Derek Carr

From Brady to Carr, ranking Bears' quarterback options in NFL free agency, draft

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USA TODAY

From Brady to Carr, ranking Bears' quarterback options in NFL free agency, draft

The NFL's legal tampering period begins on Monday, March 16. Two days later, Tom Brady will become a free agent, with his decision on where to play in 2020 having a profound impact on the entire league's free agent period. 

The Bears will have plenty of options as they look to find a quarterback who, at the least, can push Mitch Trubisky for their starting job. But some options are better (Derek Carr) than others (Jameis Winston). 

Something has to be done to fix the Bears' glaring quarterback issues in 2020 and, ideally, beyond. But just how should Ryan Pace go about finding that critical solution?

Click here for JJ Stankevitz's QB option power rankings 

How Tom Brady can make Raiders' Derek Carr a realistic trade for the Bears

How Tom Brady can make Raiders' Derek Carr a realistic trade for the Bears

There is a way for the cap-strapped Bears to get a high-priced quarterback upgrade without limiting their ability to address other needs. And it's centered around Tom Brady. 

It would also require Ryan Pace to make his boldest move in addition to a bunch of other things falling into place around the league. How likely this hypothetical (and to be clear: This is only a hypothetical) is to play out is one thing (more on that later) but here’s how Brady can get the Bears a better quarterback without breaking their salary cap. 

Between the NFL’s legal tampering window opening March 16 and the new league year beginning March 18, every free agent quarterback but Brady finds a new home. Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, Dak Prescott, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are all under contract by March 20. 

The Bears, too, sign Case Keenum to a cheap one-year contract. Think about $5 million. 

Meanwhile, Brady, intent on exploring free agency for the first time in his career, takes his time making a decision. Maybe he doesn’t have a cross-country traveling tour, but he meets with teams in of his (I’m assuming here) several palatial estates. 

So the New England Patriots, not wanting to risk Brady leaving them in the lurch, trade for Andy Dalton as insurance. 

The days melt off the calendar and all of a sudden, it’s March 23 and Brady is ready to make a decision. The Colts, Chargers and Titans aren’t in play, deciding not to risk leaving themselves exposed to the whims of a 43-year-old who believes good hydration prevents sunburns. The same goes for the Patriots. 

And on March 25, Brady decides to sign with the Las Vegas Raiders. 

All of a sudden, all of the teams that seemed to need a quarterback don’t. The Raiders don’t have a path to trading Carr to the Colts, Patriots, Chargers or Buccaneers.

You can see where this is going. 

The Jon Gruden/Mike Mayock brain trust is not going to cut him, but they will accept a lesser offer for a relatively cheap 28-year-old who had a passer rating of 100.8 and threw for 4,000 yards last year. 

The only way the Raiders trade Carr is if they sign Brady (Cam Newton, even if healthy, doesn't fit Gruden's offense). That’s the only path for Carr to become available; in this case, he’s available but there aren’t many suitors for him. 

What if Pace, in his boldest move of all, called up Gruden and Mayock and made this pitch: We’ll send you a couple of late-round picks…but also Mitch Trubisky. 

This allows the Bears to go get their version of Alex Smith for only an additional $9 million in cap space in 2020 (Carr’s cap hit is $21.5 million; Trubisky’s is about $9.2 million). That’s entirely palatable; much more so than trading for Carr and keeping Trubisky, meaning the Bears will sink over $30 million into their quarterback room in 2020.

RELATED: Will Ryan Pace's actions speak louder than his words

A Carr-Keenum pairing completely turns over the Bears’ quarterback room for the better, all while allowing Pace the flexibly to pay for a starting tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and/or safety in free agency. 

Don’t discount the Raiders’ interest (specifically, Gruden’s) in trying to “fix” a talented, yet underperforming quarterback. They did it a year ago with DeShone Kizer for some reason and could be convinced to view Trubisky as the heir apparent to Brady once he retires. Sure, Trubisky will hit free agency after 2020 if his fifth-year option isn't picked up but there's value for getting him in the building. 

If everything in this scenario falls into place and you were to ask “who says no?”, it feels like Pace may be more likely to say no than Gruden. 

This is how the Bears are able to trade for Carr, but still address other needs on their roster with a meager amount of cap space and draft capital. The Bears, otherwise, can’t realistically add a significant upgrade over Trubisky without making the rest of their 2020 roster worse. 

The reality check is that this hypothetical is not exactly realistic. None of this matters if the Raiders don’t lure Brady to Nevada. And expect the Bears to continue sending signals of their firm belief in Trubisky this week from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, with their focus on adding a guy like Keenum to compete with him — not a guy like Carr to replace him as the starter. 

But if you’re in the camp that the Bears need bold action at quarterback, this would be it. And hey, it's fun to dream, right?

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NFL free agency: Making sense of Derek Carr's Instagram of Khalil Mack

NFL free agency: Making sense of Derek Carr's Instagram of Khalil Mack

There's smoke here and Derek Carr is coming to the Bears, right?

You might want to believe that if you, the Bears fan who’s given up on Mitch Trubisky, read into Carr's caption-free Thursday Instagram post. The photo was of Carr, who’s still employed by the Raiders, with his good friend Khalil Mack. 

Couple Carr’s confusingly similarly named brother, David, posting a hashtag (#megaPowers) on it and the inference is crystal clear, right? This can only mean one thing: Carr will quarterback the Bears in 2020.

That’s the good stuff. 

Welcome to the silliness of NFL free agency, where Stefon Diggs deleting photos of himself in a Minnesota Vikings uniform means the moody receiver definitely wants to be traded (that happened with Jordan Howard two years ago and…Howard was not traded).

Know how to interpret a single emoji in a tweet from an impending free agent or disgruntled star? Congrats! You're qualified to be an NFL insider.

Now: Carr posting a photo with one of his closest buddies means he very well could want a reunion with Mack in Chicago. 

Nevermind the minor details of Carr 1) Still being on a Raiders team that doesn’t currently have his replacement on the roster and won’t until mid-March at the earliest, 2) carrying a $21.5 million cap hit in 2020, about $7 million more than the Bears’ available salary cap and 3) not having any control over where he’d go if the Raiders were to trade him.

RELATED: Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Maybe Carr found a picture of himself and his best friend, and posted it for no other reason than it was a good photo, as those of us on Instagram often do. 

More importantly, The Bears look unlikely to make a splash move at quarterback if you follow the money. Carr is too expensive to trade for while also successfully filling red-line needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety. 

Or maybe there is smoke here and the Raiders have made it clear to Carr they’re going to explore the quarterback market (maybe with Cam Newton, maybe with Tom Brady), and he’s starting to agitate for a trade to Chicago. Maybe the Bears are back-channeling some discussions to make sure they’re at the front of Mike Mayock’s mind when he tries to find a landing spot for Carr in the event he and Jon Gruden lure Brady to Las Vegas. The Bears, theoretically, could trade for Carr and sign him to an extension that makes his 2020 cap hit more palatable. 

You can see why the Bears might want Carr, who's had success in the past, is cheap relative to other starting quarterbacks and could be viewed as this franchise's version of Alex Smith. But that’s a long way off.  

And it’s not unprecedented for a vague Instagram post to portend the future. Remember when Allen Robinson posted a photo of himself in a Cubs jersey a month before signing in Chicago?

Or another possibility — and this tracks the most: Maybe Carr is just messing with everyone, knowing his name has been mentioned by the media as a potential trade target. 

As Instagram user angel.et.03 so elegantly put it in a comment: “Carr just f***ing with us at this point.”

Good on Carr if he is. He certainly succeeded.

Then again: Of the 70,000+ likes the photo has, one of them is from the user “fiftydeuce,” — Mack himself.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.