There is a way for the cap-strapped Bears to get a high-priced quarterback upgrade without limiting their ability to address other needs. And it's centered around Tom Brady.
It would also require Ryan Pace to make his boldest move in addition to a bunch of other things falling into place around the league. How likely this hypothetical (and to be clear: This is only a hypothetical) is to play out is one thing (more on that later) but here’s how Brady can get the Bears a better quarterback without breaking their salary cap.
Between the NFL’s legal tampering window opening March 16 and the new league year beginning March 18, every free agent quarterback but Brady finds a new home. Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Dak Prescott, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are all under contract by March 20.
The Bears, too, sign Case Keenum to a cheap one-year contract. Think about $5 million.
Meanwhile, Brady, intent on exploring free agency for the first time in his career, takes his time making a decision. Maybe he doesn’t have a cross-country traveling tour, but he meets with teams in of his (I’m assuming here) several palatial estates.
So the New England Patriots, not wanting to risk Brady leaving them in the lurch, trade for Andy Dalton as insurance.
The days melt off the calendar and all of a sudden, it’s March 23 and Brady is ready to make a decision. The Colts, Chargers and Titans aren’t in play, deciding not to risk leaving themselves exposed to the whims of a 43-year-old who believes good hydration prevents sunburns. The same goes for the Patriots.
And on March 25, Brady decides to sign with the Las Vegas Raiders.
All of a sudden, all of the teams that seemed to need a quarterback don’t. The Raiders don’t have a path to trading Carr to the Colts, Patriots, Chargers or Buccaneers.
You can see where this is going.
The Jon Gruden/Mike Mayock brain trust is not going to cut him, but they will accept a lesser offer for a relatively cheap 28-year-old who had a passer rating of 100.8 and threw for 4,000 yards last year.
The only way the Raiders trade Carr is if they sign Brady (Cam Newton, even if healthy, doesn't fit Gruden's offense). That’s the only path for Carr to become available; in this case, he’s available but there aren’t many suitors for him.
What if Pace, in his boldest move of all, called up Gruden and Mayock and made this pitch: We’ll send you a couple of late-round picks…but also Mitch Trubisky.
This allows the Bears to go get their version of Alex Smith for only an additional $9 million in cap space in 2020 (Carr’s cap hit is $21.5 million; Trubisky’s is about $9.2 million). That’s entirely palatable; much more so than trading for Carr and keeping Trubisky, meaning the Bears will sink over $30 million into their quarterback room in 2020.
A Carr-Keenum pairing completely turns over the Bears’ quarterback room for the better, all while allowing Pace the flexibly to pay for a starting tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and/or safety in free agency.
Don’t discount the Raiders’ interest (specifically, Gruden’s) in trying to “fix” a talented, yet underperforming quarterback. They did it a year ago with DeShone Kizer for some reason and could be convinced to view Trubisky as the heir apparent to Brady once he retires. Sure, Trubisky will hit free agency after 2020 if his fifth-year option isn't picked up but there's value for getting him in the building.
If everything in this scenario falls into place and you were to ask “who says no?”, it feels like Pace may be more likely to say no than Gruden.
This is how the Bears are able to trade for Carr, but still address other needs on their roster with a meager amount of cap space and draft capital. The Bears, otherwise, can’t realistically add a significant upgrade over Trubisky without making the rest of their 2020 roster worse.
The reality check is that this hypothetical is not exactly realistic. None of this matters if the Raiders don’t lure Brady to Nevada. And expect the Bears to continue sending signals of their firm belief in Trubisky this week from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, with their focus on adding a guy like Keenum to compete with him — not a guy like Carr to replace him as the starter.
But if you’re in the camp that the Bears need bold action at quarterback, this would be it. And hey, it's fun to dream, right?