Mitchell Trubisky

How worried should the Bears be about Mitch Trubisky?

How worried should the Bears be about Mitch Trubisky?

Few positions in sports have the kind of expectations that come along with being a quarterback who's selected in the first round. Those expectations are elevated the higher a quarterback is selected in the first round, so in the case of Mitchell Trubsisky, who the Bears traded up to the second overall pick to select in 2017, it's safe to say failure is not an option for No. 10.

Unfortunately, Trubisky hasn't had much success in more than two seasons and 31 starts as a Bear. He bottomed out against the Saints in Sunday's 36-25 loss when he looked more like an undrafted free agent than a blue-chip first-rounder. His completions were a collection of meaningless dinks and dunks, and whenever he did take a shot downfield, his passes sailed off target and, in some instances, dangerously close to being intercepted.

It was bad. And what's worse? There's no indication that it will get better any time soon. Trubisky hasn't had that 'wow' moment in 2019, sans the 36-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Gabriel in Week 3, to suggest he's even capable of being an average starter in the NFL. It's true quarterbacks take time to develop, and it would be foolish for the Bears to move on from Trubisky with 10 games of evaluation remaining on their schedule, but it certainly feels like GM Ryan Pace is staring down an offseason that will require adding a quarterback in free agency or the NFL draft.

It would be negligent for Pace to ignore the position after what we've seen in 2019. Even if Trubisky has a strong finish to the season, the Bears need a better backup plan than Chase Daniel, who coach Matt Nagy said he never considered playing Sunday despite Trubisky's struggles. Maybe, if Chicago had a quarterback with more upside behind Trubisky, Nagy would've made the switch. This offense needs that flexibility moving forward, even if that means Trubisky moves to QB2 to begin 2020.

The quarterback situation is bad; maybe as bad as it was before Jay Cutler arrived in Chicago in 2009. According to the Athletic's NFL Panic index, it's downright awful.

Trubisky’s deficiencies, and the Bears’ fundamental offensive issues, were even more glaring against the Saints, a team that still has creative offensive play design (hello, fullback option with No. 3 quarterback Taysom Hill) and explosive plays without Drew Brees and other key offensive players, like running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook. No, this is the quarterback the Bears picked and the head coach and play caller, Matt Nagy, they picked to develop him. And yet, the Bears, Trubisky and the offense are worse now than they were a year ago.

The swell of doubt around Trubisky and the Bears offense will only continue growing as this disappointing season marches on. Chicago faces the struggling Chargers in Week 8 and should (emphasis on should) be able to get back on a winning track. But they have to do it with some big plays on offense that are the result of a young quarterback who's ready to put this team on his back. Otherwise, it'll soon be time to scout next year's crop of NFL draft hopefuls.

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If Bears decide to make a trade, which QBs could they look to pursue?

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USA TODAY

If Bears decide to make a trade, which QBs could they look to pursue?

Week 6 of the 2019 NFL schedule will be highlighted by the showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans. Quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and DeShaun Watson will face off in what’s being dubbed as a showcase of the league’s best young quarterbacks.

Naturally, that’s a tough pill to swallow for Bears fans.

We all know the story by now. General manager Ryan Pace pushed all of his 2017 NFL draft chips to the center of the table when he traded up one spot from No. 3 overall to No. 2 in order to select Mitch Trubisky, a move that’s produced mixed results now three seasons in.

It’s unfair to call Trubisky a bust at this point, but it’s an honest assessment to say he’s a distant third in the pecking order behind Mahomes and Watson.

But none of that really matters moving forward. Quarterbacks who throw for incredible numbers don’t always win the Super Bowl, and while Trubisky doesn’t project as a guy who’s going to lead the league in any major passing category, he does have the work ethic and character to emerge as a leader who can take his team on a Super Bowl run.

He did, after all, lead the Bears to a 12-4 record and what should’ve been a game-winning drive in last year’s wild-card round.

There is one troubling theme bubbling under the surface with Trubisky. For the second year in a row, he’s missed starts due to a shoulder injury. He sat two games in 2018 and was sidelined for the Raiders game in London last week. His absence cost the Bears in the win column and it’s pretty clear that Chase Daniel isn’t the best backup plan in the long-term.

Normally, backup quarterbacks aren’t big-name guys who are fresh off of starting jobs, and if they are, they probably weren’t very good. But the Bears could have an opportunity over the next few weeks to trade for a better Plan B if Trubisky gets hurt again (note: the NFL trade deadline this season is Oct. 29).

Let’s start in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars are riding Minshew Mania to a better-than-expected start to their 2019 season. None of this was supposed to happen; instead, Nick Foles was signed to be their fearless leader who could finally complement a Super Bowl-worthy defense and lead Jacksonville on a playoff run.

Foles injured his collarbone in Week 1 and hasn’t taken a snap since. He’s expected to be out until Week 11. By then, the Jaguars should firmly be Gardner Minshew’s team. Foles can likely be had in a trade and his familiarity with an Andy Reid-style offense (he thrived under Doug Pederson in Philadelphia the last two seasons) would make him a perfect fit under Matt Nagy.

Then there’s the Cincinnati Bengals and Andy Dalton. The Bengals are in a two-horse race with the Miami Dolphins for Tua Tagovailoa and there’s virtually no chance they’ll re-sign Dalton this offseason. After a few more losses, would the Bengals consider shipping him out of town for some draft capital? It would certainly be worth exploring by Pace.

Dalton has enjoyed success as a passer in the NFL, including two seasons with more than 4,200 passing yards. However, he does have an injury history and has just 16 starts over the last two seasons. Still, he’s an accurate passer who would be a fantastic insurance policy in 2019 and potentially beyond.

If the Bears want to go the more traditional backup route, they could kick the tires on Giants veteran Eli Manning. Prying the two-time Super Bowl champ away from Big Blue is probably the least likely scenario considering Manning’s no-trade clause, but Manning has enough left in the tank to give Chicago a chance to win games if Trubisky is out of the lineup. Maybe it’s more accurate to say he’d give the Bears a better chance than Daniel.

And then there’s always Josh Rosen, who the Miami Dolphins appear to be auditioning to trade away this offseason when they land their quarterback of the future in the 2020 NFL draft. He’d be the most controversial addition because of his status as a young former first-rounder who doesn’t project as a one-year rental (unless you’re the Dolphins). Rosen’s growth, much like Trubisky’s, has been stunted by his less-than-ideal first-year setting more than his natural talent.

The most likely approach, however, is that Pace will do nothing. He’ll roll the dice on Trubisky’s toughness and Daniel’s veteran experience (although that seems contradictory considering his limited number of starts over his 11 years in the NFL).

But if the Bears are serious about going on a Super Bowl run in 2019, they’ll need to do something to protect the team against a devastating turn of events at quarterback.

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While others survive on depth, Bears lack of 'plan' leaves QB pipeline empty beyond Trubisky

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USA TODAY

While others survive on depth, Bears lack of 'plan' leaves QB pipeline empty beyond Trubisky

If the early 2019 season has done nothing else, it has underscored the importance of having not only a quality backup quarterback, but also one ideally with upside — either demonstrated earlier in their careers or with the bona fide potential to become a starter — or at least more than a journeyman.

While some of the NFL’s most elite franchise have committed themselves repeatedly to giving as many spins of the QB wheel as possible, even with top quarterbacks already in place, the Bears during the tenure of general manager Ryan Pace have largely taken a pass on such passers. The result is a level of vulnerability where it can hurt the most.

This is somewhat surprising, given that when Pace began as Bears general manager, he declared quarterback to be an annual draft priority: "I think it's a good idea to add a quarterback every year," Pace said during the 2015 owners meetings. “It's a critical position. Because of that you can take a swing every year at it, increase your odds."

Pace has not turned philosophy into action, investing just one — Mitchell Trubisky, 2017 — of his 32 selections over five drafts in the single most important position, not only in football, but in all of sports.

Trubisky is likely to be back from the shoulder injury suffered in the Minnesota game, and Chase Daniel returned to his career billet a backup. So the immediate impact of Trubisky’s injury projects to be limited, at least in terms of time lost.

But beyond Daniel, who is well past the point of being accorded the tag of “potential” to be an NFL starter, the Bears have given themselves virtually no real options for increasing their odds for finding winning depth at their most critical position.

(Best early guess: The Bears pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year, rookie-contract option next offseason and (finally) draft a young quarterback as well, although of course that latter step has been forecast for more than one Pace offseason.)

In the shorter term, the Bears may experience some painful lessons in the consequences for failing to avail themselves of viable, upscale options at the central position of their organization. And the lessons could have longer-term implications.

Those object lessons could start as early as their next game.

Case studies

The New Orleans Saints, with Drew Brees in place, traded last year for former Minnesota No. 1 Teddy Bridgewater, then induced him to stay on for 2019 with a contract for $7.25 million guaranteed.

Since Brees went down with a thumb injury, the Saints are 3-0 in Bridgewater starts, including wins over Seattle and Dallas.

The Saints (4-1) are racing to stay ahead of the Carolina Panthers (3-2) who have won all three games since undrafted free agent Kyle Allen replaced injured Cam Newton as the Carolina starter. The Panthers put Allen in their quarterback pipeline in 2018.

Later this season the Bears with host the Dallas Cowboys, who were once headed into the 2016 season quarterbacked by Tony Romo. Romo was injured in the preseason and replaced by Dak Prescott, who became NFL offensive rookie of the year. Prescott had been an “insurance” pick in the fourth round of that 2016 draft

The week after Dallas, the Bears go to Green Bay, the long-time test kitchen on fortifying the quarterback position with players possessed of upside talent. The Packers, who traded for Brett Favre when they had Don Majikowski in place as their starter, drafted Aaron Rodgers while Favre still reigned as starter. Drafting quarterback insurance is the Green Bay Way, but that’s for another time.

Returning to present day: The Jacksonville Jaguars last offseason signed Nick Foles to be their starter. When Foles, himself once added as depth behind Carson Wentz and became a Super Bowl MVP for Philadelphia, suffered a broken clavicle in week one, the Jaguars turned to Gardner Minshew, whom they’d picked in the sixth round of this year’s draft – six weeks after they’d signed Foles.

If the sixth-round scenario sounds vaguely familiar, the New England Patriots, with Drew Bledsoe ensconced as their starter, used a “6” for Tom Brady in 2000.

Actually, that’s sort of a Patriots thing; Since Brady replaced Bledsoe in 2001, they’ve drafted 10 quarterbacks, most recently Jarrett Stidham in the 2019 fourth round. Stidham showed enough for the Pats to release veteran backup Brian Hoyer at the end of training camp.

Among those 10 depth picks: Matt Cassel (seventh round, 2005), Jacoby Brissett (third round, 2016) and Jimmy Garoppolo (second round, 2014). New England subsequently traded all three in deals that figured in bringing the Patriots a first-round pick, a second-rounder and a former No. 1.

The last of these was the trade of Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts, who had Andrew Luck in place, albeit dealing with injuries. Luck abruptly retired before the start of the season. Under Brissett, signed by the Colts the week before the opener to a two-year extension for $30 million, the Colts are 3-2 and tied with Houston for the lead in the AFC South.

The Washington Redskins went all-in on Robert Griffin III in 2012. But they also hedged with the selection of Kirk Cousins in the fourth round of that draft. With RGIII injured, Cousins won a critical game late in 2012 to get Washington into the postseason, then later succeeded Griffin and got the team to a second postseason (2015), the only two playoff appearances by that franchise in the last 11 years.

Paltry Bears QB-depth/development “efforts”

The Bears once helped saved a season by committing to increasing their odds at quarterback.

With Rex Grossman established as their starter, the Bears used a fourth-round pick on Kyle Orton in 2005. They went 10-5 in Orton starts and reached the playoffs, albeit on the strength of a truly elite defense.

Not only has Pace eschewed drafting young quarterbacks into the pipeline; he has rarely in any form staffed the position with potential solutions at a position that has bedeviled the Bears franchise for decades. 

What quarterbacks have been brought in to Halas Hall have largely fit little more than roles of stopgap, bridge/interim or training-camp players, up to and including Mike Glennon and Jay Cutler, neither being viewed as long-term solutions (irrespective of misspent monies).

For examples:

2015 Jay Cutler

Jimmy Clausen (retained from Emery regime)
Shane Carden, (training camp)
David Fales (Emery draft pick)

2016 Cutler

Fales
Matt Barkley
Brian Hoyer
Connor Shaw

2017 Cutler

Shaw
Mike Glennon
Mark Sanchez

2018 Tyler Bray, Chase Daniel

Chase Daniel   

2019 Austin Allen (rookie minicamp)

Bray
Daniel

Trubisky will be back from this injury sooner rather than later. But top organizations plan beyond the season at hand, plan for both the best and the worst. The Bears at this point, and beyond, need very, very badly for Trubisky to both develop into what they envisioned when they traded up to draft him; and also, with no slight to Daniel, that Trubisky stays very, very healthy while that development curve plays out.

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