The Bears will spend the NFL Scouting Combine next week on a fact-finding mission — to learn about prospects, yes, but also about the shape of the offseason scramble for quarterbacks.
By the time they leave Indianapolis, the Bears should have a better idea of where their pursuit of a veteran to pair with Mitch Trubisky stands. Chatter among agents and executives should bring into focus the cost of quarterbacks through free agency and in the trade market before the league year starts March 18.
General manager Ryan Pace said last month that Trubisky was his starter in 2020. His actions during the next month will speak louder than those words.
Pace likes to say he operates with a “no-regrets mindset,” but the Bears aren’t in position to splurge. They have about $26.3 million in projected salary-cap space after accounting for their 51 most expensive contracts, according to Spotrac.com. The league average is $44.4 million.
Just a year ago at the combine, Pace said the Bears expected backup Chase Daniel “to be a Bear for a long time.” That sentiment didn’t hold. For all Daniel provided in mentorship the last two years, he has started only five times in his 10-year career.
At the least, Pace figures to add a veteran more capable of pushing Trubisky — and taking the starting job outright if he falters.
Below are 20 options the Bears have — some more likely than others:
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The Hall of Famers
Age during 2020 season: 43
Would Brady dare leave the league’s dominant franchise for a warmer climate and a team needing an identity (the Raiders? Chargers?), or is he using his first trip to free agency to leverage the Patriots into adding offensive weapons?
Bears’ fit: Even if the Bears could afford him (they can’t), why would he choose to come here?
Chargers 2001-2005, Saints 2006-present
Brees announced Tuesday that he plans to return for another season with the Saints. Now his two backups could head elsewhere.
Bears’ fit: None. He’s as much a part of New Orleans as etouffee and vomiting in the street.
Rivers already has said he won’t return to the only team he has ever known, moving his large family from Southern California to Florida.
Rivers, who is sixth all-time in passing yards, has been linked to the Buccaneers and Colts. Warning: His 88.5 passer rating last season was 10 points below his career average.
Bears’ fit: Remember when coach Matt Nagy said at the end of the season that Trubisky still needs to learn how to read defenses? Veteran wile would be an upgrade, though the soft-tossing Rivers is a bad fit in the cold and wind.
The star in his prime
The Cowboys figure to give Prescott the franchise tag and then try to negotiate a long-term deal with the best member of the 2020 free-agent class. They can’t screw this up, can they?
Bears’ fit: The Bears don’t have the draft capital to trade for him [were the Cowboys to extend him and then entertain such a thing] or the money to give him a significant extension.
The 2015 No. 1 overall pick led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards — but also 30 interceptions, prompting LASIK surgery this offseason. Asked in December if the Bucs could win with another quarterback, coach Bruce Arians said: “If we can win with this one, we can definitely win with another one, too.”
Bears’ fit: Winston would cause Nagy to lose whatever hair he has left. For all of Trubisky’s flaws, he has thrown fewer interceptions in his NFL career than Winston did last year alone.
Drafted one spot after Winston, Mariota played his way out of a starting job last season. Pace once thought highly enough of Mariota to ponder trading up to draft him. His athleticism rivals Trubisky and fits well in the Bears’ offense.
Bears’ fit: Mariota and Trubisky share the same agency, which probably doesn’t want one client taking the other’s starting job.
Dolphins 2012-18, Titans 2019-present
The Dolphins’ No. 8 overall pick in 2012 re-emerged as the league’s Comeback Player of the Year last season. After taking over for Mariota, he led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating and got the Titans within one game of the Super Bowl. He’s a shining example of the value of pairing Trubisky with a backup who has starting experience.
Bears’ fit: The Titans figure to give Tannehill the franchise tag.
Vikings 2014-17, Jets 2018, Saints 2018-present
Bridgewater chose to stick with the Saints a year ago rather than start for his hometown Dolphins. He then went 5-0 in replacing an injured Brees, including a 36-25 thumping of the Bears.
Bears’ fit: Bridgewater has NFC North experience, but he hasn’t started more than five games since suffering a ghastly knee injury in August 2016. Would he sign with a team that didn’t promise him the starting job? Has he played well enough for the Bears to renounce Trubisky as the starter?
A starter, technically
Texans 2012-14, Rams 2014-16, Vikings 2017, Broncos 2018, Redskins 2019-present
Keenum has started at least eight games in each of the last four seasons, all with different teams. He doesn’t figure to make it five.
Bears’ fit: Keenum sits at the bottom of the tier of free-agent quarterbacks who were legitimate starters last season. Signing him would allow the Bears to spend their limited funds to bulk up at other offensive positions — but he certainly wouldn’t threaten Trubisky.
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Signing an RFA often requires giving up draft picks to the player’s original team, depending on what tender is placed on him. Tenders are due by March 18:
The most versatile player in the sport — Hill plays special teams, tight end and quarterback — starred for the Saints in their playoff loss to the Vikings.
Bears’ fit: Fans dream on him, but the fact remains: He has completed six regular-season passes in his career, and he’s about to turn 30. Are the Bears going to cough up a draft pick for that?
Allen was drafted by the Jaguars and later claimed by the Rams but didn’t make his NFL regular-season debut until last season, when he started three games for the Broncos.
Bears’ fit: He’s not good enough to push Trubisky.
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ERFAs almost always stay with their original team, who can keep them with merely a one-year, minimum-salary offer.
Starting 12 games for an injured Cam Newton last season, Allen won five games and threw 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Bears’ fit: The Panthers figure to bring him back for only $585,000.
If the Raiders somehow land Brady, they have a way out of Carr’s deal. Of the roughly $19 million they owe him in 2020, only $2.9 million is guaranteed — and, because of offset language, that would vanish when another team pays him.
Bears’ fit: Adding him would signal the end of the Trubisky era. Age, health and solid skills give Carr the highest floor of any realistic trade target. Khalil Mack certainly would vouch for his friend, whom he considers an elite competitor. Carr even posted a photo of he and Mack on his Instagram account this week. But would the Raiders trade another standout player to the Bears? If they don’t land Brady, what motivation do the Raiders have to move him at all?
Newton had foot surgery in December. He has less than a month to prove his health to teams that would otherwise pursue a quarterback in free agency.
Bears’ fit: Former MVPs aren’t available often, and Newton might have another star turn left. Since being named the best player in 2015, though, Newton’s passer rating has been 82.64. He has one year left at $18.6 million but certainly would angle for a longer contact if traded.
The Bengals are set to pick Joe Burrow first and part with Dalton, who has one year and $17.5 million left on his contract. If they can’t find a trade partner, they’ll likely just release him.
Bears’ fit: He makes sense. Dalton worked closely with new Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor in Cincinnati, where he started 133 games in nine seasons. He averaged 10 wins through his first five seasons but has only five in the four years since.
Eagles 2012-14, Rams 2015, Chiefs 2016, Eagles 2017-18, Jaguars 2019-present
Foles signed a four-year, $88 million deal last offseason but didn’t win a game during an injury-shortened season with the Jaguars. His contract, which guarantees him $45.1 million through the first two years, is an albatross.
Bears’ fit: Nagy is fond of Foles, whom he coached in Kansas City. But trading for him only makes sense if the Jaguars — who have Gardner Minshew waiting — send the Bears a Day 2 draft pick for their troubles. Even that would require the Bears to create cap space.
Earlier this month, the Lions refuted a report — and a social-media post by their quarterback’s wife — that they were exploring trading Stafford. His contract makes a move almost impossible anyway.
Bears’ fit: The Bears can’t afford him. And even if they could, why would the Lions ship him to a division rival?
49ers 2005-12, Chiefs 2013-17, Redskins 2018-present
In November 2018, Smith suffered a compound fracture of his right tibia that led to 17 surgeries and a sepsis scare. He hasn’t played since but said in January he has dreams of returning.
Bears’ fit: Nagy loves Smith, whom he tutored to the NFL’s best passer rating in 2017. He would be a perfect fit in Chicago, if he were healthy. That’s a gigantic “if.”
Ravens 2008-18, Broncos 2019
Flacco started eight games for the Broncos last season before going on injured reserve with a neck injury.
Bears’ fit: The Bears aren’t trading for Flacco — even though he and Nagy are proud Delaware alums.
Cardinals 2018, Dolphins 2019-present
The 2018 No. 10 pick has played for two teams in as many years — and has failed to seize the starting job in either spot.
Bears’ fit: Rosen isn’t the savvy veteran the Bears envision pairing with Trubisky.
WHAT ABOUT THE DRAFT?
The Bears have no chance to land LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert, quarterbacks who all figure to be drafted in the top 10 in April.
If they use a pick on a quarterback later in the draft, he would join the Bears as their third passer – alongside Trubisky and whichever veteran the team lands in free agency.
Quarterbacks expected to fall into the second round and later include Utah State’s Jordan Love, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Washington’s Jacob Eason, Colorado’s Steven Montez and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts.