The Bears’ last quarterback quandary was easy for general manager Ryan Pace, in part because his job wasn’t on the line and then-coach John Fox’s was when free agent Mike Glennon gave way to rookie Mitch Trubisky in 2017.
After four games, eight sacks, five interceptions and three losses, Pace acknowledged the mistake, took the $18.5 million hit and ended up with the people’s choice at quarterback. It only cost him money.
The stakes are considerably higher for Pace this time around, with Nick Foles and Trubisky in a battle for the No. 1 spot no matter how emphatically the Bears figure to insist Trubisky is their guy. If the fans and media think you have a quarterback controversy, you do.
This time, Pace’s job presumably is on the line in his sixth season in 2020. And the No. 1 guy isn’t an expendable free agent signed as a place-holder for the quarterback of the future. This time, the starter is the quarterback of the future Pace all but staked his Bears career on.
Though Pace insisted at his postseason news conference that being so emotionally invested in Trubisky doesn’t cloud his judgment of the struggling quarterback, there’s no doubt he wants to give him every chance to make it — and justify the move to acquire him.
The big question is how much coach Matt Nagy shares that belief. Nagy has been a staunch Trubisky supporter and has some of his own reputation at stake with his development. But the reality is that Nagy inherited Trubisky; Pace drafted him. There is a difference.
There’s no doubt Trubisky’s leash will be considerably shorter in 2020, but it remains to be seen whether Nagy has a shorter hold on it than Pace. Will Foles get a chance to beat out Trubisky during training camp? Or will he be there just in case Trubisky falters? And whose call is it?
Pace and Nagy have been in accord since their whirlwind bromance in 2018, but managing the new quarterback dynamic at Halas Hall might be a bigger test of that GM/coach relationship than the disappointing 2019 season was. Do they see the same quarterback we see? Nagy in particular — even in his support of Trubisky — seemed to have a growing awareness last season of exactly what he was dealing with. If Pace has the same awareness, he didn’t show that card publicly.
After last season, Bears president Ted Phillips praised the strength of the Pace/Nagy relationship through rough waters.
‘‘I think it’s grown stronger,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘A lot of times [with] those relationships, you start getting the finger-pointing. I’m seeing none of that. They’ve gotten closer, and I think they have more honest discussions as they’ve faced the adversity. I’m proud of them for that. That’s not easy to do.’’
Unless Trubisky responds to the challenge and ascends to an elite level, Foles and his Super Bowl ring always will be looming. And it will be up to Pace and Nagy to manage it. The GM/coach relationship is strong until it’s not. Remember when Marc Trestman benched Jay Cutler and started Jimmy Clausen in Week 16 in 2014, thumbing his nose at GM Phil Emery, who had signed Cutler to a $126.7 million extension before that season? Both were fired a week later.
That, however, was an absolute worst-case scenario in another peak moment of Halas Hall dysfunction. There’s no way the Pace/Nagy relationship will get that bad.
But stay tuned anyway. The Bears historically struggle enough when they have one quarterback. When they have two, it is almost always a spectacle that doesn’t end well.