Friday evening’s news of Mitch Trubisky opening the 2020 season as the Bears’ starting quarterback doesn’t happen without Ryan Pace trading for Nick Foles.
“We knew there were going to be a lot of options at quarterback in this free agency period,” Pace said in March. “So we knew we would have an opportunity to increase competition there with those options.”
“Increase competition.” Not replace the incumbent.
It’s hard to envision Trubisky taking the first snap on Sept. 13 in Detroit if Cam Newton – who handily won his “competition” with the New England Patriots – were here instead of Foles.
But the problem here is not with the Bears’ plan to address their quarterback situation in 2020. Their plan was, actually, good – even if Foles did not wind up displacing Trubisky to start the season.
It’s understandable if some Bears fans feel like they were sold a bag of goods when the Foles trade happened. Foles’ knowledge of the Bears’ offense was supposed to not just put him on even footing with Trubisky, but allow him to wrestle the keys to this offense away from a guy with the worst yards per attempt average in the NFL last year.
Instead, Foles looked okay during training camp. Like, shrug-your-shoulders, “he’s fine,” okay. So did Trubisky.
Foles might’ve had a slight advantage in the quarterback competition, but it wasn’t close to an overwhelming edge.
So tie goes to the incumbent. That’s fine. Foles is better served coming off the bench anyways rather than beginning a season as the starter.
And there’s no telling how Trubisky would respond if the reverse were expected of him and he was demoted to begin the season, but needed to provide a spark in, say, Week 6. So you give him the keys again, but at the first sign he’s going to crash the car, you get him out of the driver’s seat.
The best-case scenario for the Bears was, is, and will be Trubisky realizing the potential that led Pace to absolutely have to have him – instead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson – in 2017. Signing Newton or Teddy Bridgewater would’ve snuffed out any chance of that scenario playing out, even if the chances it does are awfully slim.
And if that best-case scenario doesn’t play out? Foles, arguably the greatest backup quarterback in NFL history, takes over. That’s why Trubisky’s leash is awfully short.
And to be clear: Trubisky winning the competition was not necessarily the Bears’ plan all along. Pace and Matt Nagy genuinely wanted to see how this played out. If anything, Foles had an initial advantage with the additions of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DiFilippo, both of whom had success with Foles during his two stops with the Philadelphia Eagles.
But the plan was always to allow Trubisky the opportunity to win the competition. There’s a difference in allowing him the opportunity to win and allowing him to win (allowing him to win would’ve looked like signing Case Keenum or drafting someone in the second round). Trubisky still had to earn it, even if he had an uneven training camp.
And if the plan was to allow Trubisky the opportunity to hang on to his job, then you don’t go get Newton (even for cheap). You go get a guy who can be a sturdy Plan B. That’s Foles.
The Bears, too, didn’t account for the COVID-19 pandemic knocking out all four preseason games and shortening training camp. With no games, no OTAs, no minicamps and fewer training camp practices, the advantage in the competition tilted toward Trubisky, who had two years of experience with Nagy, 80 percent of his offensive line and most of the guys he’ll throw to this year.
Foles showed up to Halas Hall this summer needing to learn everyone’s name first.
So no, I don’t think the Bears sold everyone a bag of goods with Foles. He’s best served as a contingency plan, not a season-opening starter. That’s what he’ll be in 2020. And that’s fine.
So while Mahomes is buying stakes in baseball teams and Watson’s camp is lining up a nine-figure contract, Trubisky is narrowly beating out a good backup to start.
The problem is not that the Bears chose Trubisky on Friday. The problem is they chose him in 2017.