For Bears, Super Bowl teams provide templates for multiple franchise quarterback decisions

For Bears, Super Bowl teams provide templates for multiple franchise quarterback decisions

The tagline for the Bears going into the 2017 offseason has been evident for some time, ever since Jay Cutler made it painfully clear with his injuries and performances that he is not the quarterback answer for the Bears. The natural storyline became: “The Bears have to get a quarterback.”

That’s not exactly right. In point of fact, the line confronting GM Ryan Pace and staff, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is more specific than that.

The Bears have to get THE quarterback.

The reason for the refinement to the mandate is right there in Super Bowl LI. Reasons, plural, actually.

It is beyond obvious that the quarterback situation involves several layers, with increasing levels of importance. First is the decision on Cutler, which, as Fox and coaches everywhere hold to, is a decision the player makes himself. Cutler has.

After that is the “bridge” quarterback decision, which may have been between Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer at one time, but, again, Barkley made that decision for the Bears. Camp competition with Connor Shaw, maybe, but anything beyond that will be a surprise.

After that it becomes more interesting, which is where the object lessons provided by the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots come in.

The Bears hold the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. That was the slot the Falcons owned in 2008 when Matt Ryan was in the draft pool. Selecting Ryan was not a terribly difficult call for the Falcons, since the Boston College standout graded out as worthy of the spot. (Then again, so did Blake Bortles in 2014, Joey Harrington in 2002, Akili Smith in 1999, Heath Shuler in 1994, and… you get the idea).

The 2008 draft also included Joe Flacco, who the Baltimore Ravens took at No. 18, which actually netted the Ravens a Super Bowl and playoff success faster than Ryan has gotten the Falcons.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

But that draft also featured Chad Henne and Brian Brohm, who both went in the second round, the only quarterbacks taken before Kevin O’Connell went late in the third to the Patriots.

Point being: The No. 3 pick is where true elites live — Joe Thomas, Gerald McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, Cortez Kennedy. The temptation may be to take best-available, always a sound, reasonable philosophy, and get a quarterback in the second round. Except that it didn’t work for the Miami Dolphins (Henne) or Green Bay Packers (Brohm).

No, it has to be THE quarterback, and if Deshaun Watson has a Russell Wilson (third round) or Flacco (mid-first) grade on him, and he is THE quarterback, should be an easy decision.

Which then turns to the final decision in the process. The “When.”

The Patriots had Drew Bledsoe in place when they drafted Tom Brady in 2000, and Bledsoe was still in place to start 2001. Then he suffered a serious chest injury in game two, whereupon the Brady legend commenced.

But there was a fork in the road, and Bill Belichick took the right fork, for the organization and history.

I was covering the Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship game in 2001 when Brady was injured and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots through the Steelers and into the Super Bowl.

During Super Bowl week, THE question was whether Belichick would stay with Bledsoe, who’d been given a 10-year, $103-million contract just the previous March. Belichick matter-of-factly announced that Brady was his quarterback. Period. Bledsoe, who’d gotten the Patriots to the 1996 Super Bowl, was done in New England after that, playing five more years between Buffalo and Dallas.

But the final piece was the decision to go Brady, which just as easily could’ve gone back to Bledsoe, who’d just played well in the AFC Championship game. Just as it was this season with the Dallas Cowboys to stay with Dak Prescott over owner-favorite Tony Romo.

At some point, assuming it falls something like this, Fox and the Bears will need to make a choice between Hoyer (hopefully not involving any injury situation) and “The Kid.” That decision projects to be the pivotal last call in a decision process that the Bears can only hope turns out as well as that one did for the Patriots.

The Bears-Chiefs game may be flexed out of Week 16 Sunday Night Football

The Bears-Chiefs game may be flexed out of Week 16 Sunday Night Football

If you’re a Bears fan traveling the weekend of December 21st, you may want to check and see if your plans are adjustable. According to WGN's Adam Hoge, the Bears have the potential to be flexed out of Sunday Night Football for their Week 16 matchup against the 9-4 Kansas City Chiefs.

The move hinges on how the Bears play this coming Sunday against the current NFC North leading Green Bay Packers. If the Bears break our hearts this holiday season and lose to the Packers, effectively eliminating them from this post-season, they could lose the December 22nd SNF slot to the New Orleans Saints and the Tennessee Titans.

The NFL implemented flexible scheduling to primetime in 2006 to ensure quality matchups during SNF, allowing teams to earn their way into primetime slots. The NFL usually has to give at least 12-days notice if they decide to make the switch, which becomes more flexible towards the end of the season.

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Projected 2020 NFL salary cap is good news for the Bears

Projected 2020 NFL salary cap is good news for the Bears

The NFL informed all 32 teams on Tuesday that the 2020 salary cap will increase to between $196.8 million and $201.2 million, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The increased cap figure is a bit of good news for the Bears, who are one of six teams with more than $200 million committed to its roster in 2020.

The salary cap for 2019 was set at $188.2 million.

More money means more flexibility for GM Ryan Pace in free agency. And while the Bears still don't project as one of the major players on the open market this year, they'll certainly have enough spending power to add second-tier free agents and possibly a starter along the lines of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's addition last year.

There are some player contracts Pace may want to take a closer look at this offseason, too. Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, for example, has a $6.5 million cap hit in 2020 but represents just a $2 million dead cap figure if the Bears part ways with him. It's a quick $4.5 million in extra spending money that Pace could decide is critical for a must-have free agent. Plus, with the group of talented and young receivers already on Chicago's roster, a player like Gabriel may no longer be needed.

And what about cornerback Prince Amukamara? Sure, the veteran defensive back is a valuable starter, but cheaper options could be available on the open market. Plus, the Bears may have found his future replacement in Kevin Tolliver. Cutting Amukamara would free up $9 million in cap space (he has a $1 million dead-cap figure).

This is the funny thing about the salary cap. It's pliable. Pace can manipulate the numbers to add a big-name free agent even as we enter an offseason that appears ominous for the Bears' cap situation.

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