Bears’ future moves at QB will say plenty about John Fox’s goals

The Jaguars were supposed to be good. With quarterback Blake Bortles entering his third season, one of the NFL’s best receiver tandems and young talent on defense, the downtrodden franchise was thought to have a great shot at making the playoffs.

Instead, they’ve been the same old Jaguars, and they’re last in the mediocre AFC South with a 1-3 record. The disappointment starts with Bortles, who apparently has regressed.

“There comes a time where fans and outside people stop tabbing you as a young quarterback and start calling you a bust or saying you can’t get it done or you’re not the guy or whatever it may be,” Bortles said during a conference call Wednesday. “It’s been a cool battle. It’s been cool to go through that adversity. I look forward to coming out on top of that.”

Around these parts, Bortles’ struggles should serve as a warning for those desperately yearning for the Bears to draft a quarterback. 

Bears coach John Fox and QB Jay Cutler. (AP)

Bears coach John Fox and QB Jay Cutler. (AP)

It doesn’t mean it’s the wrong move. Finding a capable successor to Jay Cutler is overdue, and the Bears are on track for a top-10 pick.

But drafting a quarterback high and committing to him require even more patience from the franchise’s leadership and faithful.

It’s a move that will tell you plenty about the team’s goals and philosophy under coach John Fox, who will be in the third year of his four-year contract next season.

It can take quarterbacks years to establish themselves, and Fox has never won with a young one. Jake Delhomme was 28 when he became the Panthers’ starter in 2003.

In his first season in Denver, Fox found a way to win with Tim Tebow, who was in his second season. But in the offseason, Fox’s Broncos signed Peyton Manning, who was three days shy of 36.

The growing pains the Bears are experiencing because of their influx of youth would be even more pronounced with a rookie under center.

In Fox’s last year in Carolina in 2010, the Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen in the second round. Clausen went 1-9 in 10 starts, throwing nine interceptions and finishing with a 58.4 passer rating. The Panthers went 2-14.

Fox wants safe, efficient play from his quarterback. It’s why he continues to drop hints about his preference for Brian Hoyer over Cutler, even though he praised Cuter’s decision-making last season.

Still, as good as Hoyer has been in his three starts, the 30-year-old isn’t a long-term answer. At best, he’s Fox’s stop-gap solution.

But what about general manager Ryan Pace?

If this season continues on its current course, Pace will have franchise-altering decisions to make, whether it’s trading draft picks for a quarterback, using his first-round selection on one or sticking with Cutler and/or Hoyer.  

The college season is at its halfway point, and opinions vary on the 2017 quarterback class. The strength of it depends on which players declare for the draft.

Notre Dame junior DeShone Kizer, Clemson junior Deshaun Watson, North Carolina redshirt junior Mitch Trubisky and Miami junior Brad Kaaya are four notable prospects.

The Jaguars altered their course by selecting Bortles with the third overall pick in 2014. Last year, Bortles showed promise, throwing for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns.

“I see a good young quarterback with a lot of tools,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said.

Bortles, though, admitted that he has struggled with his decision-making. He has thrown six interceptions and has a 79.4 passer rating. 

“The turnovers obviously have been a big part of what has held us back, so [it’s] eliminating interceptions,” Bortles said.

“And it’s all decision-making. The majority of them have been decisions. Going through that, [it’s] not forcing balls and taking off and running when there’s nothing there.”

It’s part of the typical ups and downs that occur when young quarterbacks need to play to develop. 

Are the Bears — particularly Fox — willing to take that on next season? The answer will be telling.  

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