Recent changes to the mechanics of the fifth-year option, as well as news on other fifth-year option decisions, got me thinking about Mitch Trubisky and the choice the Bears have ahead of them. With a decision due on May 4th, Trubisky is among the final draft class of players whose fifth year option is not fully guaranteed. So unlike any players drafted in 2018 and beyond, the Bears could pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year option, watch him struggle in 2020, and then cut him before the 2021 season at no cost (**so long as he’s healthy**).
So on the surface, that certainly feels like a risk worth taking. If Trubisky somehow manages to take a step forward this year, the Bears will already have him under control for 2021. If he struggles once again or remains behind Nick Foles on the depth chart all season, the Bears can cut him for nothing. All the upside and almost none of the risk.
And yet, with the May 4th deadline looming, the Bears don’t have an answer, even if there have been some early rumors:
Schefter: Belief Around League is that Bears Will *NOT* Pick Up Trubisky's Fifth-Year Option https://t.co/RyNmv7CKnr
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) April 25, 2020
Generally speaking, Pace has declined to offer a comment on a decision at every turn this offseason. In fact, we’re up to four times in which Pace has kicked the can down the road when specifically asked about picking up the fifth-year option on Trubisky’s rookie deal.
Maybe it’s because the decision isn’t quite as simple as it seems.
Back in December, Trubisky’s fifth-year option was projected to cost around $25.1 million. And while that number projects to be $24 million now, it immediately ups the ante on the risk side of the equation. The Bears would still only be on the hook if Trubisky were injured, mind you – and the NFL does protect QBs better than they ever have – but an injury is certainly a plausible outcome. And for a quarterback who’s already dealt with not one, but two fairly significant shoulder injuries in his very young career, I don’t want to understate that possibility (It’s one thing to be stuck with an underperforming Trubisky for $24M; it’s categorically worse if he were also seriously injured).
But there are two sides to any equation, and the reward still matters. The only issue is that the Bears don’t necessarily have to rely on the fifth-year option to reap it.
If the Bears were to decline Trubisky’s fifth-year option and then watching him break out in a big way in 2020, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. They might kick themselves at first for incurring some additional cost, but they could always keep Trubisky using the Franchise or Transition tag. Either option might cost them a little more scratch, but if we lived in a world where the Bears were kicking themselves for not picking up the $24M or so fifth-year option, then they’d probably be fine with the 2021 tag costs for quarterbacks.
2020 Quarterback Tag Rates:
• Franchise Tag: $26,824,000
• Transition Tag: $24,837,000
However, there is the matter of the opportunity cost. Each NFL team has only one Franchise Tag and one Transition Tag per year (and the transition tag can be used only if the team did not use a Franchise Tag). So using it on Trubisky means not using it on someone else. Normally, this wouldn’t be much of a concern, but it just so happens that the one guy the Bears might be forced to use their one precious tag on is their biggest offensive weapon … Allen Robinson.
Still, I doubt we wind up in this dilemma. After all, they could always tag one and work hard to extend the other. Plus, we may be operating in the dark on a theoretical extension for Robinson, but the Bears aren’t. They’ve been trying to extend him for a while now and seem optimistic something gets done. And at a minimum, they know what it’ll take. So they really shouldn’t be caught off guard by any of this. And, of course, this all still requires Trubisky to be so good they want to pay him upwards of $26M for just one season.
But there’s still one more considerations here, though it doesn’t work in Trubisky’s favor. In short, if the Bears let Trubisky walk into free agency after the 2020 season (i.e. they decline the fifth year option) and he signs with another team for 2021, it’ll help the Bears earn a compensatory pick in the 2022 NFL Draft! And that’s not nothing.
Ultimately, the Bears have a fairly difficult, but significant decision to make and not much time to make it.