Bears

There are no rookie ‘freebies’ for Mitchell Trubisky, but Carson Wentz a good lesson in patience

11-22mitchelltrubisky.jpg
USA Today

There are no rookie ‘freebies’ for Mitchell Trubisky, but Carson Wentz a good lesson in patience

The Bears like that Mitchell Trubisky is his own toughest critic, with the quarterback consistently owning his mistakes and shortcomings to his coaches, teammates and the media. After he missed an open Benny Cunningham near the end zone in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Lions, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains wanted to rip him, but Trubisky was already “really upset” as he arrived on the sidelines about making such a poor throw. 

After the game, Trubisky said “there’s no rookie excuse,” for some of the struggles he’s had, and for his 2-4 record as the Bears’ starting quarterback. But to an extent, that excuse is valid, even if Trubisky has no interest in using it. 

“He shouldn’t give himself a pass,” Loggains said. “He should hold himself to a very high standard, because we do. but we all know the reality of the situation. He (hasn’t played much) since high school. Every day to this point that he’s taken the field, he’s played better. 

“That’s what we keep telling him — keep stacking good games, we’re gonna keep playing better around you, we’ll keep putting you in good situations, and the wins are going to come.”

Not only is Trubisky currently tasked with learning the Bears’ offense, and the wrinkles that are added to it each week, but he also is still getting comfortable with a group of players he either didn’t play much with, or at all, during training camp, when he was the third-string quarterback. And on top of that, he’s having to deal with opposing defensive coordinators knowing that, and continually throwing looks at him that they haven’t put on film before. 

The experiences and knowledge that will help Trubisky succeed aren’t gained in a week or a few games. They’re gained over the course of a season, and right now, Trubisky is halfway through his first year (he’s made six starts, and barring something unforeseen, has six more to go). 

Consider the growth of Carson Wentz, 2016’s No. 2 overall pick, who’s made tremendous strides in Year 2 as a starter in the NFL. Almost every relevant statistic for Wentz has been significantly better in 2017 than it was in 2016:

Year GS Record Comp% Yards Y/A TD TD% INT INT% Rate Sack%
2016 16 7-9 62.4 3,782 6.2 16 2.6 14 2.3 79.3 5.2
2017 10 9-1 59.7 2,430 7.6 25 7.9 5 1.6 103.4 6.7

That growth can be attributed to a number of things, including the Eagles staffing their offense with weapons like Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. But Wentz deserves most of the credit for the strides he’s made thanks to applying the experience and knowledge he gained as a rookie to what’s now a 9-1 Eagles team in 2017. 

“It’s really expected when you’re drafted high and play right away that in the second year you transition well and really deliver for your team,” Trubisky said. “It’s good to look at those guys and see where they’ve gone from Year 1 to Year 2 and just talk to them about being a leader in the locker room and trying to improve (off) the weaknesses they see.”

So Trubisky is at least cognizant of the bigger picture, and Loggains has tried to remind his rookie quarterback of the incremental gains he’s already made through six starts. Trubisky wants to be better, and will continue to be hard on himself in his efforts to get better. 

But the optimistic outlook is Trubisky has all the talent and intangibles to follow the Year 1 to Year 2 path taken by Wentz. Perhaps a year from now, we’ll look back on this Bears-Eagles matchup and say it actually wasn’t the optimistic outlook, but the realistic outlook. 

“To me, when you’re in the situation we’re in right now where you’re not winning as many games as we want to, you have to celebrate small victories,” Loggains said. “And for us, with Mitchell, it’s, hey, you did what you needed to do in that two-minute drill to take us down and get us in position. So the growth that way, those one-possession games, he’s going to be the reason why we win those games.” 

Chicago Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

Chicago Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The Bears have been connected to all of the big-name free agent quarterbacks this offseason. General manager Ryan Pace is expected to add competition for the starting job in free agency or the 2020 NFL draft after incumbent and former second overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, regressed mightily in his third season last year.

But rather than focus on players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and even Marcus Mariota, it makes more sense to pay close attention to the next tier of free agent passers who could offer a potential upgrade from Trubisky while not necessarily creating shockwaves through Halas Hall upon signing.

One quarterback who fits that description perfectly is Case Keenum, the journeyman starter who's entering his 10th season in the league. 

Keenum is coming off of back-to-back forgettable seasons with the Broncos and Redskins, but it wasn't long ago when he was one of the better storylines in the NFL after leading the Vikings to 11 wins in 14 starts in 2017. He threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions that year and earned himself a respectable two-year, $36 million contract with Denver in 2018. His tenure as a Bronco lasted just one season (he finished 2018 with a 6-10 record) and his time as the Redskins starter was short-lived in 2019. He started just eight games for Washington.

For his career, Keenum's completed 62.4% of his passes and has thrown 75 touchdowns compared to 47 interceptions.

Keenum's resume isn't overly impressive, which is why he's a great fit for what Pace should try to accomplish over the next two months. He has to find a competent starter who can take advantage of everything else the Bears have going for them (namely, a championship-caliber defense) and who can be aggressive enough on offense to score enough points to win the close games. Keenum proved in 2017 that he can do that, especially when he has a good supporting case around him.

Keenum also qualifies as a solid bridge quarterback in the event Trubisky crashes and burns in 2020. At 32 years old, he's young enough to keep the starting job for a couple of seasons while Chicago attempts to find a younger long-term answer under center. 

Last but not least, he's going to be cheap. He didn't have a good year in 2019, and he was making just $3.5 million with the Redskins. There will be a limited market for his services this March, which means the Bears should be able to land him at a backup's salary despite his starter's upside. And that matters, especially for a team that's trying to free up salary cap space for other positions of need along the offensive line and secondary.

Keenum won't move the needle much for Bears fans in March, but landing a player of his caliber could ultimately be the difference between the Bears missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season and making a deep playoff run.

Chicago Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Chicago Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Chicago Bears need a tight end.

It's a narrative that started bubbling since the middle of the 2019 regular season when it became apparent that neither Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen was the answer at the position for the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy was forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted and little-known veteran J.P. Holtz to find production for his offense. It was a big problem for Nagy, whose system calls for a playmaking tight end like Travis Kelce to hit its maximum potential.

To be fair, there's only one Kelce (and George Kittle, and Zach Ertz) in the league right now. But the Bears have to do their due diligence this offseason to try and find a 'lite' version of that guy. One player in free agency who has a resume of recent production as a pass-catcher to maybe be 'that guy' is Eric Ebron, who's coming off of a down year with the Colts.

Ebron appeared in just 11 games last season and finished with 31 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. It was a stark contrast from 2018 when he scored 13 touchdowns and was one of the NFL's best playmakers at the position.

The problem with Ebron as a viable target for Chicago is that his tenure in the league produced more seasons like 2019 than 2018, but his pedigree as a former top-10 pick with high-end athletic traits warrants at least a look for a possible one-year prove-it deal.

At 26 years old, Ebron still has a lot of good football left in his legs. His market value should come in lower than Burton's $8 million per season; according to Spotrac, Ebron's expected contract this offseason will pay him around $7.5 million per year. Compared to the likely cost for players like Austin Hooper (Falcons) and Hunter Henry (Chargers), Ebron will be a bargain.

Ryan Pace will be bargain shopping in March, and Ebron may end up on the discount rack after the first wave of free agency concludes. Teams will be hesitant to offer him the kind of multi-year deal he's going to seek, which will give the Bears a chance to swoop in and lure him with the prove-it theory. He's young enough to earn a lucrative contract in 2021 if he posts big-time numbers in 2020, which Nagy's offense will give him the chance to do if he stays healthy.

Even the worst version of Ebron is better than the best of what Chicago has on its roster right now. He should rank highly on their offseason wish list, assuming his market remains where it logically should.