The Chicago Bears’ 2020 season was essentially four seasons wrapped into one. Early season highs, mid-season lows, a Mitchell Trubisky tour, and a humbling ending put things into perspective.
Looking ahead, the 2021 offseason could very well dictate the long-term future of the franchise. GM Ryan Pace enters the final year of his contract. He needs to prove he can find a quarterback and unearth offensive skill players. And Head Coach Matt Nagy has two seasons remaining on his deal. But he might not make it to next year if he can’t show that his offense can work. But before we cross those bridges, let’s take a position-by-position look at the team heading into a pivotal offseason for the Bears franchise.
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
Nick Foles is the only quarterback on the roster who has a contract for 2021. That cuts multiple ways. On the one hand, having a suitable backup quarterback has its perks. But there’s also value in someone who can come off the bench in a pinch and steward a game to its finish. But on the other hand, Foles rode the struggle bus in 2020 and lost a starting job he snatched in the first place. In other words, the Bears *DESPERATELY* need to fix the quarterback position. But you already knew that.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
Unless something unexpected happens, Mitchell Trubisky’s run as QB1 is over. We’ll always have that magical 2018 season, and some splash plays here and there. However, four years of inconsistent play, plus a general lack of development, point to a parting of ways this offseason. And frankly, that wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Sometimes, a clean breakup is best for both parties. Trubisky could use a new situation, a fresh set of eyes on his game, and a change in voices in his ear. Nagy and the Bears could use a new set of hands under center, too.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
There are no cap-related benefits to cutting Nick Foles. In fact, it would cost the Bears more than $3.6 million in cap space to cut him this offseason. Designating Foles as a post-June 1 cut doesn’t help much either. Going down that path would cost the Bears just $1 million, but it would come with a projected dead money hit of $7,666,666. In other words, consider Foles to be a sunk cost.
Cap numbers via OverTheCap.com
OBSESSIVE RUSSELL WILSON WATCH
Seven-time Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson putting the Bears on a four-team list of teams he would approve a trade to changes the dynamic of this offseason. A star quarterback is willing to consider going to your team if his current team accepts that a fractured partnership can’t be mended.
This isn’t to say Wilson is the only QB the Bears should target this offseason. We’ll tackle some other options below. But when someone like Wilson pushes himself onto the market and puts your team out there as one he would like to play for, then GM Ryan Pace needs to pull up from Curry range and shoot tests to Seahawks GM John Schneider until he comes across a trade he accepts.
THE FREE AGENT MARKET INCLUDES…
⇒ Dak Prescott (if he isn’t tagged)
⇒ Jacoby Brissett
⇒ Andy Dalton
⇒ Ryan Fitzpatrick
⇒ Cam Newton
⇒ Tyrod Taylor
⇒ Jameis Winston
Note: While Colin Kaepernick is a free agent, I don’t envision GM Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy hitching their wagons to a quarterback who hasn’t thrown a pass in the NFL since 2016. But considering all the other avenues that have yielded sub-optimal results, maybe they could try that one?
SEVEN DRAFT-ELIGIBLE PROSPECTS
⇒ Justin Fields, Ohio State
⇒ Zach Wilson, BYU
⇒ Mac Jones, Alabama
⇒ Trey Lance, North Dakota State
⇒ Kyle Trask, Florida
⇒ Jaime Newman, Georgia/Wake Forest
⇒ Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Alabama’s Mac Jones met with the Bears (and everyone else) at the Senior Bowl. Chicago was one of the 28 teams who showed up to Trey Lance’s October showcase at North Dakota State (even if it was kind of a dud). Florida’s Kyle Trask played one of his best games with the Bears in attendance. BYU’s Zach Wilson is this draft class’ show-stopping late-riser. And while Ohio State’s Justin Fields tends to get lost in the conversation, don’t be foolish and overlook him. Fields can ball.
If the Bears can’t connect on a big swing like trading for Wilson or Watson, they should take a hack and try to trade up in the Draft to select either Wilson, Fields, or even Lance. Adding a quarterback on a rookie-scale deal could preserve some financial flexibility elsewhere on the roster. Otherwise, a combination plan featuring a seasoned veteran and a developmental rookie seems sensible.
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
We are a little more than one month removed from the Bears’ season-ending loss to the Saints, and the team has been connected to a handful of quarterbacks on the rumor mill.
Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz are off the board. This leaves Sam Darnold as the presumptive next-man-up on the trade block. Meanwhile, the Texans insist they aren’t trading Deshaun Watson (for now). The Bears could jump into a Derek Carr sweepstakes if he becomes available. But the Raiders would probably prefer trading their *OTHER* quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
And that’s in addition to that Russell Wilson fellow we mentioned earlier. But it doesn’t stop there, because there are potential draft options to consider if all else falls apart on the trade front.
In the end, finding the right quarterback is the only storyline that matters this offseason. Because, as we’ve learned the last few seasons, solid team-building elsewhere means little without the right QB calling the shots.