The Bears need much, very much from quarterback Mitch Trubisky in 2019. He knows it: He was in a T-shirt this week with “Chasing Great” across the front.
Some suggestions have been floated that with the level of defense that the Bears are fielding, plus the offensive genius discerned in the person of Matt Nagy in his one year as an NFL head coach, they do not need Trubisky to be outstanding for the team to play up to its imagined seed as a Super Bowl contender.
No. Not true.
For myriad reasons.
For one, having less to do with just this season than an overall, GM Ryan Pace needs Trubisky to be more than just “good.” The reason is not simply because Pace trade two 3’s and a 4 to move up just one slot to select Trubisky No. 2 overall in the 2017 draft. But this isn’t about his draft position; more on that shortly.
It is that Pace needs to establish that his regime can identify, deliver and develop “elite” at the most important position in all of sports. Pace’s record is not good: He wanted to move up in 2015 for Marcus Mariota but the Tennessee Titans wanted too much for the right to select what has turned out to be a C-minus quarterback.
After the Mariota non-trade, Pace and John Fox determined to ride with Jay Cutler and save the organization from writing off some committed guaranteed money. Pace then believed Mike Glennon warranted $18.5 million as a bridge starter; the Bears and subsequently the Arizona Cardinals found out that Glennon wasn’t fit for a bridge backup.
Pace would not be the first Bears personnel chief with the anti-Midas touch for a particular position. Jerry Angelo acknowledged his failure to bag a franchise quarterback over a decade of trying. (Angelo also admitted his own quirky bad luck finding good offensive linemen, Josh Beekman, Gabe Carimi, Marc Colombo, Terrence Metcalf, Chris Williams, all fourth-round or higher).
Trubisky’s draft slot doesn’t really matter at this point in the evaluation of Pace’s abilities to staff the position. What does matter, and necessitates Trubisky being “special” rather than “good” is the fact that the Bears gave up the significant player potential of the three key draft picks given up to get him. Trubisky can’t be tasked with making up for what the Bears didn’t get in those picks, but the Bears were after more than “good” when they packed off that draft capital.
(There’s also the Patrick Mahomes/Deshaun Watson discussion, but that’s not really the point here – if Trubisky proves out. And just for the record, their teams – Kansas City and Houston – also traded up to draft them where they did.)
“Good” not good enough
The Bears have had their painful share of “good” quarterbacks, enough to know that good isn’t good enough in a league that has tilted to facilitate exceptional quarterback play.
The Bears won a Super Bowl with a very good Jim McMahon in 1985. The biggest single reason why that epic team never returned to the Super Bowl was that McMahon never played more than nine games in the next three seasons after ’85. He threw a total of 552 passes over those three years; a dozen quarterbacks threw more than that last year alone, including both Super Bowl quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Jared Goff) and AFC runner-up Mahomes. NFC runner-up Drew Brees was sub-550 for the first time in 14 years. (Trubisky threw 434 passes through 14 games).
Jim Harbaugh was pretty “good” but couldn’t get the Bears even to an NFC title game. Jim Miller was good in a 13-3 run in 2001, but not good enough to overcome Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles and a Hugh Douglas body slam in the wild-card game.
Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman were pretty “good,” and the Bears lost the wild-card game in 2005 and the Super Bowl the next year despite having a defense that ranked with the best in Bears history. Just like the defense Trubisky has. Jay Cutler was “good” but had that knee injury in the 2010 NFC Championship game and not even the Urlacher-Briggs-Peppers-Tillman defense could get the Bears past the issues at quarterback.
Trubisky was frequently “good” last year, kind of in the Grossman tradition. Grossman had seven 100-rating games among his 16 in 2006. Trubisky had six among his 14 games last season. Grossman failed to reach a 77 QB rating in his three ’06 postseason games; Trubisky had a 68.2 rating for his playoff first half, lit up the Eagles in the fourth quarter to finish with an 89.6 mark. Ultimately “good” was not good enough.
The point is hardly to compare Trubisky to Grossman. It is, however, to underscore that Trubisky simply being good is less than no guarantee of Super Bowl-grade achievement. Tom Brady won the last Super Bowl with a 71.4 rating but his offense also trampled the Rams with 154 rushing yards. And give ‘em a break: He was 41 years old and besides, he’s put up 100-plus ratings in 16 of his 40 playoff games. Jared Goff may be worth $134 million over four years but his 73.6 passer rating in playoffs wasn’t good enough even with Aaron Donald, any more than Khalil Mack can.
Not that it matters in any of this, but Trubisky is working against history. No quarterback chosen No. 2 in a draft has ever won a Super Bowl. Donovan McNabb got to one but lost. Carson Wentz’s team won one, but Wentz was on IR as Nick Foles got Philadelphia its Lombardi Trophy. Sid Luckman won championships but long before there was a Super Bowl and in a league with only 10 teams.
They were good. But in rare instances, Super Bowls require more than “good” and it will be so for Trubisky and the Bears.