How Bears hit franchise snag in last four starting QB moves

Since 2014, the Bears have handed out $122.5 million in guaranteed money to four quarterbacks they thought would start for at least one season. They’ve yet to find a long-term answer.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Jacksonville Jaguars

The Bears traded for Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles this week.

Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The date was Jan. 1, 2013, but it might as well be today. Or any day in the seven-plus years in between.

Bears general manager Phil Emery was explaining his decision to fire coach Lovie Smith when he was asked what he planned to do with quarterback Jay Cutler, who was entering the final year of his contract.

Emery said he would collaborate with the new coach, who would turn out to be Marc Trestman, but that he thought Cutler was a franchise quarterback.

‘‘Am I convinced that Jay has the talent to be that? Yes, I am,’’ Emery said. ‘‘I’ll say the same thing that I said this summer: I see Jay as a franchise quarterback.’’

The Bears gave Cutler a huge contract a year later and found out he wasn’t.

Neither was the starter the Bears signed after him. Or the player they drafted less than two months after that. Or the one they traded for this week.

Since 2014, the Bears have handed out $122.5 million in guaranteed money to four quarterbacks they thought would start for at least one season. They also have traded a first-round draft pick, two third-rounders and two fourth-rounders to try to find their franchise quarterback.

They haven’t found one yet.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the Bears agreeing to trade a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for Nick Foles this week, it’s this: They don’t think Mitch Trubisky, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, is a franchise quarterback.

A year ago, they did. Now, they won’t even commit publicly to picking up their option on his contract for 2021, which is guaranteed only for injury. After a season’s worth of explaining away his mistakes, the Bears admitted they saw what the rest of the world did and traded for someone to help mitigate the damage.

Foles, however, isn’t a franchise quarterback, either; he’s a 31-year-old joining his fifth team in six years. While he was the Super Bowl MVP after the 2017 season and turned in perhaps the greatest pinch-hitting performance in modern NFL history during that playoff run, he also has totaled 13 regular-season starts in the last four seasons.

Foles’ big opportunity to be the unquestioned starter last season went so poorly — he broke his collarbone in the Jaguars’ opener, watched ‘‘Minshew Mania’’ spark and burn itself out and finished the season 0-4 — that he had to clarify after the season that he had no plans to retire.

Foles is competent, which is more than the Bears could say about Trubisky last season. At best, he’ll be something between a stabilizing force and a high-end insurance policy. But he’s not the long-term answer, even though the Bears owe him $21 million guaranteed.

The Bears have made four major starting-quarterback transactions in the last six years and three months. All four were costly, either financially or because of draft capital they gave up. None produced a long-term answer.

• Emery was forced to choose between Cutler and backup Josh McCown, who set the Bears’ single-season passer-rating record in relief of Cutler, in January 2014. Both were set to become free agents. Emery decided to give Cutler a seven-year, $126 million extension with $54 million guaranteed — a contract so long that it stretched through the 2020 season. Cutler paired with coordinator Adam Gase for a career-best 92.3 passer rating at age 32 in 2015 but made only five starts in 2016. The Bears released him in March 2017.

• That same month, the Bears signed Mike Glennon, a Buccaneers backup who hadn’t started a game in three years, to a three-year, $45 million deal. Glennon was at the Bears’ draft party when he learned they had traded up to take another quarterback. Glennon began the season as the starter, lasted four games and was cut the next offseason. He walked away with $18.5 million and hasn’t started a game in the league since.

• GM Ryan Pace traded four picks — Nos. 3, 67 and 111 in 2017 and a third-rounder in 2018 — to move up one spot and draft Trubisky ahead of future stars Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in 2017. The North Carolina alum signed a four-year, $29 million rookie deal. He made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2018 but cratered in 2019. He’ll have to outplay Foles during the preseason to start in Week 1.

• On Wednesday, the Bears agreed to deal a fourth-round pick for Foles and restructured his contract. The deal has three years left and $21 million guaranteed, according to ESPN, but it can total as much as $50 million if he sticks around. Foles can void the deal after either of the next two seasons. The Bears acquired Foles to be more of a starting threat than Chase Daniel, who earned $10 million over two seasons before joining the Lions this week.

The costs don’t end there.

The Bears are clearly in win-now mode, as evidenced by their signing of four players who will be in their 30s by Week 1. But they still figure to eye quarterbacks in the draft next month. Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts might be among the quarterbacks available when the Bears draft twice in the second round.

Neither would help the Bears in 2020. Rather, they would mark an investment in the future — and a hope that the Bears’ next bet somehow ends better than every other quarterback move they’ve made for more than a half-decade.

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