What if Cam Newton leads the New England Patriots back to the Super Bowl while Nick Foles flips between starter and backup in an unsettled 2020 quarterback situation for the Chicago Bears? It isn't a far-fetched reality, and it's one that would almost certainly lead to a new general manager in Chicago next offseason.
Ryan Pace's decision to trade for Nick Foles was, in a word, safe. Foles' familiarity with the Bears' coaching staff and Matt Nagy's system made him a logical choice over similarly-talented and available passers like Andy Dalton and Teddy Bridgewater. Like those two, Foles is generally viewed as a good-enough player who can serve as a short-term answer behind center for a team in need.
The Bears fit that description at the start of the offseason, although there were some sensitive and unique facts involved.
Pace's hand-picked passer, Mitch Trubisky, hasn't exactly worked out. Since using the second overall pick in the 2017 draft on the former UNC standout, Trubisky's endured an up-and-down three seasons that's led to an incomplete grade and the Bears' decision to decline the fifth-year option in his contract in May. As the 2020 season approaches, the Bears are no closer to knowing whether Trubisky is their guy than they were when the decision to draft him was made.
But that doesn't mean Pace has lost faith in Trubisky. It's pretty obvious that he wants his guy to be 'the guy.' Otherwise, he would've been more aggressive with his quarterback target this offseason. Imagine, for example, if the Bears played the long game and signed Cam Newton instead of striking quickly on Foles.
Newton isn't the same superhuman dynamo we've become accustomed to watching on Sundays. Injuries have taken their toll. And it's because of those injuries that he remained unsigned for so long. But his presence in the Bears' locker room would've shattered Trubisky's seemingly fragile psyche. There wouldn't have been a quarterback competition; Chicago would've become Newton's city.
There's a reason why the Patriots are the Patriots. They make smart football decisions regardless of who's feelings are hurt. Second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham was touted as the heir to Tom Brady's throne since the day Brady signed his free-agent deal with the Buccaneers. As a young player, the organization's apparent faith in him was a gigantic boost for his confidence. But this is football, after all. And in the NFL, it's not about playing nice; it's about winning games. Newton gives the Patriots the best chance to do that, and he probably would've done the same for the Bears if Pace was able to put his loyalty to Trubisky (and maybe even his coaching staff) aside for a moment.
The Patriots didn't worry about what signing Newton would mean for Stidham. They just care about W's.
The decision to trade for Foles will be touted as Pace acquiring the quarterback who his coaches wanted most. And maybe that's true. But the job of a general manager is to walk that fine line between supporting the coaching staff with the players they covet and adding players who are simply the best available. There should be little debate about Newton being a better player than Foles, assuming they're both fully healthy, entering the 2020 season. And if Newton proves to be the better quarterback this season, the Bears will have swung and missed on yet another chance to capitalize on what may be a championship window with their defense.
But did the Bears really swing at all this offseason? It feels more like Pace left the bat on his shoulder. He was the cautious driver in the slow lane. The Bears needed a general manager to press the gas; Pace rode the brakes. Bill Belichick would never.
Safe. The Bears, and Pace, were safe at quarterback this offseason. But here's the problem: safe doesn't win games. Safe quarterbacks don't win Super Bowls. And general managers who build a nice, competitive roster with a game manager at quarterback rarely win it all.
Super Bowl winners have a Superman at quarterback. The Bears could've had one. Instead, the Patriots got another one.