Mitch Trubisky: The football sin that keeps giving the Bears headaches
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson responds to tweets suggesting race played a role in the Bears’ decision to take Trubisky.
Some sins never go away, their effects felt long after their commission. Or, put another way, you just had to take a bite out of that apple, didn’t you, Ryan Pace?
Pace was minding his own business Friday, probably enjoying an RC Cola, the official low-rent soft drink of the Chicago Bears. If he glanced at Twitter, he saw that Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was trending. Anytime Watson or Patrick Mahomes is trending, it’s an uh-oh moment for Pace. This time, for good reason. Watson had tweeted: “the bears NEVER ONCE talked to me.’’
His declaration was in response to a tweet by radio talk-show host Doug Gottlieb, who had taken issue with tweets by longtime sportswriter John Feinstein suggesting that race might have played a role in the Bears’ 2017 selection of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who is white, over Watson and Mahomes, who are men of color.
Let’s put aside how Twitter looks a lot like one massive slap fight and let’s put aside, for a moment, whether the Bears have something against black quarterbacks. (I’d suggest that the Bears have something against good quarterbacks.)
Let’s instead focus on how one poor decision continues to haunt the team in different ways and at different turns. Watson’s tweet that the Bears didn’t talk with him during the run-up to the 2017 draft, if true, is not necessarily proof of racial bias, as he seems to be suggesting. It is proof that Pace wouldn’t know a talented quarterback if one walked up to him and said, “Hi, I’m Tom Brady.’’
The Bears apparently didn’t meet with Watson, didn’t interview him and, according to Watson, didn’t pick up the phone to speak with him before the draft. There seems to be some evidence that they talked to him at least once. What’s important here is that there were three quarterbacks who appeared headed for the first round that year — Watson, a national champion at Clemson, Texas Tech’s Mahomes and North Carolina’s Trubisky. At the time, none was considered a sure thing. Two years later, that draft would be looked upon as a testament to which teams knew how to evaluate quarterbacks and which teams didn’t.
The NFL is filled with coaches and general managers who pride themselves on excessive preparation. If they’re presented with the Mount Everest of rock piles, they’ll leave no stone unturned. So how is it possible that the Bears wouldn’t do all of their homework on Watson?
The easy answer is race. It might even be the right one. Perhaps they’re decades behind the times, though Kordell Stewart started the first five games of the 2003 season before getting benched. And Vince Evans started a combined 26 games in 1980 and 1981 for the Bears. Both are black. So race? I don’t know. Also, you don’t know, either.
But if Feinstein or Watson had listened to Pace the last three years, the way we in Chicago have, they would have heard a man separated from reality when it came to Trubisky. Pace fell in love with the kid. He couldn’t take his eyes off him, which is why he couldn’t see Mahomes’ incredible talent and Watson’s impressive ability. It’s why, like a high schooler staring at his cellphone and waiting in vain for requited love, Watson didn’t get a sweet nothing from the Bears.
And it’s why Pace, heading into his fourth season with Trubisky, is still taking heavy artillery fire over his decision to trade up and use the second overall pick on someone not named Mahomes or Watson.
How does he deal with it? Not ever by publicly entertaining how he could have gotten it so wrong, but by continuing to tiptoe around Trubisky so as to not hurt his feelings.
The Bears have a problem identifying good quarterbacks. This is a historical problem, not just a Trubisky problem. Jay Cutler is the franchise’s leader in passing yards, but he was one of the most criticized players the team has ever had. Pace doesn’t get the blame for Cutler. Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo does. It’s a systemic problem.
Did race play a role in the Bears’ decision to pass on Mahomes and Watson? Again, I don’t know. I do know that the franchise’s problems almost always have to do with ineptitude, not nefariousness. And I know that the choice to take Trubisky has opened up the Bears to lots of public abuse. It’s the sin that just keeps giving. It means that everything, including race, is on the table, even three years after the fact.
If you squint, you can see the thought bubble above Pace’s head: “Can we ever give the Mitch thing a rest?’’ Answer: No, we can’t.
It’s a reminder of how poorly he handled the first round of the 2017 draft. It appears he locked in on Trubisky and wouldn’t let go. He aced the easy part — the Bears needed a quarterback — and failed the part that involved nuance. He took the quarterback who would struggle, and the Chiefs (Mahomes) and Texans (Watson) took the ones who would become stars.
Pace is still answering for it, though he won’t speak of it.