It’s a good sign that Ryan Pace and Bears liked Marcus Mariota
It was in warm and sunny Phoenix where general manager Ryan Pace first publicly spoke of his affinity for quarterback Marcus Mariota.
It came during Pace’s first NFL owners meetings as the Bears’ GM in March 2015. He was speaking to a handful of Chicago reporters in a restaurant at the Arizona Biltmore.
“I think you have to watch a lot of tape on those guys to feel good with it,” Pace said then. “And we’ve done enough research on him that I think he’s a good quarterback. That [system at Oregon] doesn’t scare me away from it at all.”
What does that mean for now?
It says that Pace’s evaluations were spot on about a quarterback who was scrutinized because of Oregon’s gimmicky offense and for his soft-spoken personality.
And it suggests that Pace should be trusted if he decides to draft the Bears’ next quarterback this year.
Mariota, who was drafted by the Titans second overall that year, is one of the NFL’s best young QBs.
The Titans are 4-3 in their last seven games and have entered the AFC South race. In those games, Mariota has thrown 19 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. His 100.3 passer rating ranks seventh in the NFL.
But it’s ironic that a quarterback that the Bears loved is coming to town when their own quarterback situation is as fluid and as an uncertain as it’s ever been since Jay Cutler arrived in 2009.
It reflects positively upon Pace that he and his staff believed in Mariota’s abilities and intangibles. But Mariota still won’t be under center for them on Sunday.
Mariota is exactly what the 2-8 Bears are missing — a young, promising quarterback who can inspire an organization. Just ask Titans coach Mike Mularkey.
“You have hope,” Mularkey said. “It’s everyday we come in here.”
All the Bears seemingly have is a never-ending conundrum.
Cutler’s right shoulder is injured, but it’s not season-ending; backup Brian Hoyer is on injured reserve with a broken arm; third-stringer Matt Barkley is preparing to start the first regular-season game of his career; previous third-stringer Connor Shaw is on IR with a broken leg; and David Fales, a 2014 sixth-round pick under Phil Emery, has returned after he was waived in September and had a stint on the Ravens’ practice squad.
“[A franchise quarterback] is a position that, for me, can determine a lot of things, whether it’s wins and losses, how you are reflected in the community, what people think of this team,” Mariota said during a conference call. “A lot of that stems from the position of quarterback.”
It was thought that the Bears were one of a few teams interested in trading up to select Mariota. The Bears did host Mariota for a pre-draft visit, and he said that he had “some contact” with them.
But moving up in the draft comes at a steep price, and the Bears needed picks for their rebuilding efforts.
When the Eagles acquired the Browns’ No. 2 pick this year to draft Carson Wentz, it cost them their own No. 8 overall pick, third- and fourth-round selections, their first-round pick in 2017 and a second-round selection in 2018.
“It was quite flattering,” Mariota said when asked about the trade rumblings involving the Bears. “For me and my agent during that process, we weren’t sure where I was going to end up.”
This year’s quarterback class hasn’t had its Mariota, Wentz, Jameis Winston or Jared Goff emerge yet.
Overall, the class is considered average, though it’s relatively early for evaluations and quarterbacks, given their importance, tend to rise up draft boards.
But if the Bears do select a quarterback, their outlook for Mariota suggests that Pace and Co. can identify a good one.
“We liked him a lot in the process when he was coming out,” coach John Fox said. “He’s proved to be about what we thought he was I know in our evaluations.”