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Mitch Trubisky, in 2020, just might be staring down his last chance to be an NFL starting quarterback.

Or, as Rodney Harrison — the two-time All-Pro safety who’s now an analyst with NBC Sports — sees it, there’s no “might” about it.

"If he doesn’t start this year, and I’m going to tell you something — this is gonna happen, this is gonna play out. He’ll never start again,” Harrison told me while chatting for an upcoming episode of the Under Center Podcast. “He’ll be a career backup. He’ll be a career backup and he’ll be considered one of the (NFL’s) biggest busts.”

That take caught me off guard at first, maybe because we've been so focused on Trubisky's immediate future. Then Harrison added this:

“Let me tell you something,” he said. “I’m an expert on quarterback busts, bad quarterbacks because I played with Ryan Leaf.”

(Harrison was with the San Diego Chargers for all three years of Leaf’s ignominious time there.)

[RELATED: How badly did Mitch Trubisky 'lose' the 2020 offseason?]

While Harrison’s view of Trubisky is on the harsher side (Trubisky is not close to Leaf, statistically), he does have a point. Quarterbacks rarely get second chances to start in today’s NFL. And while Trubisky has been to a Pro Bowl and was the starting quarterback for 11 wins in 2018, history does not look kind to him — especially if he loses his starting job in 2020.

 

Trubisky is the ninth quarterback to not have his fifth-year option exercised (20 QBs have been eligible for a fifth year option since it was implemented for the 2011 draft class). Here’s how the other eight fared after their fourth year in the NFL — if they even made it that far:

  • Jake Locker (8th overall, 2011): 0 starts
  • Blaine Gabbert (10th overall, 2011): 21 starts
  • Christian Ponder (12th overall, 2011): 0 starts
  • Brandon Weeden (22nd overall, 2012): 0 starts
  • E.J. Manuel (16th overall, 2013): 1 start
  • Johnny Manziel (22nd overall, 2014): 0 starts
  • Teddy Bridgewater (32nd overall, 2014): 6 starts
  • Paxton Lynch (26th overall, 2016): 0 starts

So that’s five of these eight quarterbacks to not ever start again after Year 4 (Manziel and Lynch didn’t even make it that long on a 53-man roster). Gabbert, Manuel and Bridgewater did not start again with the teams that drafted them.

And outside of Bridgewater — who had the extenuating circumstance of a horrific knee injury — none of these quarterbacks resurrected their careers after learning their fifth-year option was declined.

Trubisky’s best case, then, might be to follow Gabbert’s path. The ex-Missouri Tiger earned about $8.5 million since the end of his fourth year in the NFL and is signed to a one-year deal worth a little over $1 million to back up Tom Brady with the Buccaneers in 2020.

(Sidenote: Never did I ever expect Chase Daniel to make more money — and significantly more money! — in his career than Gabbert when the two were at Mizzou in 2008.)

But here’s the thing about Trubisky: He’s clearly a better quarterback than all those guys, with the exception of Bridgewater. Nobody else has started a playoff game. Of the 74 wins those nine quarterbacks have in their careers, Trubisky has 23 of them (31 percent).

Trubisky has as many touchdowns in three years as Gabbert has in nine; his passer rating of 85.8 is significantly higher than everyone in that group not named Bridgewater.

The point being: Trubisky is not Locker or Ponder or Gabbert. He’s better. Way better.

But that does not mean he’ll get another opportunity to start in the event 2020 is his final year in Chicago. It’s hard to find open starting quarterback jobs in the NFL. To wit: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota — the first two picks in the 2015 draft — had to settle for backup jobs this year with the Saints and Raiders, respectively.

[MORE: Will easy start to 2020 season impact Bears' QB competition?]

Trubisky probably will have to settle for a similar role if he does hit free agency a year from now (especially with Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields eligible for the draft). And that puts him on the track Harrison described: Career backup.

That does not mean Trubisky’s career in the NFL will be over if he loses his job as the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2020. He’ll get another opportunity.

It just won’t be to start. 

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