Should the Bears have waited for Cam Newton?

At his best and 100 percent healthy, he’s a better option than Nick Foles. But that’s the rub with Newton — he rarely has been at his best since winning the MVP award in 2015. He hasn’t played a full season since 2017.

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Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1, chased by Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd in 2017) played in only two games last season because of a foot injury he suffered in the preseason.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1, chased by Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd in 2017) played in only two games last season because of a foot injury he suffered in the preseason.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Cam Newton or Nick Foles? The Bears seem to have ended that debate before it could begin. But you never know with general manager Ryan Pace.

Newton, who became a free agent Tuesday when he was released by the Panthers, is an enticing option for a team that appears to be in win-now mode. The 2011 No. 1 overall pick is a former league MVP who led the Panthers to the Super Bowl during the 2015 season.

At his best and 100 percent healthy, he’s a better option than Foles, whom the Bears acquired from the Jaguars for a fourth-round pick last week. But that’s the rub with Newton — he rarely has been at his best since winning the MVP award in 2015. He hasn’t played a full season since 2017.

In the four seasons since winning the MVP award, Newton’s passer rating is 82.6. He started well in 2018 (103.7 rating, 22 touchdown passes, seven interceptions in 11 games), but faded because of a nagging shoulder injury and missed the last two games of the season. And he started only two games last season because of a Lisfranc injury he suffered in the preseason.

Newton, who turns 31 in May, passed a physical “coordinated by the Panthers and his agency” Monday in Atlanta, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. All that’s left now is for the suitors to start lining up. The Panthers signed Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year, $63 million contract ($33 million guaranteed) rather than keep Newton. Former Panthers coach Ron Rivera traded for former Newton backup Kyle Allen to challenge Dwayne Haskins with the Redskins instead of waiting for Newton to become available as a free agent.

As for the Bears, Newton might have been an enticing roll of the dice for Pace — with a possible huge upside if Newton is healthy. But with Pace seemingly intent on giving Mitch Trubisky another chance to prove he’s a franchise quarterback, he instead took the safe route — signing Foles to compete with or back up Trubisky. Foles is an ideal backup quarterback in the NFL if Trubisky is the starter. Newton doesn’t figure to settle for a backup role.

And while Foles, 31, never has been a starter for a full season in the NFL, he has some credentials that even Newton can’t claim — he was the MVP of Super Bowl LII with the Eagles and led the NFL in passer rating (119.2, with 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions) in 10 starts in 2013.

Based on Pace’s quarterback plan — as flawed as many think it is — he acquired the right quarterback. Pace’s judgment on quarterbacks is dubious. But this time, he has a coach — Matt Nagy — who is much more in tune with what the Bears need and what they have as part of the process. That wasn’t the case when Pace signed Mike Glennon and drafted Trubisky, when John Fox was all but out of the loop.

The danger of passing on Newton is the potential regret. If Newton is healthy and signs with the Patriots or Chargers and lights it up while Trubisky or Foles struggles, Pace will never hear the end of it. No matter the circumstance, it seems, the solution always is the same for Pace in 2020 — he had better get the quarterback right.

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