Wednesday’s hour and a half news conference with the Bears top decision-makers was far from a resounding endorsement of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Although the Bears are keeping general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy, despite back-to-back 8-8 seasons, it’s far from clear what they will do with Trubisky. It is clear, however, that the Bears need to improve at the quarterback position.
Chairman George McCaskey: “It’s pretty clear we need better production from the quarterback position in order to be successful.”
President and CEO Ted Phillips: “Have we gotten the quarterback situation completely right? No.”
Pace: “As far as the plan at quarterback: To get to where we want to go, we definitely need more out of that position. We know that.”
Nobody mentioned Trubisky by name, but they didn’t have to. Pace said everything is on the table, including re-signing Trubisky. Still, Trubisky had four years to prove himself in a Bears uniform, and he never passed the test.
McCaskey and Phillips are entrusting Pace and Nagy with the next big quarterback decision. Pace already had one crack at it – trading up in the draft to select Trubisky at No. 2 overall in 2017. Nagy signed up for his job knowing Trubisky was the quarterback of the future for the Bears.
Some Bears fans, a vocal segment on social media, have little faith that Pace and Nagy will get it right this time. Where does McCaskey draw his faith in them? He said Wednesday that he believes in Pace and Nagy’s ability to collaborate and make the right decision. Remember that when Pace drafted Trubisky, Nagy still was an employee of the Kansas City Chiefs. But again, Nagy signed up to coach Trubisky.
“All four of us want what’s best for the Bears,” McCaskey said. “There are no egos. There are no other agendas. Have mistakes been made? Yes. But I think both Ryan and Matt are learning and growing in their roles.”
Pace has had six years to grow into the role. Nagy will be entering his fourth as head coach in 2021.
It’s an especially dire situation because there is no easy alternative to Trubisky. Nick Foles is still under contract next season, but the team went 2-5 in his seven starts in 2020. The Bears select 20th in the draft, likely too low to pick one of the top quarterbacks. They could trade up, but that always comes at a cost.
Pace’s contract, according to the Bears’ website, lasts through 2021. The GM’s job is on the line this year. Is he really willing to draft a project at 20th overall, or in the second or third rounds, with only one year left on his deal? He said Wednesday he will make the move that’s in the organization’s best interest, not his.
“Every decision I make, it’s the right thing for the franchise,” Pace said. “That’s just how we operate. That’s just natural. And so that’s what will go into it. It’s not going to be thinking short-term. It’s always thinking: What’s best for the Bears?”
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There will be veteran quarterbacks available via free agency, but every one of them comes with a flaw: Dak Prescott will cost a fortune, Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger and isn’t cheap either, Jameis Winston was passed over by his own team in favor of Taysom Hill, Cam Newton threw more interceptions than touchdowns, Dwayne Haskins was cut by Washington for breaking COVID-19 protocols (and also threw more interceptions than touchdowns). Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett simply don’t scream “franchise quarterback.”
The Bears have no salary cap space available, and quarterback is far from their only need. Pace is going to have to be creative over the coming months.
“There’s ways to create cap space and those are all important decisions that we have to make,” Pace said. “It kind of starts with that, evaluating our own roster and talking [about] some of those things. ... That will be throughout our whole team, though. And analyzing what’s out there in free agency, but being conscious and being responsible.”
Cuts will have to be made to free up cap space. Contracts might have to be restructured. Trades are always a possibility. There’s infinite ways this can go, and no easy answer.
All that said, McCaskey and Phillips still believe Pace is the man to lead the Bears through it.
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Pace always will be linked to the Trubisky selection in 2017. He made a bold move, and it didn’t pan out. Now he has an opportunity to take a second crack at it. Pace declined to elaborate much Wednesday when asked what exactly led him astray in 2017.
“As I reflect back – and you’re going to hear this word a lot today, because it’s true, is collaboration; the collaboration that Matt and I have,” Pace said. “I just have a lot of confidence in doing that together because it’s boded well for us in other positions we’ve selected. So that’s what gives me confidence as we enter this offseason.”
The collaboration in 2017 with then-head coach John Fox – a coach who the Bears hired with the help of an outside consultant a week after Pace was hired – didn’t appear to be so strong.
So as Pace went all in on Trubisky in 2017, the Bears are going all in on the Pace/Nagy collaboration.
“Frankly,” Phillips said, “we’re excited about – and so are Matt and Ryan – about the ability for the two of them to look at that position together, whether it’s free agency, the draft, current quarterbacks we have, and to make the right decisions.”