INDIANAPOLIS — For all the focus this week on free agency, which unofficially begins March 12, and the NFL Draft, which begins in late April, no one affiliated with the Bears has lost sight of the most important key to the long-tern success of the franchise: Mitchell Trubisky.
The Bears didn’t trade up in last year’s draft for Trubisky to be merely “fine.” They didn’t hire a young, quarterback-driven coach for Trubisky to be “just a guy.” They didn’t invest so much effort into building the structure around Trubisky just to feel “okay” about him.
If the Bears get Trubisky right, they’ll get a lot of other things right, too. Matt Nagy is a big part of that equation, as is offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. But another important guy in all of this will be Trubisky’s backup in 2018.
“There’s no more important room than that quarterback room, and we’re really mindful of who we pair in that room,” general manager Ryan Pace said.
So how about elevating Mark Sanchez from being a No. 3 quarterback who was inactive for all 16 games last year to being Trubisky’s backup?
“He did a good job this year, all the things we value with him, his veteran leadership and his experiences,” Pace said. “He’s a free agent. Those are all evaluations that are ongoing.”
Pace said Sanchez has expressed interest in returning to the Bears, where he and Trubisky developed a good relationship in 2017. Sanchez’s been-there, done-that history was important for Trubisky as the rookie dealt with so many new experiences in the NFL.
Having that veteran quarterback as a sort of conduit from the coaching staff to Trubisky is helpful. But with a young quarterback like Trubisky, maybe it’s easy to lose sight of the job No. 1 of a backup: Being ready to come in and win at a moment’s notice.
Pace pointed to that on Tuesday, mentioning Nick Foles' Super Bowl title, which could present a roadblock for retaining Sanchez. The last time the 31-year-old threw a pass in a regular season game was on Jan. 1, 2017, and he hasn’t been credited with a quarterback “win” — for what that’s worth — since 2014.
“You need to be able to come in and win if something happens,” Pace said. “We just saw that in the Super Bowl. But again the chemistry in that room is important. You’re there for the starter. You’re in a supportive role to help him grow. We have a younger quarterback, so we have to be mindful of who we pair with him in that room.”
Pace could shoot to sign someone like Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carolina’s Derek Anderson or Miami’s Matt Moore, all of whom are due to hit the open market in two weeks. Chase Daniel, who spent last year as the New Orleans Saints’ backup and has direct connections to Pace and Nagy, will also be a free agent but has had a longer layoff between NFL throws than Sanchez (Dec. 22, 2016, which was the only pass he threw that year).
But opting to keep the same chemistry in the Bears’ quarterback room — minus Mike Glennon, of course, who will be released when the new league year begins March 14 — could have a benefit to Trubisky. And it could mean Sanchez is back at Halas Hall in 2018.
“I think you just surround your quarterback, who’s your most valuable asset, with a lot of good resources,” Pace said. “We feel like we’ve done that, definitely with the coaching staff. And they all bring a different perspective to the table. It’s cool to walk into the offensive meeting room and see them collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other. It’s definitely that kind of relationship. So it’ll be interesting to see that play out. It’s definitely a creative offense.”