The Bears saying one thing but believing another has been typical lately when it comes to Mitch Trubisky. But financial commitments have a way of bringing out the truth.
General manager Ryan Pace has reiterated many times how much he believes in Trubisky and has covered for him publicly in the face of comparisons to Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, but he left little doubt about what he really thinks by declining his fifth-year option.
Pace and the organization’s confidence in Trubisky is at an all-time low. The Bears aren’t even optimistic enough to exercise a relatively harmless contract option — one they almost certainly would be able to escape by cutting him before the March 2021 deadline — in case he actually turns it around this season.
Even Pace, who has the most personal capital invested in making it work with Trubisky after trading up to draft him No. 2 overall in 2017, is ready to concede. At least he finally sees what everyone else has seen for a while, but there was more risk in triggering the option than declining it.
As bleak as this sounds, the Bears actually might need Trubisky in 2021. If that were the case, the option would’ve cost them $24.8 million rather than having to use the franchise tag (probably around $30 million) or sign him to a new contract that would tie up significant money over multiple years.
That $24.8 million option was extremely team-friendly, too, because the Bears would be able to rescind it as long as Trubisky passed a physical. That rule is so team-friendly, in fact, that the players’ union negotiated to get rid of it in the new collective-bargaining agreement. It’s no longer in play after this year.
To find the last time the Bears nimbly navigated this scenario, one must go deep into the archives — to two months ago.
Pace picked up the fifth-year option on outside linebacker Leonard Floyd the year before, then saw him put up a career-low three sacks. The Bears got out of paying him $13.2 million with the click of a button.
Turning down that favorable of an arrangement shows how low the expectations are after a season in which Trubisky plummeted to 28th in the NFL in passer rating at 83.0. His production dipped across the board, and coach Matt Nagy openly said Trubisky needed to improve reading defenses and grasping the playbook.
Nagy has had two full years with Trubisky and likely has seen enough to know he isn’t the Bears’ quarterback of the future. They’ll need to see what they can do with Nick Foles until they’re able to draft one, which should be next year, when they finally have a first-round pick.
Getting back to what Trubisky was in 2018 wouldn’t — and shouldn’t — be sufficient to get a contract extension. That season wasn’t as good as advertised, and he was far from an elite quarterback.
But the Bears must keep him or Foles as a bridge to the next quarterback, so if Trubisky proves to be the better of the two, it’d be preferable for the team to retain him for 2021 as cheaply as possible. The fifth-year option was the best way to do that. Foles is on a three-year deal with player-controlled outs after each season. Perhaps the Bears already are leaning toward him as their best bet.
While it’s encouraging to see Pace realize his error and begin the process of moving on from Trubisky, the only thing worse than making a mistake in the first place is compounding it with another. The Bears did that last month with Trey Burton, whom they should’ve given an extra season to bounce back rather than pay a hefty dead salary-cap hit to cut him now.
There’s no doubt they need to extract themselves from Trubisky eventually, but this isn’t the smartest way to do it.