Where will Bears land in NFL’s offseason quarterback carousel?
More than half the league’s starting quarterbacks would fit the Bears, who have vowed to be aggressive in fixing the most important position in sports. Here’s what they will consider:
Eight days before the Super Bowl, the NFL’s quarterback carousel has started to spin faster than ever. Hang on tight.
A week ago, the Lions agreed to Matthew Stafford’s trade request and began listening to offers for him. That news was trumped the next day, when Aaron Rodgers — the NFL’s likely MVP — wondered aloud about his future after the Packers lost to the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. Four days later, word leaked that Texans standout Deshaun Watson, frustrated by the direction of his franchise, had demanded a trade.
The NFL is staring at perhaps the greatest offseason migration of starting quarterbacks in league history. The situation is made all the more compelling by the fact that most will have to be acquired via trade. Cam Newton is the only quarterback who started 10 or more regular-season games this season who is set to be a free agent.
Where the Bears are standing by the time the carousel stops will determine the fates of general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy beyond this season — and the direction of the franchise for years to come.
More than half of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks would fit the Bears, who have vowed to be aggressive in fixing the most important position in sports.
The big fish
Bears fans already are dreaming about reaching off their horse to grab the brass ring that is Watson — assuming he would approve a trade to a team that didn’t bother to interview him during a draft process that yielded Mitch Trubisky in 2017.
Pace would have to use every shred of his creativity to craft a trade package to compete with those of the Jets and Dolphins. The Jets have the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft and 23-year-old quarterback Sam Darnold, whom they selected No. 3 overall in 2018. The Dolphins have the No. 3 pick (it belonged to the Texans before they traded it for left tackle Laremy Tunsil) and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who went 6-3 as a rookie starter but posted a passer rating below 86.0 six times.
Rodgers? No chance. The Packers sooner would replace the brats and bubblers at Lambeau Field with Chicago dogs and water fountains than trade with their rival. Rodgers knew exactly what he was doing when he opined about his future minutes after the NFC Championship Game, even if he said days later that he didn’t mean to set off a firestorm. For now, it seems Rodgers’ endgame is a new contract with the Packers and a promise to give him more offensive weapons. But he was clear: He has the power in the relationship.
Stafford? Probably not. The Lions will prefer to send him out of the NFC North, perhaps to the Colts, 49ers or Saints. Might the Bears be able change the Lions’ mind by overpaying them with multiple draft picks? The Bears know firsthand how good Stafford can be. In their last meeting, he threw for 402 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s easier to count the quarterbacks guaranteed to play for their current teams in 2021 than the ones who might be traded.
The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady, who are playing in the Super Bowl, aren’t going anywhere in 2021. The Ravens’ Lamar Jackson is the reigning NFL MVP, and the Bills’ Josh Allen should get third-place votes this season. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert is a Rookie of the Year candidate.
The Bengals’ Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, looked like a star before hurting his knee. Russell Wilson is synonymous with the Seahawks. Kyler Murray has become a breakout star for the Cardinals.
Ben Roethlisberger figures to stay with the Steelers or retire. The Titans’ Ryan Tannehill has a guaranteed salary in 2021. In March, his 2022 salary will be guaranteed, too.
The Cowboys are expected to give Dak Prescott the franchise tag, provided they don’t sign him to a long-term deal. They could explore a tag-and-trade, though Prescott’s recovery from a grisly ankle injury might complicate things.
Unless the Bears can land the biggest fish, their best move might be to see how the shifting landscape affects the next tier of quarterbacks.
If coach Kyle Shanahan wants to reunite with the Falcons’ Matt Ryan — or trade for Watson or Stafford — the 49ers could cut Rolling Meadows and Eastern Illinois alum Jimmy Garoppolo with no penalty. A year removed from playing in the Super Bowl, Garoppolo would be a solid starter but probably wouldn’t prevent the Bears from drafting a quarterback in the next two years, either.
The Falcons, who draft fourth, might move Ryan. Would the Raiders trade Derek Carr? The Panthers don’t sound sold on Teddy Bridgewater, whom the Bears considered last offseason.
Darnold makes sense as a young player who doesn’t need hand-holding in a win-now season, provided the Jets are intent on taking a quarterback No. 2 overall. The Jaguars, who figure to take Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick, could trade Gardner Minshew.
The Rams seem frustrated by their quarterback’s play — ‘‘Jared Goff is a Ram at this moment,’’ GM Les Snead said Tuesday — but trading him would cost them $22.2 million in dead salary-cap money. Anyone trading for Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, would owe him about $43 million guaranteed over the next two seasons.
And any team that trades for the Eagles’ Carson Wentz, who was drafted one spot after Goff in 2016, will inherit a contract that guarantees him $47 million over the next two seasons.
Then there’s Trubisky, who will be a free agent in March. The Bears will ride the carousel this offseason, but don’t expect them to ride it around in a full circle.