All draft analyses are fluid, including the ones of NFL teams right up to the minute they are on the clock. But inside of two weeks until the 2017 selection derby, the conclusion here has become that the Bears will use their first pick — be it the No. 3 overall choice or another should they trade up — on a quarterback.
Earlier thought was that the Bears might be looking at a safety — LSU's Jamal Adams or Ohio State's Malik Hooker — but the Bears have conducted some of the most exhaustive research and evaluations in recent memory not of one quarterback but multiple quarterback prospects, in particular Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, Texas Tech's Pat Mahomes and Clemson's Deshaun Watson.
And the expectation here is that Watson will be the Bears' selection.
How that happens, though, could be more interesting than simply using the third pick on the Clemson product.
To this point, the predominance of thought has centered around whether the Bears would trade down from the No. 3 pick. But a confluence of circumstances might be positioning the Bears for a possible trade the opposite direction. A trade up could allow the Bears to pick Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, the most dominant pass rusher in this year's draft, or more likely Watson, who checks every box for what general manager Ryan Pace wants in a franchise quarterback.
What are those circumstances?
Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson said during the owners meetings last month that the Browns are not trading the No. 1 pick. Policy statements in the NFL can be fluid, but Jackson and the Browns are having internal debates on whether to settle their quarterback situation with North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky or to stay the presumed course with Garrett.
Meanwhile, San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch made it clear that operators are standing by. "We're open for business," said Lynch, who shored up his quarterback situation with Brian Hoyer this offseason and has sparked whispers that he is keeping his powder dry for a run at Kirk Cousins next offseason. "We'll listen to anything."
Lynch confirmed last week that the 49ers had gotten calls for the No. 2 pick, and it would be a surprise if Pace and the Bears were not among those doing at least a little due diligence. Pace showed his willingness to be aggressive by trading up from No. 11 to No. 9 last year in order to grab rush-linebacker Leonard Floyd ahead of the New York Giants.
Does Pace make another call on draft day? For Watson?
As comfortable as Pace appeared to be as recently as the owners meetings with Mike Glennon, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer is under contract at a very good price after this season, meaning he could settle in nicely as a backup if the Bears' quarterback addition this draft proves to be franchise-grade. And Pace has been very clear that improving and settling the quarterback position is Goal No. 1. So the thought that he is done at a position that important seems like a stretch, though impressions of him during the NFL meetings were pretty unanimous that he felt good if he had to go forward with Glennon. Remember he gave John Fox, Vic Fangio and the defense an edge rusher with the team's first pick last year with Floyd.
Would the Bears need to trade up, though? They would if they had decided their goal-pick was Watson (or Kizer or Mahomes, for that matter) and he was going to be stolen out from under them by the 49ers dealing the pick to someone else. The reason teams trade to get up that high is nearly always to snare a quarterback.
The team at No. 2 in the last draft, Cleveland, traded that pick and a fourth-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles, who wanted Carson Wentz. The cost was steep: the Eagles' 2016 first-, third- and fourth-round picks as well as Philadelphia's first-round pick in 2017 and second-round pick in 2018.
But the Eagles needed to move all the way up from No. 15 and had to offer a very sweet pot. The Bears would be moving from No. 3 to No. 2, meaning the 49ers would still have a top-five pick, plus whatever else the package includes.
For loose comparison purposes, in order to move from No. 4 to No. 3 in the 2012 draft, the Browns needed to give the Minnesota Vikings that No. 4 choice along with picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds of that draft. That involved the Browns wanting a running back (Trent Richardson), but it serves as a one-slot trade-up template.
However it plays out, there is no shortage of scenarios for the Bears. But thinking strategically, the Bears have no intention of being anywhere near this draft position again anytime soon. So the thought that the Bears can wait for the 2018 quarterback class is a bad one. Even if the quarterbacks are significantly better, the Bears figure they'll be long gone by the time their turn comes up in 2018.
So the time for the Bears is now, and as the stocks of Watson, Mahomes and Kizer rise — all have been intensely scrutinized by the Bears — the need might be to move up a spot to be sure of landing their idea of a prize.
And the 2017 draft is becoming rife with possibilities for doing just that.