The Bears have been in search of a franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman retired in 1951, and merely an acceptable option since Erik Kramer suffered a serious neck injury after the 1995 season.
Still, rarely has the spotlight shone as brightly on that particular shortcoming as it does today.
When you hear general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy talk about believing their team is close to where they want to be, it is shorthand for they believe, if they can find the quarterback, they can contend.
Who is on the roster in 2021?
Nick Foles is the only quarterback on the current Bears roster. His contract calls for him to receive a base salary of $4 million in 2021 and 2022. It will result in a $6.66 million cap hit in each season, and it has $10.3 million in dead cap money.
It is a reasonable contract for a No. 2 quarterback and quite low for a starter.
Who are the pending free agents?
Mitch Trubisky and Tyler Bray will be free agents when the NFL’s 2021 new league year begins March 17.
Trubisky will attract inquiries from other NFL teams as a potential starter, backup or both. Although he did play well and effectively after regaining the starting job in 2020, it was with an adjusted offensive scheme that is not Nagy’s first choice, and so it appears unlikely the Bears will try to re-sign him.
That could change if the Bears are unable to acquire another veteran quarterback to replace him.
There is unlikely to be a market for Bray with other NFL teams.
Thoughts on the internal options in 2021?
Foles’ 2013 Pro Bowl, 2017 Super Bowl MVP and 2018 seasons with the Eagles, in which he played very well, were real.
His other six NFL seasons have been disappointing.
But you can’t ignore that in 2020 when joining a new team with a new offense – a familiar scheme but a new offense – Foles had no team workout program, no OTAs, no minicamps, no exhibition season and a radically altered training camp, and he did not even meet any of his teammates until the first day of that training camp.
He also played behind a clearly insufficient offensive line.
It is not unreasonable to believe that with a more normal offseason and improved offensive line, Foles still could be the right answer at quarterback.
Based on what did happen in 2020, however, it would be indefensible not to bring in new competition.
Who is available in free agency?
Dak Prescott comes with the highest upside, but he’s almost certainly also going to command the most money – and that’s if the Cowboys don’t sign Prescott to extension or apply the franchise tag, two very real scenarios.
Cam Newton looks to be one-and-done in New England. It’s unclear if the Saints believe in Jameis Winston enough to bring him back. Ryan Fitzpatrick will be looking for a new job after performing admirably in Miami. Those three, along with Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett and Trubisky, are options the Bears can consider to compete with or replace Foles.
It also is believed that although not free agents, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Ryan and Marcus Mariota could all be available via trade. All might be better options for the Bears than any of the free agents.
Who is available in the draft?
Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance will likely be off the board when the Bears make their first-round selection at No. 20. Alabama’s Mac Jones is the only one of the top five QB prospects that might still be available, unless they trade up – probably at least as high as 12 or 13 – and Jones very well could be gone too.
Most likely Day 2 options could include Florida’s Kyle Trask, Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond.
Most likely Day 3 options include Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, Stanford’s Davis Mills, Memphis’ Brady White, Southern Methodist’s Shane Buechele, Arkansas’ Feleipe Franks, Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello and Notre Dame’s Ian Book.
What’s your best guess?
The Bears almost certainly will acquire a veteran quarterback to either replace as a starter or compete with Foles, and the only way Foles won’t be here is if he is part of a trade for that new veteran.
The most likely trade targets are Wentz, Carr, Mariota and Garoppolo. If they are not able to trade for one of them, Winston and Fitzpatrick are the best free agent fits for Nagy’s offense. Dalton could serve as a solid backup to Foles.
If the Bears do not trade for a new starting quarterback, they could draft one in the first round, but their options will be limited.
If they do trade for a new starter, expect them to draft a quarterback on Day 2 or 3.
As of right now, Foles is the odds-on favorite to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2021.