Two months ago, Bears general manager Ryan Pace said something at the NFL Scouting Combine that’s worth repeating with the draft only days away.
“There are . . . a handful of quarterbacks in the middle part of the draft that I feel good about and that we’ve got to make sure we’ve accurately graded,” Pace said. “That’s where our scouts earn their money.”
Jay Cutler, however, should not be overtaken by worry. It’s his team in 2016 after winning over Pace and coach John Fox last season.
But Pace’s comments were a sign that the Bears seem eager to copy what the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, two of the league’s best drafting teams, often do: draft and develop a young quarterback.
With nine draft selections — two in the fourth round — the Bears are in prime position to pick a quarterback, while still addressing their array of other needs.
“It’s a good [quarterback] class,” Pace said.
Two beneficial scenarios can play out for the Bears by drafting a quarterback. They can provide time and an ideal situation for a young quarterback to grow into a possible replacement for Cutler, who turns 33 on Friday, in a few years.
Or the Bears can groom a quarterback who intrigues other teams and gain a valuable piece for trades. The Patriots were able to do that with Matt Cassel (the 230th pick in 2005) and Ryan Mallett (the 74th pick in 2011). It could happen again with Jimmy Garoppolo (the 62nd pick in 2014).
Since taking Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft, the Packers have drafted five quarterbacks, including Brett Hundley in the fifth round last year.
“If you develop a guy right, you can see that they become a trading chip,” said SiriusXM analyst Jim Miller, the former Bears quarterback. “They actually increase value to your team.”
Teams are that quarterback-hungry — or QB-deprived. The blockbuster trades the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles made to acquire the top two picks are prime examples. They want the opportunity to select California’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
“Quarterbacks motivate drafts,” Miller said. “We all understand that.”
For two consecutive years, the Bears have promoted David Fales, a sixth-round pick in 2014, to the active roster to prevent other teams from signing him off their practice squad.
The Bears’ interest in mid-round quarterbacks could lead to Fales’ exit. It’s thought that Pace and Fox will want to add their own quarterback at some point, even if Cutler remains. Fales was selected by former GM Phil Emery.
Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, USC’s Cody Kessler and North Carolina State’s Jacoby Brissett could be Day 3 options.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains attended Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen’s pro day. The Bears also hosted Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, who is considered the third-best quarterback behind Goff and Wentz, on a predraft visit.
The widespread use of spread, often-gimmicky offenses in college has made evaluations difficult.
“It goes beyond the quarterback, too,” said SiriusXM analyst Phil Savage, the former Cleveland Browns GM. “The way the college game is now — same sport, different game.”
But the Bears could be an ideal place for a young quarterback to learn. It starts with chairman George McCaskey, who has promised to be patient with Pace and Fox. On the surface, it’s different than other organizations.
“There’s just so much volatility with coaches,” Miller said. “Look at Lovie Smith. He’s got a rookie quarterback, and he ends up being fired [by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers]. The impatience is from ownership.
“It’s not really an ideal situation in terms of how you want to bring your quarterback along here in the modern era of football.
“I’ve always believed that by Year 4 to Year 5, a quarterback’s career should be taking off.”