Ryan Pace is a genius.
If this works out, that is.
In an attempt to correct his blunder of trading up to draft quarterback Mitch Trubisky second overall in 2017, the Bears general manager might have found the perfect plan at quarterback.
It all hinges on newcomer Nick Foles. As long as he proves superior to Trubisky — even better if he proves, dare we dream, good — the Bears have an excellent path forward at the most important position on the field. They’re counting on Foles being their bridge to the future.
The essential question for the franchise is now clear: Does it have someone who can play reasonably well until the next franchise quarterback takes over in 2022? If Foles is the answer, the Bears have remarkably solid footing at a position that has troubled them for much of the last century.
The ideal outcome is to get two acceptable seasons out of Foles, let Trubisky leave next spring and pick the next quarterback in the first round of the 2021 draft.
That would mean the Bears get an immediate upgrade over Trubisky’s disastrous play last season, good use of the $21 million guaranteed to Foles over the next three seasons, a mentor in place for the first two years of the next quarterback’s career and they operate well below budget at the priciest position in the game.
There’s mutual optimism between Foles and the team that a reunion with coach Matt Nagy, an assistant coach for Foles in 2012 and ’16, will pay off.
“We knew there were going to be a lot of options at quarterback in this free-agency period, so we knew we would have an opportunity to increase competition there,” Pace said after bypassing Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton and several others. “When we got to Nick . . . a talented player, and the fact that he’s played in some big games and performed well in those big games, that carries a lot of weight.
“Then you have a lot of people in our building that are comfortable with him as a person and his makeup, which made the decision easier. That all kind of came together to make him a target for us and someone we wanted to aggressively go get.”
Conversely, it’s a mess if Foles is a dud. Then the Bears likely would have to put the franchise tag on Trubisky and pay at least $35 million for two frustrating quarterbacks — Trubisky isn’t worth that massive salary-cap hit even at his best — in 2021. Only two teams, the Colts and Cowboys, are paying that much in 2020.
While much can change in the upcoming college football season, assuming there is one, there are expected to be four quarterbacks worth taking in the first round next year. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are contenders to go No. 1, followed by Georgia’s Jamie Newman and possibly Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond.
A playoff appearance this season would leave the Bears drafting no higher than 18th next year, so they’ll probably have to trade up to get their guy.
That might be doable. After two years of dealing with a ransacked stock of draft picks, they have all their future selections intact other than a fourth- and seventh-round pick in 2021. Additionally, OverTheCap projects they could get four compensatory picks next year because of free-agent defections.
Again, though, the Foles trade has to work out for any of that to have a chance to fall into place. The alternatives are holding on to both quarterbacks at a ridiculous cost in 2021, riding it out with Foles whether he’s good or not, or exploring a more thorough rebuilding project. If it’s either of the last two options, Pace might be long gone by then.
He’s already on notice after Trubisky played so badly in 2019 — 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 27th-ranked 83 passer rating — that the Bears had no hesitation in declining his fifth-year option.
The battle between Foles and Trubisky looks like a coin flip. Trubisky hasn’t impressed anyone after three seasons in the league, but Foles rarely has been good enough to hold a starting job during his eight-year career. There’s a reason the Bears are his fifth team.
“He’s had those trajectories, but you know what else he’ll say?” Nagy said. “That you really wouldn’t want it any other way, because he’s probably learned the most from [that adversity] and there’s been different times that he’s been humbled . . . but he’s overcome that.
“So I feel like it has made him a stronger person on and off the field. And that multiplies to his peers, to his coaches, to his teammates. All of us talk about adversity, and he’s had a lot. He’s also been at the top, so going from the top to the bottom and in between, I think he’s just excited to be around good people and help the team out.”
Just one year ago, the Jaguars had a similar thought as the Bears. Has that ever been a good thing, by the way, to be on the same wavelength as the Jaguars? They believed Foles, who won Super Bowl LII with the Eagles, was ready to be a full-time starter and signed him to a four-year, $88 million deal.
They wanted out of it in a matter of months and were widely praised for getting a fourth-round pick from the Bears for him in March. Some thought the Jaguars would have to staple one of their own picks to Foles to extract themselves from his contract.
Nagy thinks he can get much more out of Foles than the Jaguars did, and if he’s right, the Bears will have flipped the outlook of their quarterback room from bleak to bright.