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Bluster or bravado? Either way, Bears’ Ryan Pace doubles down on Mitch Trubisky

More than anything, Pace’s belief in Trubisky seems rooted in his desperation to make his gamble in the 2017 draft pay off.

Mitch Trubisky has lagged woefully behind his fellow 2017 first-round quarterbacks.
Mitch Trubisky has lagged woefully behind his fellow 2017 first-round quarterbacks.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

INDIANAPOLIS — Bears general manager Ryan Pace left the door open for a legitimate quarterback competition slightly more than when he slammed it shut and deadbolted it two months ago, but we all know where this is headed.

Mitch Trubisky remains the unquestioned, unchallenged starting quarterback and still will be when next season begins. There won’t be a real quarterback battle. And Pace still doesn’t grasp that it’s the biggest problem on his roster.

He revealed that again in a rare media appearance Tuesday amid the Bears’ scouting mission at the NFL Combine. When asked about competition specifically at quarterback, his non-answer was that it’s important at every position. He talked about addressing all the deficiencies around Trubisky, but those are inconsequential by comparison.

“We believe in him, we believe in the player, we believe in the person, we believe in the trajectory that he’s on,” Pace said.

What he believes in most of all, though, is that he needs to make this work no matter what. When Pace traded up to take Trubisky, bypassing Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson to do so, he bet his job on him becoming a star. Hardly any clear-minded person considers that a realistic outcome anymore.

His high end is league average. The Bears would gladly take that next season and it might be good enough to get them to the playoffs, but it won’t put them in reach of a Super Bowl and it’s a pitifully low bar for a No. 2 pick.

Pace is so adamant about being right about Trubisky that he can’t objectively evaluate him — an accusation he denied when confronted with it at the end of the season. He hedged slightly when asked if he’ll pick up Trubisky’s 2021 option, which likely will be about $24 million, but there’s little doubt he’ll do it.

“I just think we have a chronological order with how we’re going to do things,” Pace said. “We don’t have to do that until May. Our focus is more on free agency and the combine.”

The Bears already have the press release typed up.

It’s telling that within the organization, the less career capital someone has tied up in Trubisky, the more critically he speaks.

Former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was supportive overall, but didn’t hesitate to point out Trubisky’s flaws publicly.

Bears coach Matt Nagy, who was on the Chiefs’ staff when they fell in love with Mahomes, said in December that Trubisky wasn’t where he should be when it comes to reading defenses. He volunteered Tuesday that Trubisky wasn’t “a complete expert” on the playbook last season.

“If we all think that that’s what we want from him, [how he played] last year, we’re fooling ourselves,” Nagy said. “He knows that, and we know that.”

But does Pace know it? Fooling themselves seems to be exactly what the Bears are doing.

For his part, Nagy isn’t ready to give up on Trubisky, either. Whether that’s rooted in true belief or the realization that this is who he’s stuck with as long as Pace is in charge, he’s trying to keep his confidence afloat.

When Nagy does criticize Trubisky, he typically pivots toward a broader assessment of the offense, talks about how hard Trubisky works and lectures about patience.

“You see what’s going on with the instant gratification now, but there is a process for us,” Nagy said.

Before he goes on, let’s stop that swipe right in its tracks. The problem with Trubisky is society’s demand for instant gratification? This isn’t about getting a meal delivered to your apartment with two taps on a phone. This is about Mahomes winning a Super Bowl and MVP, Watson playing like he’ll get one of each before he’s done and second-year Lamar Jackson dominating last season.

Since when is waiting three NFL seasons and counting considered “instant” for a high pick?

“I do know that Mitch is very hungry,” Nagy continued. “He understands that we want him to play better; he understands that we want to coach better. We cannot worry and dwell about what happened last year. If you do that, you get stuck in the mud.”

There’s merit in moving forward, but Pace used the word trajectory, and trajectory is based on what a player has shown to date. What is it about the last three seasons that makes Pace so certain Trubisky is headed the right way?

Trubisky’s 2018 success has been thoroughly overblown — check his numbers outside the six-touchdown feast against the lowly Buccaneers — and his most recent season was awful.

Trubisky regressed in every area except for cutting back on interceptions (he had two fewer in 82 more attempts). He was 28th in passer rating, and nine of the players ahead of him were younger.

His struggles are so obvious that they leave two explanations for Pace’s stubbornness: Either his vision is clouded by his personal investment in Trubisky, or it’s all just bluster before he unleashes his master plan in the draft and free agency.

The latter requires a leap of faith great enough to cross a chasm, and after overseeing a 34-46 team the last five seasons, Pace doesn’t have enough credibility for anyone to trust that he secretly has this all figured out.