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Friday, January 6, 2017

How the Bears SHOULD proceed at the QB position

Former Bears quarterback Connor Shaw in preseason action.

I think it’s clear that the Chicago Bears are at a quarterback crossroad.  It is sort of humorous to say that since this is an organization that has been around for nearly 100 years and still has not had a good quarterback.  But this is reality.

Since Jim Harbaugh left after the 1993 season, the Chicago Bears have had the following quarterbacks start at least one game:

Steve Walsh
Erik Kramer
Dave Krieg
Rick Mirer
Steve Stenstrom
Moses Moreno
Shane Matthews
Cade McNown
Jim Miller
Chris Chandler
Henry Burris
Kordell Stewart
Rex Grossman
Craig Krenzel
Chad Hutchinson
Jonathan Quinn
Kyle Orton
Brian Griese
Jay Cutler
Todd Collins
Caleb Hanie
Josh McCown
Jason Campbell
Jimmy Clausen
Brian Hoyer
Matt Barkley

That’s 26 starting quarterbacks in 23 seasons.  On top of that, statistically the best quarterback the Bears have ever had is currently on the roster and under contract and still in the prime of his career.  Yet the Bears are still at a quarterback crossroad.

This article is not an indictment of Jay Cutler, nor is it an article to plead his case to return as the starting quarterback.  The quarterback position needs to improve in 2017.  Fact.  Period.  No If’s.  No And’s.  No But’s.  The Bears were #2 in the NFL in interceptions thrown.  They were 28th in scoring offense (17.4 ppg).  28th in offensive touchdowns per game. And 25th in team QB rating.

So how do the Bears deal with this dire situation to solve the hardest puzzle in the NFL?  There’s only 4 paths you can take to get a starting quarterback:  draft one, trade for one, sign one in free agency, or develop one already on your roster.  We’ll discuss each option.

If you listen to “media experts” you’ll hear a wide variety of answers, but the loudest opinion seems to be that the Bears “need” to trade with the Patriots for backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.  Why are they saying this?  He has a nice NFL quarterback size.  He has been in the Patriots’ system learning under Tom Brady and Bill Belichek for three complete seasons.  He is a local kid from Arlington Heights, IL.  He has a nearly 70% completion percentage in regular season action.  Seems reasonable that he would be a good option, right?  But there are issues.  First, the Patriots have publicly said their starting asking price for Garoppolo would be a 1st and 4th round pick.  That’s an astronomical amount to pay for an unproven quarterback.  But, didn’t Minnesota give up that same amount for Sam Bradford just this past year?  Yes, but that was a team with playoff aspirations that were desperate because of a serious injury to their starting quarterback.  They panicked while entering a seller’s market.  The Bears aren’t and shouldn’t be desperate.  Consider New England traded their backup QB Matt Cassel in 2009 for a second round pick.  Atlanta traded Matt Schaub for two second rounder in 2007.  Philadelphia traded Kevin Kolb for a player and a second rounder, Donovan McNabb for a second rounder, and AJ Feeley for a second round pick.  Even in 1998 when Drew Bledsoe was still pro-bowl caliber, New England was only able to get a first-round pick for him.  So history shows that this is a steep price that New England won’t get.  Second, what has Jimmy Garoppolo proven in the NFL?  He threw 27 passes in 2014, 4 passes in 2015, and 60 passes in 2016 before he was injured.  And he was injured already in the second game he played this year when the Patriots only needed him for 4 games.  And finally, if you do trade for him, he only has 1 year left on his rookie contract.  Sure, you’ll have a QB for only $1.1M salary, but he’s going to command a huge payday after this season and will be an unrestricted free agent.  Other than Garoppolo, who is worth trading for at the QB position?  The only other possibility is to keep an eye on Raiders backup QB (who will be their starter in the playoffs) Connor Cook.  I loved him coming out of Michigan State.  If he performs well in the playoffs, he’s a possiblity to be traded because he’s stuck behind a young starter.

There is the free agency route to get yourself a quarterback.  I mean, the Bears do have roughly $60M in cap space to work with.  But other than Kirk Cousins (who will either sign a long term deal or be franchised again), the list of free agent QBs is pretty bleak.  There is Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, Shaun Hill, and the list of nobodies goes on and on.
Developing a quarterback on your roster will be difficult because as it currently stands, Jay Cutler is THE ONLY quarterback under contract for 2017.  Brian Hoyer, Connor Shaw, and Matt Barkley were brought over on 1-year deals which expired after the 2016 seasons.  David Fales had a 2-year contract which expired after the 2016 season, as well.  So this option is pretty much off the table.

The final route is via the NFL draft.  With the #3 overall pick in this year’s draft, you’d expect the Bears to be able to get almost their choice of quarterbacks.  But unfortunately, this year’s quarterback crop doesn’t have an Andrew Luck.  It has some decent quarterbacks that all carry a laundry list of question marks regarding their ability to play at the next level.  In a dream scenario, the number 3 pick brings together a team need (QB) as well as the best player available at that spot.  However, that’s a dream.  This is reality.  One of the absolute worst decisions you can make for your team is to over-reach for a first round quarterback.  At worst, it sets your team back 3-4 years (Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, and Jake Locker).  Best case scenario is it leaves you with an adequate starter (ie Ryan Tannehill and Jay Cutler).  This is where the Bears coaching staff needs to utilize the fact that they are coaching the senior bowl to work with every young QB there as well as stay true to your draft board and trust your scouting. 

So…how should the Bears proceed?  How they will proceed is up to Ryan Pace.  However, if I was GM, this is how I would attempt to tackle the position:
  •  Current Roster:  I am moving on from Jay Cutler.  I think it has been long enough and it is clear that his contractual burden and devisiveness within the fans and organization have gone far enough.  Start 2017 season with a clean slate.
  • Free Agency:  I go on the assumption that Kirk Cousins will not leave Washington (either a new long term deal or the franchise tag).  I go after Connor Shawn, Mike Glennon and/or Brian Hoyer.  Prior to breaking his leg in pre-season, Connor Shaw was a young QB the Bears coaching staff was excited about.  I think he was the QB they wanted to groom.  Mike Glennon is still young and showed some promise.  If you can surround him with some weapons (like Alshon and Kevin White and Joran Howard), he might begin to flourish.  Brian Hoyer is an absolutely average NFL quarterback.  But he has been around the block long enough that he can help mentor a young QB, he can come off the bench to start games if needed or be your bridge starter, and he doesn’t turn the ball over.  But he plays it way too safe to ever get you to a Superbowl.
  • Trade:  Listen, it sounds like I am down on Jimmy Garoppolo.  I am not.  I am just down on his over valuation.  If the Bears are able to work a trade that is reasonable (ie a 2018 2nd and 3rd), then go for it.  Otherwise you move on.
  • Draft: The Bears were bad this year.  No doubt about it.  But they have some young play-makers on this team and will be coming back healthy next year.  So they are not nearly as dire as say Cleveland.  So there is no need to get caught in the “OMG WE NEED TO DRAFT A QB WITH OUR FIRST PICK” trap.  I am not comfortable with any QB with the #3 pick.  So you can wait for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th rounds and draft one there, or if a quarterback falls (ie Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater), you have trade currency to move back up into the first.  Regardless, you do need to draft a QB in the first half of the draft and it has to be someone you can groom.

Searching every avenue and taking multiple bites at the proverbial apple is the best way to approach this and I am confident the Bears will head to training camp in a better position (as far as quarterbacks) than they were in 2016.