How would you fix the quarterback position if you were Ryan Pace?
That question is probably at the forefront of every Bears fan's mind this morning, in the wake of Chicago’s Week 11 loss to the Los Angeles Rams that likely ends any thoughts of the playoffs. Head coach Matt Nagy turned to Chase Daniel at the end of the game, citing a hip injury for Mitchell Trubisky. That, when combined with his play during 2019, does not bode well for Trubisky’s future in the Windy City. If you were Pace, how would you handle the quarterback room going forward? What are the options? Here is what I came up with when trying to step into his shoes.
Door 1: Ride With Mitch
Is this even a viable option at this point?
The footage of Nagy seemingly consoling his quarterback on the sideline Sunday night might be the lasting image of the Trubisky Era. It seems hard to believe that, going into 2020, Trubisky will be Plan A for the Bears at the quarterback position. Nagy may believe that he can piece together sufficient quarterback play from him, but an attempt at that could fracture the locker room. Trubisky’s resurrection could happen, but at what cost?
At a bare minimum some competition for Trubisky is needed next offseason. Entering 2020 with just Trubisky and Daniel on the roster cannot be the answer.
Door 2: Chase Daniel?
Speaking of the former Missouri Tiger ...
One of the more illuminating moments this season, at least in terms of contemplating the future of the Bears’ offense, was when Daniel stepped in for an injured Trubisky. Entering the lineup against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4, Daniel kept the offense on track and seemed to have more of a command for what Nagy was looking for from the QB position. He was more decisive than Trubisky, and as a result the ball was coming out on time and in rhythm.
That failed to translate to a win a week later against the Oakland Raiders in London, but in terms of having a quarterback who can execute his system effectively, Daniel could be the guy Nagy is looking for.
Now there is no case to be made that Daniel is the long-term answer at the position. But if the Bears want to capitalize on their current window of contention, they need at least competent and consistent play from the quarterback position. Daniel can give them that at a minimum. Opening up the quarterback competition in the offseason between two guys already in the room is an enticing option.
But if the Bears want to go down the veteran quarterback road, there are going to be better options available than Daniel.
Door 3: Start Anew
This might be the toughest needle to thread. Starting over with a shiny new rookie quarterback will be a difficult lift for Pace, given moves made to date. The Bears enter the 2020 draft without a first- and third-round selection thanks to the Khalil Mack trade (they do have the Raiders' second-rounder in addition to their own), and if the draft were held right now they would not be picking until around 45 and 52 overall.
Joe Burrow is not going to be on the board come 45.
The quarterback draft class got a bit of a jolt this weekend - and not in a positive manner - when Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending right hip injury. The Alabama passer underwent surgery and is expected to make a full recovery, but this, coupled with some of his previous injury history, is going to impact his draft stock. Is it possible that he falls deep into the first round? Perhaps, meaning it could be theoretically possible for the Bears to trade back into the first using both of those second-round selections to grab him ... but that is a lot of moving parts.
The more likely scenario in terms of a rookie quarterback is a later-round pick. Perhaps with one of those two second-round selections, or perhaps later in the draft. At that point, however, you are looking at players in the next tier like Jake Fromm, Jalen Hurts, or even in the third tier of passers like Brian Lewerke, Kellen Mond or Steven Montez. Intriguing prospects but players unlikely to immediately contribute. That does not solve the immediate situation, and it also leaves the long-term situation hinging on development.
Probably not where Bears fans want to be.
Door 4: The Free Agency/Veteran Approach
If there was ever a year where the offseason quarterback carousel could reshape the game of football as we know it, the winter of 2020 could be that time. Some legends are entering free agency, such as Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Other players like Eli Manning and Philip Rivers are also entering free agency, as well as Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston — both unlikely to receive new contracts with their original teams. Additionally, quarterbacks like Andy Dalton and Cam Newton are still under contract but will cost their organizations little in dead money should they decide to move in a new direction.
One certainly expects the Cincinnati Bengals to move in a new direction, given how they have benched Dalton already to “see what they have in Ryan Finley.”
We can probably cast aside Brady and Brees. It is hard to imagine either of those quarterbacks finishing their careers in a different uniform. Although as someone who grew up idolizing Joe Montana, the 12-year-old version of me said the same about Montana ...
Yet there is another issue with signing one of those players: The salary cap. Right now, the Bears are assumed to have around $13 million in cap space for the 2020 season, so acquiring a big- ticket QB like Brady or Brees would require some big moves to make enough room. Of course, the “salary cap is a construct,” as people say, so it could probably be done. But it would require a lot of finagling.
The two names that probably make the most sense are Mariota and Dalton. Acquiring Dalton via trade would not be cost-prohibitive. If you use the Alex Smith trade as a comparison (in which Washington sent a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller to Kansas City for the quarterback), a reasonable deal could be done. Mariota makes sense because there would be a reunion of sorts with him and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, and that could help the former Oregon Duck tap into the production and execution that made him a Heisman Trophy winner.
The flaw, however, is that we have a good body of work in place to evaluate both of those players. Are they upgrades over 2019 Trubisky? Probably. Are they quarterbacks with a proven track record of being “the guy,” raising the level of play in everyone around them and leading teams to the promised land? No, they are not. But they could be the short-term fix. Which leads us to...
Door 5: The Balanced Approach
This is the route I would take, were I in Pace’s shoes.
If we work from the starting point that the Trubisky Era is over, Chicago needs to address the short- and long-term at the position. Given the draft capital available to them, or the lack thereof, it is unlikely they can find a rookie quarterback who can address both. So the organization needs to acquire a passer who can address the short-term, and perhaps help this team capitalize on their current window of contention, while also acquiring a quarterback who can be the long-term answer.
Now could Mariota be the answer to both? Out of any of the available (or potentially-available quarterbacks), he has the most promise. But how often have we been waiting for Mariota to take that leap forward? Seemingly ever since he entered the league. Of course, he has dealt with not only injuries but also a revolving door of coordinators, so perhaps a reunion with his old college coach could be the healing balm his career needs.
If it is not, however, the team acquiring him would still need a backup plan.
One they could acquire in the draft, with the resources they have, with an eye toward the future.
So the plan would be this: Acquire a veteran that would be an upgrade over Trubisky, perhaps a Mariota or a Dalton. One that would not require breaking the salary cap position, and one that could at least be a short-term answer at the position. In addition, use one of the picks on Day 2 or 3 and target a quarterback with the right balance of a floor and a ceiling. Someone that, worst-case scenario, could be your next Daniel. But also a passer who, in the right conditions, could grow into something more. Sounds like a unicorn, I know, yet the organization needs to get the quarterback position solved and with the resources they have, a multiple-layered approach is the wisest one.
Who could that passer be? Fromm is certainly a quarterback in that mold. Not the highest ceiling in this draft, but seems to have a solid enough floor and some raw potential to be developed. Another name to mention would be Iowa’s Nate Stanley. Again, not the sexiest name at the quarterback position this draft, but a passer with experience and a solid combination of arm talent and athleticism.
Pairing a developmental rookie with a more established veteran would seem to be the best option going forward for the Bears.
Of course, is that not what they kind of did already with Trubisky and Daniel?
On second thought, forget it. Break the bank and sign Brady.