It’s one of those delicious NFL draft rumors, so perfect for sports talk radio that you find yourself involuntarily saying, “I’ll hang up and listen to your answer.’’
The Bears are interested in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, according to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio.
Time now for traffic and weather on the 8s … wait, what? The Bears are thinking about using the seventh pick overall on Mariota? Or trading up to get him? Don’t they already have a quarterback in Jay Cutler? Shouldn’t they be thinking defense in the first 10 rounds of the draft, even though there are only seven rounds? Does anyone even know whether Mariota can play quarterback in the NFL?
Hey, I don’t start the rumors. I just pass them along. But let’s say that what Paolantonio told a Philadelphia radio station last week is true – that the Bears have serious interest in the Heisman Trophy winner. The columnist in me thinks that the faint possibility of the moody Cutler tutoring the wide-eyed Mariota is just about the greatest thing ever.
Marcus: “What’s the most important thing I must learn, Master?’’
Jay: “It starts with the dismissive smirk, my son. Everything else flows from that.’’
Paolantonio listed the teams interested in Mariota, including Tampa Bay, Tennessee and the New York Jets, based on a conversation he had just had with Ryan Tollner, one of Mariota’s agents.
“They’ve obviously studied this because they got Mariota and they had to make this presentation to the young man before they got to be his agent,’’ Paolantonio said. “St. Louis, obviously. Then he dropped three teams on me in a row, one of which was not surprising — Philadelphia. And then Houston and then Chicago. I said, ‘Chicago, really? They have Cutler.’ He said, ‘Absolutely Chicago. I’ve heard from Chicago quite a bit. They’re very interested in Mariota.’ ”
It came from the agent, so, yeah, it’s about as official as a fake ID. But when it comes to the draft, a whiff of a rumor can have the tensile strength of steel.
We don’t know what new Bears general manager Ryan Pace is thinking. If Cutler is still on the roster Thursday, $10 million of his salary for the 2016 season becomes guaranteed, meaning the Bears are essentially committed to him for two more seasons. Just to be clear: two more seasons! If the Bears don’t want Cutler, they’ll have to find a trade partner, a very difficult task, or waive him, a very expensive proposition.
If the Bears are interested in Mariota, as his agent says, it would seem to suggest that they want to move Cutler. You wouldn’t commit all that money to Cutler and then use the seventh pick overall to take a quarterback, especially with this dreadful of a defense. You wouldn’t want to create a situation in which the fan base is agitating for the hotshot rookie to replace the maddening veteran two games into the season. You wouldn’t want Cutler mentoring Mariota.
But a columnist can dream, can’t he?
I’m not convinced that Mariota is an NFL quarterback. I am convinced that Cutler is exactly what his record shows he is, a guy who turns the ball over much too often. I’m especially convinced that the Bears have a defense that couldn’t stop a pillow fight.
If Pace and new head coach John Fox don’t use the first round to draft a defensive player, they will need to be seen by a delegation of mental-health professionals.
NFL teams spend the weeks leading up to the draft lying are about draft-day intentions. This is done to fool competitors into thinking you want Player A when, in fact, you really want Player B’s cousin.
Do the Bears covet Mariota? I have no idea. I have no idea if his agent is telling the truth or simply trying to move his client up the draft board.
Given the choice between Mariota and Cutler, I would take the kid. I know what Cutler can do. There is no mystery to him anymore, no chance to be surprised. Former general manager Jerry Angelo, the guy who brought Cutler to Chicago, used to talk about the limits of players’ potential. He referred to it as their “ceiling.’’ The Bears have been hammering their heads against Cutler’s ceiling for six seasons. They all have Dick Butkus flattops because of it.
I don’t know what Mariota can do in the NFL, but given the team’s mercurial play at quarterback, I wouldn’t mind finding out.