The 2016 Bears season has been nothing if not a succession of painful object lessons (not to be confused with the literally painful injury elements) in quarterback management. Sunday another one lines up against them in the person of Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota.
But more is involved than another might-have-been Bears quarterback; the Bears sniffed at the cost of trading up for Mariota in 2015 but didn’t, and neither did anyone else. The Bears could have taken Dak Prescott in this year’s fourth round, but every other team passed on him in nearly four rounds. For that matter, every team passed for more than two full rounds on Joe Montana, Tom Brady and so on and so on.
The broader issue is not the past, however, but the future.
Because Mariota has become the latest case study for what Bears Nation might expect from a draft commitment to the position in 2017.
The Bears, who already have lost to three rookie/second-year quarterbacks (Prescott, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston), are actively evaluating more than a dozen scenarios for addressing their quarterback situation in the coming offseason, sources told CSNChicago.com. Those scenarios involve the draft, free agency and trade possibilities, and Jay Cuter, the only NFC starting (when he’s healthy) quarterback who has been with his team more than one full season and failed to reach the playoffs even once since 2010.
The oddity is that starting over with a young quarterback has typically reflected a collapsed franchise. Not so anymore, which is why the Bears internally want so much to establish what kind of core the presumptive new quarterback will take over.
Winston took Tampa Bay from two wins to six in his rookie season. Prescott has taken Dallas from four wins to 10 already. The Philadelphia Eagles are at 5-5 with Wentz after trading up for him from a 7-9 mark last season.
Mariota, the No. 2 pick, has played himself into the seventh-ranked passer (100.3 passer rating) in just his second season, and that with an abysmal team (that’s how you earn No. 2 picks usually). Prescott is No. 3 (108.6).
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The Titans were 2-14 in 2014 to get the No. 2 pick they used for Mariota. They were only slightly better last year (3-13) but already have a win total up to five, and have seen Mariota become one of the NFL’s best at closing once he gets the football in close.
Besides in the red zone, “he’s been effective in every other part of the field,” said Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He’s athletic; his movement comes into play, and they’ve run special plays down there that he can execute well.
“They have a lot of offensive packages down in the red zone that they’ve been successful with. And they still run the ball well down there. So they’ve got more variety in the red zone than most teams, and the quarterback is engineering it all.”