Matt Nagy rattled off a handful of numbers during a press conference Saturday afternoon: One touchdown, nine interceptions, a 53.3 passer rating and a 60 percent completion rate for a quarterback who was four games into his second season with a specific offensive-minded head coach. And Nagy stressed this quarterback, without naming names, is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Nagy’s point was to offer some optimistic context to Mitch Trubisky’s slow start to Year 2 running his offense. That’s because the quarterback he referenced is Drew Brees.
“I understand everyone wants it now, now, now, now," Nagy said. "I get it. So I need to make sure that I pull back, I stay patient with our offense and who we are because there’s a lot of evidence out there of this stuff that goes on, where the story’s a really good ending in the end.”
Brees was awful over the first four games of the 2007 season — Sean Payton’s second year as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints — putting up those aforementioned horrific numbers. While the Saints only managed a disappointing 7-9 season that year, Brees led the league in passing attempts and completions, and threw for 4,423 yards with 28 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a rating of 89.4. The next year, he began his streak of seven consecutive Pro Bowls, during which he led the Saints to a Super Bowl.
But there are a couple of problems with Nagy’s analogy. First: Brees was an All-Pro in 2006, his first year with Patyon, and had an established track record of success with the San Diego Chargers before landing in New Orleans. 2007 was Brees’ sixth year in the league, too. He not only had experience, but he had prior production.
Trubisky did have a 95.4 passer rating in 2018, though that’s not a good stat to compare quarterbacks from different eras (Trubisky’s 2018 passer rating would’ve been seventh in 2007; it was 16th last year). Overall, the prior production does not exist for Trubisky in the way it existed for Brees.
So there’s not really a comparison there. But let’s unpack Nagy’s comments about instant gratification, especially in the face of what Patrick Mahomes is doing with the Chiefs and what Deshaun Watson is doing with the Texans.
“It doesn’t shock me with Kansas City and what’s going on there with coach (Andy) Reid and Patrick and the rest of those coaching staff and players,” Nagy said. “There’s a lot of good things that are going on there. And then you talk about a guy like Deshaun Watson and what they’re doing down there with Houston.
"But I remember specifically dealing with all three of those quarterbacks, them talking about wanting to be the best quarterback class ever. But that doesn’t happen in 2-3 years. That doesn’t happen in 2-3 years. They’re all going to have their highs and lows. We need to face that.”
The problem here is teams that draft a quarterback in the first round do need some level of instant gratification. Trubisky’s cap hit in 2019 is about $7.9 million, and rises to a little over $9.2 million in 2020. That’s incredibly cheap, and allows the Bears to make the sort of aggressive moves in free agency they have.
But the Bears need to figure out if Trubisky can be a long-term “eraser,” the kind of quarterback who’s good enough to lift an entire roster when he’s taking up a significant chunk of cap space after earning a massive contract. Brees is one of those guys. So are Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and, when healthy, Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton. Mahomes and Watson look capable of being that type of quarterback for years, too.
But is Matthew Stafford, whose $29.5 million cap hit in 2019 is the largest in the NFL, that guy? Or Derek Carr? Or Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota?
Every one of those players carries a cap hit of over $20 million in 2019. That’s the cost of doing business with quarterbacks no longer on their rookie contracts (or, in the case if Winston and Mariota, on their fifth-year options). Of Stafford/Carr/Winston/Mariota, can you imagine any of those players leading deep playoff runs? Probably not.
One of the worst places an NFL team can be stuck is paying an okay-to-good quarterback a ton of money. The Bears are deeply tied to Trubisky, but need to figure out by the end of the 2020 season if he’s worthy of the kind of contract extensions signed by Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, and will be signed by Mahomes and Watson.
The Bears can, right now, wait for Trubisky to realize the potential they collectively believe he has in him. It’s a lot easier to be patient when your quarterback is making under $10 million on his rookie contract. It’s much more difficult to be patient in that fifth-year option season or during a rich, long-term second contract.
Two bad games aren’t enough to implode the Bears’ confidence in Trubisky. Four bad games, even at a 2007 Brees-like level, aren’t either. But the Bears will have to make a decision on Trubisky in the next 16 months, and at some point won’t be able to be patient anymore.
“We know that what we’ve done in the last two games — that’s not what we want to be at all,” Nagy said. “But then there’s patience involved in that and there’s zero panic. So do we want to be better in Week 1 and Week 2? Yes. What are the reasons for that? That’s our job to figure out those solutions. That’s why we have 16 games, is to figure that out.”