INDIANAPOLIS — Unless the Bears are masters of clandestine operations and have something in the works that hasn’t bubbled up in the media, they’re moving toward being shut out of an interesting group of veteran quarterbacks.
Former MVP Cam Newton appears to be off the table as a trade option, the Patriots reportedly have talked with Tom Brady’s agent about re-signing, and there hasn’t been any indication that Philip Rivers is a possibility for the Bears.
That leaves Raiders three-time Pro Bowl player Derek Carr as the most talented passer thought to be available. Carr, 28, posted a career-high 100.8 rating last season, but the Raiders are rumored to be recruiting Brady. General manager Mike Mayock left open the possibility of making a change.
“I’m very happy with Derek Carr, [but] what I’ve told everybody I’ve been in touch with since the day I took this job is we’re going to evaluate every position, every year,” he said. “If we can get better, we will . . . Every position is evaluated every year and if we can upgrade it, we will.”
Carr would be a significant improvement over Mitch Trubisky, but he is set to carry a $21.5 million salary-cap hit this season compared to the $9.2 million Trubisky will count against the Bears’ cap. Spotrac calculates the Bears having $26 million in cap space for 2020, which ranks 23rd, so they’d have minimal ability to address other needs.
Longtime Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who is older and has played much worse lately, has a more affordable cap hit of $17.7 million.
He figures to be available via trade as the Bengals seem certain to take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. The Bears also just hired his former coach, Bill Lazor, as their offensive coordinator.
Dalton is likely at the high end of the Bears’ options, which is probably fine with general manager Ryan Pace since he has said he’s intent on sticking with Trubisky as the starter. The Bears appear to be more in the market for a true backup than a legitimate competitor for Trubisky.
The Bears had career backup Chase Daniel and 28-year-old practice-squad quarterback Tyler Bray behind Trubisky the last two seasons. There wasn’t much to turn to when their starter floundered to a season of 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and 209.2 yards per game, nor was there anyone worth testing out once the season was sunk with two games remaining.
Pace, who drafted Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, reiterated his commitment to him as the Bears starter this week with a slight caveat.
“We believe in him [and] we support him,” Pace said. “But I think competition brings out the best in everybody.”
Interestingly, the top two picks of the 2015 draft could be available if the Bears believe they have a better chance at rejuvenating Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota than trying to salvage Trubisky. Winston finished one spot ahead of Trubisky in passer rating at 27th, and Mariota was benched early in the season.
The Titans probably will let Mariota hit free agency, and the Buccaneers are noncommittal to Winston as they explore the big-name possibilities. The Bucs almost certainly would hang on to Winston for another season if they strike out, but coach Bruce Arians described his future as “up in the air” with free agency opening March 16.
“It’s amazing because you really don’t know who is available until the [franchise] tags come out . . . then you get a short window to talk to somebody,” Arians said. “So what is Door No. 2? You never know.”