Foles and Mitch Trubisky in preseason games – which, of course, were cancelled. Getting a guy who not only had experience in an iteration of Nagy’s offense, but won a Super Bowl MVP in it, carried weight in a pandemic-altered football landscape.
The Bears also did not want to wait out the quarterback market. Dalton was cut after the NFL Draft; Newton didn’t sign until late June. The price would’ve been higher if the Bears wanted either in March – they would’ve had to trade for Dalton and his $17.7 million salary, and Newton certainly wouldn’t have settled for bottom-of-the-market money shortly after being cut by the Carolina Panthers.
Also, if we’re talking about second-guessing, imagine the chaos in Chicago if the Bears didn’t acquire a quarterback in mid-March. Imagine weeks upon weeks of it feeling like this team indeed was going to ride with Mitch Trubisky in 2020, even after declining to pick up his fifth-year option. Imagine an NFL Draft coming and going without the Bears picking a quarterback, leaving Trubisky unchallenged as the starter in late April.
And imagine the message that would’ve sent to Trubisky’s teammates. We’re sticking with him as our guy – until we aren’t, either in May or June. Trading for Foles in March sent a clear message to the organization: Trubisky’s job is not safe, and we are not accepting what happened in 2019.
Of course, it’s better to complete passes and win games than send messages.
But I wrote back when Newton signed that we shouldn’t second-guess the Bears’ move to go get Foles when they did. The second-guessing should be squarely focused on the thing that led the Bears to make the Foles trade: Drafting Trubisky instead of Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson.
And there will understandably be some second-guessing if Dalton quarterbacks his team into the playoffs – through a laughably terrible division – and Foles does not. But trading for Foles instead of adding Dalton or Newton is not the root of the Bears’ quarterbacking problem.
That Pace had to go get a new quarterback this offseason is.