A month and a half after the Bears traded a fourth round pick for Nick Foles, the Cincinnati Bengals cut Andy Dalton. That happened Thursday morning. Earlier this week, the New Orleans Saints signed Jameis Winston to a one-year, $1.1 million deal — $750,000 less than the Bears will pay punter Pat O’Donnell in 2020.
So why didn’t the Bears wait out the quarterback market in March and get someone for cheap in late April? Cam Newton, injury concerns and all, is also still out there.
The Bears aggressively pursued Foles — after some interest in Teddy Bridgewater — and made sure they got their guy no matter the cost (although, a fourth round pick was probably fair). Foles is guaranteed $21 million in his restructured deal with the Bears, far less than what Winston will make in 2020 and what Dalton can expect to get in free agency.
“We knew there were going to be a lot of options at quarterback in this free agency period, so we knew we would have an opportunity to increase competition there with those options," Pace said earlier this month. "So we went through each one of those and talked about each one.
“When we got to Nick, it was really a collective effort. ... A talented player and the fact that he’s played in some big games and performed well in those big games, and that carries a lot of weight. Then, you have a lot of people in our building that are comfortable with him as a person and his makeup, which made the decision easier.
"That all kind of came together to make him a target for us and someone we wanted to aggressively go get.”
So: Did the Bears play the quarterback market wrong?
No. Not the 2020 market, anyway.
Winston is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison to Foles here. He signed to fill the Bridgewater role in New Orleans, a perfect place to rebuild his value in case Drew Brees misses time. The Bears, who have consistently not been one of the NFL's best offenses for more than a decade, would not have been able to sign Winston for $1.1 million. He also would’ve been signed to compete with Mitch Trubisky, which would not have given Matt Nagy anything close to a “safe” option at the most important position in sports.
Maybe the Bears could’ve waited out Dalton, who was due $17.7 million in 2020 before being cut. He’ll sign for a fraction of that price, almost certainly less than Foles’ 2020 $5.333 million cap hit.
But Dalton would’ve been a worse fit in the Bears’ offense than Foles. I’m not even sure Dalton is better than Trubisky (who has a better passer rating over the last three years than the Dalton).
You can argue that the Bears could’ve waited out Foles and gotten him for less. Maybe that's true. Because if there wasn't a market for Dalton, or Winston or Newton, why would there be one for Foles? Though, if we're speculating on that, we can also wonder: Would the Jaguars have traded him for anything less than a late fourth round pick?
And while Ryan Pace has made some high-profile, aggressive, questionable-at-best quarterback decisions, Nagy deserves more benefit of the doubt here. If Nagy said he needed Foles, the Bears needed Foles.
He’s the only guy who has at least a baseline knowledge of Nagy’s system, as well as experience with offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DiFilippo. That counts for a lot in an offseason without any in-person practices until the uncertain start of training camp. None of those other quarterbacks would have as easy a transition into this complex offense.
"Knowledge of the offense at that point helps," Nagy said earlier this month. "This is a kid who’s been through a lot of different situations. He’s been a Super Bowl MVP, he’s been in pressure moments, and he understands a lot of the things that we’re looking for."
What if Winston is still an interception machine? Or Dalton’s mid-30s slide continues? Or Newton isn’t healthy? The Bears are stuck with Trubisky, either by force or by choice.
Also: Waiting until April — after the draft — to sign a quarterback wouldn’t sent the same message to Trubisky that trading for Foles in mid-March did. If the Bears are trying to light a fire under Trubisky, signing Winston, Dalton or Newton at this point wouldn’t provide much kindling.
So I don’t think the Bears misplayed the quarterback market in 2020. Trading for Foles in March was much less risky, in terms of the player and strategy, than waiting out the Winston, Dalton or Newton market in April and May. The recent developments with that group shouldn’t give the Bears any hesitation.
The problem, though, is that the Bears misplayed the quarterback market three years ago. It’s why we’re wondering if they should’ve signed a quarterback off the league’s scrap heap or traded for a career backup. What we should be wondering is what a nine-figure contract extension for the first quarterback off the board in 2017 looks like.
Again: That’s the problem here. Not trading for Foles in March instead of signing someone in April.