One amusing narrative from critics of Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox is that they need desperately to find a franchise quarterback in the draft, but also that they have not shown enough talent aptitude to be trusted with such a vital mission. Failure to reverse Bears fortunes in the span of two drafts is cited as a reason, which is curious, given that draft “failures” under Pace almost entirely trace to injuries (Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu, Leonard Floyd early) rather than to clearly recognized mistakes as in Phil Emery’s first drafts (Shea McClellin, Brandon Hardin, Evan Rodriguez, Jonathan Bostic, Khaseem Greene).
Pace and the Bears were enamored of quarterback Marcus Mariota when he was coming out of Oregon into the 2015 draft, where he would be taken No. 2 overall by the Tennessee Titans. The Bears did not aggressively shop Jay Cutler as part of any proposed deal to move up from No. 7 (where they took White). But they did check the price for trading up and opted to stay with Cutler (at Adam Gase’s urging) and their basket of picks as part of a wider span of upgrades.
But “we liked [Mariota] a lot in the process when he was coming out,” Fox said. “He's proved to be about what we thought he was I know in our evaluations.”
For the Pace-Fox doubters, at least this Bears administration appears to have some solid instincts (the non-selection of Dak Prescott three times in round four this year notwithstanding).
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Consider those as might-have-been quarterback things for an organization with a history of quarterback “things,” mostly bad. George Halas acquired Bobby Layne via trade at No. 7 of the 1948 draft but subsequently sold him to Detroit and spent the 1950’s being tormented by him. The Bears lost a coin flip with the Steelers in 1970 for the No. 1 pick overall. The Steelers got Terry Bradshaw. The Bears…didn’t.
The Bears had the No. 7 pick (what is it with this “7” thing and the Bears?) in 1999, decided that Cade McNown was the most NFL-ready quarterback in a class that included Tim Couch (No. 1), Donovan McNabb (2) and Akili Smith (3). So they were the deciding member of a three-team trade with New Orleans and Washington, because they were willing to pass on Daunte Culpepper and grab McNown at No. 12.
The organization is still dealing with the most recent quarterback “thing,” the trade of two No. 1’s for Jay Cutler in 2009. One hindsight question would be whether the Bears might have been better served using one of those picks on a quarterback. Those classes, however, turned out decidedly not-ready-for-first-round quarterbacks (Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, even Sam Bradford) other than Matthew Stafford.
Mariota has turned the Titans around and has a full grasp of what hitting on the right quarterback means to a franchise.
“[A franchise quarterback] is a position that, for me, can determine a lot of things, whether it’s wins and losses, how you are reflected in the community, what people think of this team,” Mariota said via conference call. “A lot of that stems from the position of quarterback.”
Just ask the Bears.