Bears

Jay Cutler experience should push Bears far away from just measurables when choosing next QB

Jay Cutler experience should push Bears far away from just measurables when choosing next QB

Teams routinely evaluate draft candidates starting with measurable traits. Then, once the 40-times, height/weight results and such are tabulated, intangibles like leadership and “football character” enter in as tipping points.

For what the Bears need and want to do this offseason at their  most important position, the Bears need to reverse the process. Do it backwards.

The Bears’ first turn on the draft clock does not come around for upwards of two months, maybe effectively before that if trading draft choices for a Jimmy Garoppolo happens in the meantime. But with the start of the league year and its trading window approach, the talk around Jay Cutler is popping up more and more, whether he’ll command anything in a trade or whether to just cut ties and move on.

But the Cutler experience should be and quite possibly is figuring into what the Bears will do if a quarterback is what they target and select, presumably in the first round. And based on Cutler as a case study, subtle and not-so-subtle indications are that GM Ryan Pace is looking beyond the usual “measurables” in evaluating quarterback prospects, as he absolutely should be.

In this one position, it becomes imperative that the Bears go off-script, outside the box, and look first, hardest and longest at something that won’t show up on any stopwatch or tape measure.

“You want to look for a player who has lifted his program for the most part,” Pace said during his time at this year’s Senior Bowl last month. “That's something that's there. Quarterbacks we've been around, I think Drew Brees, for example, when he was at Purdue, he lifted that program. That's one of the things we look for. That's definitely a factor added into about 30 other things you factor into that position.”

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Why this resonance so loudly over the Bears is because for the last eight years they had a designer quarterback who unquestionably checked every measurable box: size (6-3, 225 pounds, mobility, footspeed, arm strength), yet failed to lift his team the way Pace was accustomed to from his time in New Orleans around Brees.

North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is Cutler: 6-3, 209 pounds, big arm. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer is Cutler: 6-4, 230 pounds, big arm, mobility.

Tellingly perhaps, Pace also cited another intangible in a way that suggests it will influence his and the Bears’ draft board: “It's your football intelligence, it's your accuracy, it's your ability to quickly process.”

But Trubisky was a starter just one year (2016). Kizer “led” the Irish to a 4-8 season and a 14-11 overall mark in his starts over two years.

Deshaun Watson, in the National Championship game the past two years, is similar in physical stature (6-3, 209) to Kizer and Trubisky, Garoppolo, too, for that matter. But “lifted his program” should be a monumental tipping point here.

And experience. Garoppolo had one spectacular year, his senior season, at Eastern Illinois. His first three years were nothing special, marked by heavy interception totals and barely 60 percent completions. Pace’s weighted criteria have experience high up.

“Yeah, [experience] carries a lot of weight,” Pace said. “I think there’s nothing that can really substitute [for] that. It’s already a big jump from college to the NFL as it is, so the more of that you have, the more beneficial it is.”

Measurables were why Russell Wilson (size) didn’t go until the third round, and why Tom Brady (foot speed) lasted until the sixth. For the Bears, the hard-to-gauge intangibles should be their first evaluation points, far ahead of the physical skills and talents that they have had here since 2009.

Matt Nagy 'productive plays' yardstick for staying with run game may be too much for his level of patience

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USA TODAY

Matt Nagy 'productive plays' yardstick for staying with run game may be too much for his level of patience

For all of Matt Nagy’s stressing before Sunday that Bears run game would be better, it was at a near franchise-low against New Orleans – seven attempts, 17 net yards. If there is a puzzling side to all of that, it lies in what Nagy sees as how a run game needs to operate at before abandoning it.

Nagy has been credited with calling run plays at pretty close to the NFL run-pass ratio. But in the Bears’ three wins he called 24, 24 and 33 runs; in the three losses, 15, 17 and 7. Nagy’s “average” is closer to the situation of having one hand in the oven, the other in the freezer; on “average,” you’re comfortable.

What Nagy is comfortable with, though, is an open question.

He talked Sunday and Monday of wanting “productive plays,” which ostensibly sounds like a reasonable threshold for staying with a concept. But Nagy has a suspect patience fuse, coming from the Andy Reid scheme tree with its roots in high-percentage passing.

Nagy’s wafer-thin commitment to the run game is reminiscent of former coordinator Gary Crowton and coach Marc Trestman, who routinely gave up almost immediately on the run as soon as a series failed to have success on the ground.

But “the run game has to get going. It's as simple as that,” Nagy insisted post-Saints and reiterated on Monday. “And it just has to get going. You can't run for 17 yards in the NFL and think you're going to win a game. You should get 17 yards on one run play.”

Getting 17 yards on one run play certainly would be a lofty positive. Too lofty for the Nagy offense, however, and obviously not what Nagy or any other coach sets as a realistic literal requirement for sticking with a play. Besides, the Bears have just two runs longer than 17 yards, plus runs of 12 and 14 yards, through six games. None of those four 10-yard runs have come since the fourth quarter of the Week 3 Washington game.

But if Nagy is somehow using big plays as the criterion for staying committed to the run game, the run portion of the offense is a distant long shot.

“Early on, we were zero, one and two on our yards running the ball,” Nagy said by way of explanation for getting off the run so completely on Sunday. “It's really simple math. As a play caller, when it's 2nd and 9 and 2nd and 10 and 2nd and 8 and you're moving the ball throwing it, you're getting first downs throwing it, that's what the objective is to get first downs.

“I don't care if I have to throw the ball 60 times a game, if that's what's going to help us win a game, or if I have to run it 60 times, I don't care, I want productive plays. It's not that hard. That's probably why. That's probably where that went, and then you come out in the second half and you want to be more balanced. As bad as all that was and everything that's going on, we came in the locker room, it's 12-10. As bad as that was, 12-10. Think about that, right? So, now you come out in the third quarter, they go down, they score and then we fumble first play. That's hard. That's hard.”

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Will Tom Brady be the Bears' starting QB in 2020?

Will Tom Brady be the Bears' starting QB in 2020?

By the time his career is over, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have a very strong argument to be considered the greatest player in NFL history. And even if there's a debate about his status as the best who's ever played, there's no denying his standing as the league's all-time greatest winner.

His six Super Bowl titles are evidence of that.

Brady is a throwback to the days before free agency and player movement. He's been a Patriot for his entire career, one that started in 2000 as the unassuming sixth-round pick from Michigan. Now, 20 seasons later (only four players in league history have spent that much time with one team), we could be witnessing his final year in New England.

ESPN's Adam Schefter suggested all signs are pointing toward Brady eyeing a new challenge in 2020. He voided the final year of his contract and is putting his home up for sale (as is his longtime trainer). 

He's gone. 

That begs the following question: what destinations make sense for Brady next season? Buckle up, Bears fans:

Brady and the Patriots are off to one of the best starts in franchise history. He's completing 65.9% of his passes (one of the best completion rates of his career) and hasn't lost any juice from his fastball. He's taking advantage of the incredible start by New England's defense and continues to prove, year after year, that productive offenses don't necessarily need superstar skill players. Instead, it starts with strong offensive line play and a quarterback who knows how to win games. The Patriots are 7-0.

Brady to the Bears would make a ton of sense. First, Chicago's defense is in the second season of a legitimate championship window. And while there will be a few departures and some new faces added this offseason, the core will remain the same. That defense, with Brady leading the offense, is a recipe for NFC dominance. Second, Brady has the kind of pinpoint accuracy to take advantage of wide receiver Allen Robinson's my-ball skill set. He'd also force opposing defenses to respect the passing game, which by default will make the running game better. He'll enhance the entire offense just by stepping onto the field. Third, and most important, Brady can stare Aaron Rodgers in the eyes and make him flinch. For the first time in modern franchise history, the Bears would have the best quarterback in the NFC North, and on any given week, the best quarterback in the NFL.

Sure, Brady is getting old. He's going to be 43 at the start of next season. And yes, eventually, Father Time will catch up with him. But there's no reason to believe his end is right around the corner. So if the Bears can harness one year of Brady, with Mack leading the defense, it would be like football heaven opening above Chicago.

Speculation like this, even if it's nothing more than a far-fetched pipe-dream, is the direct result of Mitch Trubisky's struggles. If the third-year quarterback was having the kind of breakout year that was expected of him in 2019, no quarterback (not even Brady) would be in the Chicago sports conversation. The Bears would have their guy; a young gunslinger who can wow fans with his athleticism and playmaking ability. Instead, entering Week 8, there are as many questions surrounding the quarterback position in Chicago as there's ever been, dating back to before then-GM Jerry Angelo traded for Jay Cutler.

It's only natural for fans and football media to connect an all-time great like Brady to an all-time great franchise like the Bears who have what could be an all-time great defense, especially when the team is lacking what appears to be an even average quarterback.

Trubisky can silence this kind of conversation with a strong final 10 games of the season. But at this point, and with Brady potentially hitting the market this offseason, do you even want him to?