The Chicago Bears have a quarterback competition on their hands, which seems to be what they’ve wanted all along.
Indeed, even as he publicly supported incumbent starter Mitch Trubisky, Bears GM Ryan Pace spoke openly and candidly about competition that was coming in 2020: “We’re looking to increase competition at every position. Mitch is our starter and we believe in Mitch and we believe in the progress that he’s going to make …. The quarterback room is critical and it’s important for us. We’re always going to try to make it better.”
Sure, Pace re-affirmed his stance on Trubisky as the team’s starting quarterback in 2020 at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but he also talked about “creating competition everywhere … at quarterback and throughout our entire roster.” He even gushed about how “competition brings out the best in everyone” and that he wanted to create an atmosphere where everyone was fighting for starting jobs.
But with a new quarterback in the fold (Nick Foles), another one brought back into the mix (Tyler Bray), and rumors of possibly selecting a fourth in the upcoming draft (Jalen Hurts? James Morgan?), there’s a lot to work through. Let’s do it together.
What This Means for the Bears Right Now
We still don’t know the cap ramifications of trading for Nick Foles, but it feels safe to assume that the deal essentially takes them out of the running for a free agent such as Cam Newton or Jameis Winston (or a trade for someone like Andy Dalton). My apologies if you were holding out hope for one of those fall-back options.
At face value, Foles presents competition for Trubisky at QB1.
Put differently, he’s Plan B in case Trubisky’s struggles from 2019 carry into 2020. And frankly, the Bears could do worse on a second option. In essence, Foles is a younger, more talented, and highly accomplished version of Chase Daniel. This is no knock on Daniel, who’s made a career as a QB2 given his knowledge of the game, capacity to process information, and ability to share it with others in the room. But a souped-up Chase Daniel with height and athletic ability to wing it down the field represents an upgrade from what Daniel was in Chicago. Nothing wrong with that in the grand scheme of things.
As for re-signing Bray, the move is one that retains someone knowledgeable within the system, has a history with the coaching staff, and a prior relationship with the other quarterbacks in the room as a teammate.
Expect Bray to be pushed by a draft pick or even an undrafted free agent when the draft concludes. Expanded practice squad rosters and lifting of prior rules that limited players who had surpassed the maximum number of accrued seasons means Bray is eligible to return to a place he spent the last two seasons.
What Foles Can Be for This Bears Team
At its core, Matt Nagy’s offense asks for the quarterback to be a point guard on the gridiron. Be the guy who puts your teammates in a position to score. And despite his limitations, that’s what Foles has shown he can do within the confines of a system similar to what Nagy runs in Chicago.
I’m not sharing this because I want to, I’m doing so because I have to in order to prove a point:
#Eagles–#Bears: Sprint-out concept on the game-winning score. QB Nick Foles has to make this throw vs. Leonard Floyd on the edge. And he puts the ball on the upfield shoulder of WR Golden Tate. @NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/c76n6kal7M
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 7, 2019
The ability to process the game situation, defense, and make the right play is as important as raw athleticism and arm talent. What Foles did in the embedded video above is what competent quarterbacking looks like in modern football. It’s not sexy, but it gets the job done.
In trading for Foles, the Bears have acquired a quarterback who has shown an ability to be competent in a quarterback-friendly system. Foles has also proven to be unflappable when placed on the game’s brightest stage. He played one of the best games of his life en route to the Eagles winning the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings, then topped that by out-dueling the greatest to ever do it to win the Super Bowl (and its MVP award). A year later, he took down an all-time great Bears defense by making a play on 4th and goal with the season on the line.
At a minimum, Foles is a quarterback with the baseline ability to be a complementary player on a team where the defense carries more of the load than it probably should. In short, should things fall into Foles’ lap, Chicago should still be competing for one of the playoff spots in an expanded NFL postseason in 2020.
Quality Veteran Back-up? Fill-in Starter? Outright Starter?
Opinions vary on what role Foles will ultimately fill as a member of the Bears.
- ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (whose original reporting that the Bears were looking for a QB to push/possibly -supplant Trubisky) believes an open competition is on the horizon: “Multiple sources say the Bears will essentially hold an open competition for the top quarterback spot,” Fowler wrote in a piece breaking down the NFL’s free agency frenzy. “and though the incumbent will have the inside track, nothing is promised.”
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune doesn’t see it as much of a competition. Not after what the Bears spent in draft capital to bring Foles into the mix. Biggs expresses his belief that the Bears didn’t give up the 140th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and re-work Foles’ contract for him to hold a clipboard behind Trubisky: “No matter how the team frames an offseason or training camp competition for the job,” Biggs opines, “I firmly believe Foles will emerge as Nagy’s guy before the opener.”
- Heck, Adam Jahns (The Athletic) went a far as to write Foles was “arguably the in-house leader” in the quarterback derby. Foles knows the system, the coaches know Foles, and there is an apparent trust between the two sides. Trubisky knows the system and coaches, too. It’s just that he hasn’t performed with any consistency within the confines of the system. Hence, the need to trade for Foles in the first place.
- ESPN analyst Louis Riddick has even stronger feelings about the pending competition. Riddick, who was in the Eagles’ front office when the team drafted Foles, issues a warning to Trubisky that Foles could walk into Halas Hall and swipe the starter’s gig from under his nose:
— First Take (@FirstTake) March 19, 2020
What This Doesn’t Necessarily Mean
Alright, so the Bears haven’t totally closed the door on Trubisky.
The general manager has issued statements in professing his belief that Trubisky can still figure it out. The head coach laid out a plan for Trubisky to improve. And for all I’ve written positively about Foles (his knowledge of the system, familiarity with the coaches, etc.), he is still Nick Foles. The same guy who lost a starting gig to Gardner Minshew II. The same quarterback who nearly retired after a brief stint with the Jeff Fisher coached Rams. Trubisky doesn’t have to beat out Tom Brady at the peak of his powers. It’s Nick Foles.
Even still … having Foles, Trubisky, and Bray in place doesn’t necessarily mean the Bears’ search for a QB is over.
Georgia prospect Jake Fromm said he met with the team during the NFL Scouting Combine. Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts continues to be viewed as a fit for what the Bears want to do on offense. FIU’s James Morgan has popped up several times as a prospect the Bears are reportedly interested in and have vetted in the pre-draft process. The Bears’ quarterback competition feels far from over.
What Happens Next
The Bears are operating with a win-now mindset. With a star-studded defense and a special teams unit that improved in 2019, the Bears need competent offensive play to truly take advantage of what’s left of this competitive window. Hence, trading for a quarterback who’s been there and done that, doing so while operating as a back-up prior to his flashes of stardom in big games.
By talking shop with Teddy Bridgewater, having trade talks for Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, and ultimately trading for Foles, the Bears have essentially admitted they whiffed on Trubisky as a draft pick. No, Pace hasn’t said it verbally. Heck, there hasn’t been any media availability since team facilities were shut down as a precaution as part of an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19. But actions speak louder than words. And Chicago’s offseason actions speak volumes about how it feels about Trubisky.
I imagine the Bears front office believing a worst-case scenario being that they traded a fourth-round pick to get Foles to back up Trubisky in a season in which he finally puts it all together as a QB1. But an actual worst-case scenario is Trubisky not reaching new heights, and Foles not playing to his ability as a distributor under center, and leaving the Bears looking for their next long-term QB solution in the 2021 NFL Draft.
And if it turns out Pace whiffed with the Foles trade, what happens next could be a reset and a regime change. Because there are limits to how many swings you get at the most important position in football.