Meet the new Bears quarterback — same as the old one.
Mitch Trubisky, who watched the Bears decline his fifth-year option and trade for challenger Nick Foles this offseason, was named the starter Friday, sources confirmed to the Sun-Times.
When he takes the field the season opener Sept. 13 in Detroit, Trubisky will get likely his last chance to impact a franchise that traded up to draft him second overall in 2017 — infamously, ahead of both the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who has been both an NFL and Super Bowl MVP, and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson.
After declaring unwavering support during Trubisky’s first three seasons, general manager Ryan Pace — the man behind the draft-day swap — made his first public admission that he wasn’t the long-term answer this offseason. In March, he agreed to send the Jaguars a fourth-round pick for Foles, who restructured his contract into a three-year, $24 million deal. When Pace didn’t pick up Trubisky’s 2021 option, worth $24.8 million, in May, he set him toward free agency at the end of this season.
Many thought Pace didn’t go far enough in adding competition for Trubisky, who was one of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks last season. Among those with more than 100 attempts, he ranked 32nd in the league with an 83.0 passer rating. The Bears were bewildered at times by his decision-making.
Last year’s performance disappointed a franchise that expected him to make a significant leap in his second season alongside Nagy. In his first, Trubisky posted a 95.4 passer rating, good for 17th in the league. He went 11-3 and marched the Bears down the field in the final seconds of their playoff game against Foles’ Eagles, only for Cody Parkey to double-doink the game-winning field goal. He made the Pro Bowl, albeit as a replacement for the Super Bowl-bound Jared Goff.
In a tactical change from recent seasons, Nagy planned to play his quarterbacks in preseason games this year, believing it was the most fair way to pick a starter. Coronavirus concerns, though, scuttled all preseason games and shrunk training camp into two-and-a-half weeks of padded practice.
Trubisky spent the offseason working on his footwork and throwing motion, and getting his left shoulder — which limited his ability, and appetite, to run last year — surgically fixed. He threw with his teammates on empty high school fields in the spring while Foles and his pregnant wife were in Southern California.
To say that he beat out Foles during camp would be a misnomer. Neither was sharp.
The Bears had hoped one would pull away from the other, but it never happened.
“It’s not clear-cut,” Nagy said Wednesday.
The Bears’ self-described “open competition” was just that. They spent the preseason splitting reps precisely in half, ensuring each quarterback got the same number of throws on the same types of plays.
After camp ended Thursday, Nagy began a quarterback conclave inside Halas Hall. Alongside offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, passing game coordinator Dave Ragone and other assistants, he examined every throw the quarterbacks made in practice. Coaches picked apart not only their accuracy, but the reasoning behind every decision. .
Foles likely received the benefit of the doubt in the room — Nagy, Lazor and DeFilippo had all coached him at previous stops. Nagy hinted that history might not have quite as much sway, though, when he offered Thursday that he’d never been a play-caller while Foles was a starter.
Both Pace and Nagy said when they traded for Foles that the competition would make both quarterbacks better. There was no evidence it did. The Bears might have doomed themselves to the worst of both worlds, then — not only did each quarterback fail to distinguish himself, during camp, but Trubisky probably took fewer snaps than every other No. 1 quarterback in the NFL during the shortest, most abrupt preseason in modern NFL history.
That feels like a recipe for failure.
Nagy said Wednesday, though, that the influence one quarterback has on another is seen behind closed doors, but not necessarily on the practice field.
‘”What I think is that both quarterbacks in the meeting rooms, off-the-field, relationship-wise, they’re making each other better, which is what was expected just because they’re good people … ” Nagy said
“On the field, they’re both so laser-focused at trying to be the best quarterback that they can, that whenever a play goes on, if one sees something, usually the other one is in the next play. So he can’t tell that player in practice because one’s in and other is out. They have to talk on the sideline. So a lot of those discussions go on in the meeting room.”
The conversations can now take place on the field. Trubisky will take all the starting snaps beginning with Sunday’s practice. Foles will inherit the role for which he was so famed with the Eagles: mentor and bullpen arm.
He took over for an injured Carson Wentz and started the team’s final three games of the 2017 season, then rattled off two playoff wins to reach the Super Bowl. He went 28-for-43 for 373 yards, three touchdown passes, one interception — and one infamous scoring catch — to beat the Patriots and win Super Bowl MVP.
The following season, he replaced Wentz, who was injured again, and rattled off three-straight wins to eke out a playoff berth. He beat the Bears when Parkey missed the kick and lost to the Saints the next week.
Seeking a starting job, he signed the largest contract of the 2019 offseason — $88 million over four years — to join the Jaguars. He broke his clavicle in the season opener, finished the season 0-4 and lost his starting job to rookie Gardner Minshew.
Foles took a pay cut to join the Bears, believing he had a better opportunity to start.
He might still be correct — Nagy has said the quarterback competition won’t end after kickoff in Week 1.
Trubisky, though, will be given the first chance to succeed — or fail.