Bears

Mitch Trubisky made Bears’ decision for them, but will Ryan Pace pull the trigger?

Mitch Trubisky made Bears’ decision for them, but will Ryan Pace pull the trigger?

One time-honored NFL bromide is that coaches don’t make personnel decisions; players ultimately make them with their performances. Bears GM Ryan Pace now has a franchise-grade decision to make at quarterback, although Mitch Trubisky in fact has made it for him.

To many observers, Trubisky has played his way out of the Bears picking up his fifth-year option and its $24-million’ish price tag ahead of the May 2020 deadline. Trubisky has played his way into an offseason position competition with the likes of Marcus Mariota (who’s exponentially less risky financially than Teddy Bridgewater and a better fit in the Matt Nagy offense. Also, Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was Mariota’s head coach at Oregon).

No matter how you see it, this much is true: As the disappointing 2019 season ends, there are more questions about Trubisky and the Bears’ QB situation than there were at the beginning.

How willing Pace is to admit that degree of failure in his 2017 draft, in addition to TE Adam Shaheen, remains to be seen. On Tuesday, Pace will face his first media session open to questioning since before the season.

The Bears’ difficulties on offense, which extend back into mid-2018, pose a franchise dilemma. They have a quarterback problem and they have a schematic/coaching problem. Indeed, teams have figured out Nagy, not just Trubisky. So now the Bears have a choice: fix the quarterback position, or fix the scheme. They’re not working together. The Bears’ quarterback cannot operate the coach’s system.

On Sunday, despite facing a Vikings defense with three starters inactive and others playing sparingly, Trubisky was unable to get the Bears’ offense into the end zone on three first-half possessions that reached the Minnesota 8-, 15- and 16-yard lines.

The Bears finally scored a touchdown on their fourth red-zone trip, but the fact that the drive was comprised of eight runs and one pass is an illustration that the offense runs better when it’s not dependent on Trubisky’s arm.

“I think with any position, the third year’s an important year as [players] continue to grow and develop,” Pace said last spring. “We use the word incremental growth, that’s exactly what’s happening with Mitch along with a lot of other players.”

Trubisky has simply not met that incremental-growth standard. So Pace needs to decide if he wants to pick up an option that makes Trubisky a $24-million quarterback in 2021. His 2020 salary of $9.2 million is guaranteed, so cutting him doesn’t save money. And if he somehow wins the starting job over an incoming veteran like Mariota, the quarterback Pace coveted in the 2015 draft but couldn’t get, he can still be paid like an NFL starter.

But in his first two seasons at North Carolina, Trubisky was unable to beat out Marquise Williams, whose pro career has consisted of stints as a backup in the CFL, AAF and XFL. Envisioning Trubisky outplaying a Mariota, Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill or whomever is a stretch.

Trubisky’s NFL breadcrumb trail says he won’t.

In the 2018 playoff loss to Philadelphia, the Cody Parkey double-doink was the defining image, but what Parkey’s miss obscured were the three drives that stalled at the Philadelphia 18-, 11- and 16-yard lines.

Flash forward to 2019. For all of the hype and assurances that Trubisky’s training-camp interceptions were either meaningless or part of his development, depending on who was talking about them, Trubisky’s season began with a 10-3 embarrassment against the Green Bay Packers. The game effectively ended with an end zone interception on which Trubisky was baited by ex-Bears safety Adrian Amos.

Trubisky’s passer rating that day was 62.1, his season low. Against the Packers the second time around, with the playoffs in the balance, he threw two interceptions and managed just a 64.5 rating, while the Bears settled for field goals on two of three red-zone possessions. A week later, still with playoff aspirations, Trubisky produced a low point vs. Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes, netting 3 points and producing another failing passer rating (65.4).

When it’s mattered most, over virtually three full seasons, Trubisky has been making Ryan Pace’s decision for him.

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Bears lost the Nick Foles trade according to one prominent NFL writer

Bears lost the Nick Foles trade according to one prominent NFL writer

Every city needlessly hates on the national media, but it feels like Bears fans are going to blow a fuse if another prominent NFL writer comes out and rains on Ryan Pace's expensive parade. The latest? ESPN's Bill Barnwell, who weighed in on the recent Nick Foles trade in a column on Wednesday afternoon. You can read the entire thing right here, though he hits on the trade right from the top. In particular, it's the contract that Barnwell takes issues with: 

There's nobody else on a veteran contract like this in football. Foles has most of his third year guaranteed, and when players get three guaranteed seasons, they're usually being paid like superstars. Borderline starters like Foles rarely get more than one guaranteed year on their deals. He is essentially guaranteed to get top-level backup money for two years and what will be mid-tier backup money in the third. That's not necessarily a bad deal in itself and it's much more in line with Foles' established level of play than his prior deal.

He gives the Bears a C- for the deal, which isn't outrageous as much as it's the latest in an endless line of reminders what teams have to deal with when they get their QB evaluations wrong. The real kicker is giving the Jaguars an A- for "getting out of the Foles pickle." As for the blockbuster quarterback competition coming to Lake Forrest at some point in the future, Barnwell suspects that "the Bears still badly want Trubisky to win the job and traded for a quarterback who was just good enough to push him without being good enough to clearly push him aside." An exciting time to be a Bears fan! 

And if you think that's bad, you can probaly just skip over Barnwell's evaluation of the Jimmy Graham signing. Just keep reminding yourself that that C's do actually get degrees, or even concentrate on the B's he gave to the Robert Quinn and Germain Ifedi deals. Just don't read the Jimmy Graham blurb. 

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Why Bears made Robert Quinn their big signing in NFL free agency

Why Bears made Robert Quinn their big signing in NFL free agency

Only five players were guaranteed more money in free agency than Robert Quinn, whose five-year, $70 million deal with the Bears includes $30 million guaranteed. Somehow, general manager Ryan Pace and cap guru Joey Laine managed to land one of the biggest free agents of 2020 despite not having a ton of money to spend. 

But why Quinn and not a cornerback, safety, right guard, tight end or quarterback? The Bears entered free agency with true, glaring needs at those five positions. So it was not only surprising that the Bears landed a big fish, but also that it was Quinn. 

Meanwhile, Ryan Pace went bargain shopping with Artie Burns and Tre Roberson at cornerback, and Deon Bush/DeAndre Houston-Carson/Jordan Lucas at safety. See also: Germain Ifedi at right guard. Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham weren’t cheap, but also weren’t Teddy Bridgewater or Austin Hooper. 

RELATED: Adam Hoge's #10BearsThings

But looking at how free agency played out, the Bears’ call to go with Quinn (and jettison Leonard Floyd) does make sense.  

“We just feel like Quinn’s a proven pass rusher,” Pace said. “He’s got excellent edge speed. He’s got outstanding ability to bend the corner and I think we can take a position of strength on our defense and we make it even stronger and more dangerous when you add Quinn and you combine him with the players that are already up there, especially up front.”

The Bears’ 2020 defense feels like a bet on an elite pass rush covering for some potential deficiencies in the secondary. Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller are still there, but can a battle between Kevin Toliver II/Burns/Roberson/TBD draft pick produce a true starting-caliber corner? Or can Bush slide into a starting role next to Jackson after spending the last three seasons almost exclusively as a backup?

It’d be ideal for the Bears if the answers to those questions were yes. But what if opposing quarterbacks don’t consistently have enough time to throw because Mack, Quinn, Hicks, Roy Robertson-Harris, etc. are wrecking things in the pocket?

There’s certainly a thought in some NFL circles that great coverage is preferable to a great pass rush — it’s worked well for the New England Patriots, after all — but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Not every team gets to have an in-his-prime Khalil Mack. The Bears do. Signing Quinn to help maximize Mack’s impact makes a lot of sense. 

The money makes sense, too. Quinn is guaranteed $30 million, sure, but his $6.1 million cap hit in 2020 ranks 32nd among this year’s free agent signings. That’s really how the Bears made this work — big-ticket cornerbacks James Bradberry and Byron Jones are in the top five of 2020 free agent cap hits, while Bridgewater’s $14 million bargain is more than double Quinn’s cost. 

So all those factors led the Bears to Quinn. This feels like the right kind of signing, one that’ll help give the Bears a top-five defense — even if there may still be some holes in the back end of it. Floyd wasn't cutting it, despite his run-stuffing and coverage skills. The Bears needed to make their pass rush better, and did with signing Quinn.

Good thing that coin flip (metaphorical or not) wound up on the Bears’ side of things. 

“It's always been a defensive kind of team what was always presented to me about the city,” Quinn said. “So that was always an exciting thing going into a town like that where they love to see defense. Points of 0 versus 100, you know. So that's always exciting, plus the talent they already have there. Who can't get excited to join up with guys like Mack, Fuller, (Akiem) Hicks, (Eddie) Goldman, (Danny) Trevathan?”

 

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