As a general matter, I think most of us here on the BN staff were on board with the idea of the Bears going after Cam Newton at some point this offseason. With the quarterback question extremely unanswered for the Bears in 2020 and beyond, there’s always something appealing about taking a big swing on the guy out there with the most upside in the medium term. And Newton was freely available.
The Bears, as you know, opted to trade a valuable pick for Nick Foles, a quarterback with whom much of the staff is very familiar, and restructure his contract into something that requires $21 million guaranteed, but which is spread out in such a way that it looks pretty good for a quality back-up, if that’s what Foles becomes. If he instead becomes a solid starter, it looks all the better.
Newton, however, signed on with the Patriots for nothing more than an incentive-laden, one-year, minimum deal. It’s a stark contrast, and people have been pointing it out with some fervor over the past 12 hours. Fair conversation to have.
I’m not going to draw any conclusions here about whether the Bears screwed up their quarterback options this offseason. I’m more interested, at the outset, in at least framing the discussion the right way about what the Bears did and did not do.
Basically, the way I look at situations like this is I think about the things the Bears would have had to firmly believe, back in March, in order to try to opt for Newton instead of Foles.
You’d Have to Believe in His Health
Newton, 31, has played just two games since December 2018 thanks to serious shoulder and foot injuries. That much time away, at his age, with as many hits he has taken over the years, and with those particular injuries – that’s far from a minor consideration. The recent injury history makes it very hard for a team to think of Newton as definitely “the guy” coming into the fall, and is the primary reason Newton remained unsigned until now.
Because it wasn’t even possible to really work Newton out back in March and April and May thanks to pandemic, having confidence in his health back in March – when the Bears were deciding the route they wanted to take at quarterback on a team with an elite defense and a shorter-term window.
You’d Have to Believe He’d Actually Sign with the Bears
This one is *probably* easily cleared, as there were certainly rumors about his interest going as far back as last fall, but I’m just saying: this is always one of those factors people seem to ignore in circumstances like these. You can’t just assume Newton would have preferred the Bears over the Patriots, for example.
You’d Have to Believe He’d Sign the Same Contract
For this discussion to be a comparison of the decisions, the Bears also would have had to be able to sign Newton for the modest deal he got from the Patriots. Would that have been a reasonable assumption back in March? Or does it only happen because of the fallout of the following three months? And if so, then the Bears would have had to be comfortable waiting until the end of June with a quarterbacks room that consists only of Mitch Trubisky and Tyler Bray.
You’d Have to Believe in the Offensive Fit and Timeline
Newton has been an NFL quarterback for a long time, and most of it, he has been a very good one. If he’s healthy, it’s a better bet than not that he’s going to be good. But the question here that the Bears would’ve had to contemplate: is Newton going to be better for the Bears in 2020 than a guy like Foles, given Foles’ familiarity with the offense and the coaches, and the intervening pandemic that threatened (heck, still threatens) to dramatically inhibit the ability for players to actually work together much in advance of the season?
That kind of thinking would have been an enormous risk back in March. That’s not to say it would’ve been right or wrong when you consider the whole package, but it’s asking a team with an elite defense to absorb a helluva lot of offensive risk in the year ahead when I can at least understand the argument in favor of raising the offensive floor.
You’d Have to Believe There Would Be No Trubisky Issues (Or Not Care)
This one, which I mention last for a reason, is a complicated consideration to fill out. With Foles, you can bring him in and say, genuinely, that it’s a quarterback competition. And then you can decide, genuinely, that if Trubisky is shocking everyone over the summer, he can be QB1 for Week 1. You know that would work, both with Trubisky and Foles (even if I’m thinking it’s pretty unlikely).
With Newton, you’re bringing him in to be the guy. You cannot bring in Cam Newton – injuries or no – and NOT give him a true, lengthy chance to be QB1 right away. There’s too much upside there. So, then, if you do that, you pretty much close the long-term door on Trubisky right away. Again, I’m not so sure I have a problem with that, but the staff does seem to want to leave open the slight possibility that he’s just taking a little longer than other quality starters who establish themselves, and maybe he finally turns the corner this year. If you go for Newton, you probably don’t ever really get that chance with Trubisky, even if Newton tanks by midseason.
So, again I say: I think the Bears’ decisions here are wide open to discussion, and I don’t think I know exactly where I land at the moment. I just know that it’s not as simple as saying, “Hey, the Bears could have had Foles for X, or could have had Newton for Y, and they chose Foles for way more. That’s wild.”