INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears' expectation remains that embattled QB Mitch Trubisky will be their starter in 2020, a potential contract year for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft.
However unrealistic, then, those who were expecting a dramatically different Trubisky tone Tuesday from Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace at the NFL scouting combine than it was at the season-ending news conference probably were left unsatisfied — not unlike the Bears and their fans with Trubisky's underwhelming third season.
"We believe in Mitch. Mitch knows he needs to be better. We need to be better around him. And that's our goal," Pace said during a 25-minute visit Tuesday with local media.
But the quarterback still requiring so many improvements, not the "chronological" reasoning Pace mentioned, in large part explains why the Bears aren't yet ready to commit to exercising their fifth-year option for 2021 on Trubisky, a decision due by the first week of May that could leave them on the hook owing the quarterback $25 million.
Sure, there's some uncertainty regarding the specifics of the fifth-year option in the new proposed CBA potentially including a revision that guarantees the salary — not only for injury, as it would under the current option — but suffice to say if Trubisky had taken the expected step forward last season rather than declining markedly, there would be no mystery involved here.
"I don't think it's uncommon, and those are things that we'll just keep inside and internal with us," Pace said of continuing to mull the option decision. "Again, we have more pressing needs right now for us. The trigger date isn't until May, so we have time on that."
What couldn't be clearer is that the Bears will be acquiring one or more new quarterbacks this spring, when Trubisky is their only passer who remains on an existing contract and the current regime's sense of urgency has heightened after last season's 8-8 finish out of the playoffs. Pace acknowledged there's a "rare" offseason surplus of veteran QB options, and Nagy cited "leadership" and "playmaking" as traits he covets in the QB acquisition process, in addition to "accuracy" and "decision making."
And while Pace and Nagy both reiterated their belief in Trubisky, they also emphasized the importance of him competing for the starting job. That's certainly new after Pace's hand-picked quarterback entered his first two seasons under Nagy as the shoo-in.
"I know Ryan said it, but any type of competition we can have that pushes whoever is in front of him is what we want," said Nagy, who had a firsthand view of the way his former team, the Chiefs, trading up for Patrick Mahomes in Round 1 of the 2017 draft sparked a breakout season for Alex Smith in Year 13. "... If you're not creating competition around your whole roster, you're not pushing your own guys. So it's hard to answer that question."
Just not as tricky as the pickle in which the Bears find themselves with Trubisky. He's only 25 years old, but as quarterbacks drafted more recently flourish while he languishes with a playoff-caliber 'D,' the Bears can only afford to be so patient. And they're resigned to exercising that patience without having a whole lot to hang their hats on relative to their quarterback's development.
For instance, when asked point blank Tuesday for Trubisky's strengths, Pace cited his accuracy, athleticism and processing. Yet Nagy has said repeatedly — including sitting right next to Pace on Dec. 31 and again speaking Tuesday within an hour of his general manager — that Trubisky's main charge this offseason must be to read and process better. And Trubisky's completion percentage and rushing production were arguably the two areas in which his 2019 decline was most stark.
"I think the processing part — it has to get to a point where you're so obsessed, no matter what you're doing, you're always watching film," Nagy said. "We're at a point now where, in these next several months before they get back in here, April 20th or whatever it is, he's a complete expert at knowing ... he needs to know it better than me. And that's the goal. He'll tell you that that wasn't the case last year. That's not a slight on him — he's in Year 2 of it — but I want him to make sure that's where he gets to in the future."
Nagy also mentioned the need for Trubisky to better follow the directions he's receiving and trust the process without worrying about the lackluster results.
"I do know that Mitch is very hungry. He understands that we want him to play better; he understands that we want to coach better. So now we cannot worry and dwell about what happened last year. If you do that, you get stuck in the mud. We can’t do it. It’s a clean slate. Now we’ve got to get better for this year.”
And if not, it's likely it'll be Trubisky's last year with the Bears.