Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn’t equivocate when asked about quarterback Mitch Trubisky on New Year’s Eve.
“Mitch is our starter,” he said.
At the NFL Scouting Combine eight weeks later, Pace, while admitting he wasn’t inclined to tell the truth before free agency, said the team’s plan was to stay committed to Trubisky starting.
“To be clear,’ he said, “yes it is.”
That clarity vanished last month when the Bears agreed to trade a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for quarterback Nick Foles. And it was blown out of the water Friday, when both Pace and head coach Matt Nagy declared their starting quarterback job will be an “open competition,” whenever practice begins.
“I can promise you this: It’s going to be completely fair, it’s going to be extremely competitive in a good way,” Nagy said on a teleconference Friday. “It’s going to be a healthy competitiveness. In the end for us, it’s going to be a collaboration of what we all feel. And I think that that’s all that those guys really ask for, or want, as competitors.”
In their first public comments of the offseason, Pace and Nagy laid out ground rules for the competition:
• Trubisky will take the first snap of the first practice, but the team will make sure to give he and Foles equal reps. The coaching staff will make sure they are paired with starting offensive players — and playing against starting defenders — the same number of times.
• In a change from the last two years, Nagy will play both quarterbacks — and other starters — in preseason games.
• The battle won’t necessarily end with Week 1.
• Nagy said that “what it really comes down to is winning, scoring points, physical and mental toughness — and then obviously command and leadership with some other things.”
That competition became apparent the minute the Bears struck the Foles deal. Pace and Nagy explained it to both players at the time.
The former Super Bowl MVP said Friday it required a “crazy restructure” of his contract to facilitate the trade. Foles, who has three years left on his contract, will receive $21 million guaranteed. No team would give that much money to someone preordained to be a clipboard-holder.
Similarly, the Bears’ silence about Trubisky’s fifth-year option speaks volumes. Pace refused to say Friday whether the Bears would pick up his 2021 contract, saying the team had until May to do so. Even though the contract is guaranteed only for injury, Pace might not be able to justify picking up the option of someone the franchise just admitted might not be good enough to start the 2020 season.
The fact Foles wasn’t named the starter immediately offers Trubisky to opportunity to, after a disappointing 2019, seize the job. He won’t receive the benefit of the doubt the way he did after every struggle last season, though. The blind-faith defense of his play is over.
Rather, his bosses were left to describe how Trubisky took the news that he had to fight for his job.
“It wasn’t about excuses, it wasn’t about anything other than, ‘OK, I understand that, I’m gonna give you everything that I’ve got, we’re gonna compete, and you’re gonna get that best that I’ve got … ’” Nagy said. “When we look at that as coaches, that’s all we can ask for is, trying to make sure that we do everything we can possibly do on our end to make this completely fair. Let them go out and play football and be the best quarterback that they can possibly be.”
Pace hopes the competition brings out the best in Trubisky, whom he staked his reputation on when he traded four picks to draft him No. 2 overall in 2017.
“I think the key word is just that he ‘embraced’ the competition,” Pace said.
The Bears’ trade for Foles ensured he didn’t have any other choice in the matter.