Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky was an impressionable 7-year-old football fan when Drew Brees began his NFL career, so there’s an extensive menu of highlights from which he can choose to pick his best memory of watching one of his favorite players.
The one he picked was extremely telling.
It wasn’t a specific moment, such as when Brees and the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV; it was a broader and more meaningful look at his journey.
‘‘Watching his career path, you are never out of this,’’ Trubisky said. ‘‘He goes from [the Chargers to the Saints], and a lot of people counted him out. And then he goes on to be a Hall of Fame quarterback and have a lot of success in this league. Hard work and determination just really shows up a lot.’’
Trubisky surely has been imagining a similar course for himself since the Bears declined his 2021 option and traded for Nick Foles. That was the beginning of his revelation that he’s on his own when it comes to his career.
He survived what he thought to be an unmerited benching in Week 3 to reclaim his job at the end of November. It’s hard to say anyone actually ‘‘led’’ the Bears to the postseason, considering they stumbled to an 8-8 finish and made it only because the Cardinals lost. If anyone did, however, it was Trubisky.
And now he gets the reward of a national stage in a playoff game Sunday at the Saints. Any team that needs help at quarterback will be watching closely, with an eye toward making a run at him in free agency in two months. It has been turbulent, but Trubisky made it to the end of this season in better position than when he started, and a strong performance Sunday would boost his stock significantly, win or lose.
Boosting his stock, by the way, means maybe making a few more million dollars or getting a decent opportunity to be a starter. Whether Trubisky can parallel Brees’ trajectory is a much bigger mountain to climb.
The Chargers were ready to bail on Brees after three seasons. They wound up with Philip Rivers in the 2004 draft and moved on from Brees after his mediocre 2005 season. In free agency, the Dolphins (and probably some other teams) were too fearful of his surgically repaired throwing shoulder, and he landed with the last-place Saints.
The rest is history.
Brees is in his 15th season in New Orleans and has made the Pro Bowl in 11 of them. He led the Saints to a championship after the 2009 season, is the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing (80,358) and is second to Tom Brady in career touchdown passes (571).
Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who worked for the Saints in 2001-14, thought he was landing his own Brees when he traded up to draft Trubisky at No. 2 in 2017, bypassing future superstars Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
‘‘All these top quarterbacks, it’s just their ability to quickly process defenses, process coverage, find open targets, not panic under pressure, deliver accurate throws when there’s a noisy pocket,’’ Pace said on draft day. ‘‘And Mitch has those traits. Drew has those traits. Those are things we value.’’
Trubisky, of course, proved to have only some of those attributes. There have been flashes of potential in his first four seasons, but nothing sustained. It’s not that different from Brees’ choppy start with the Chargers.
Trubisky probably won’t match Brees’ run, but maybe he’ll take some steps and have a respectable career. It’s unlikely to be with the Bears, who can’t afford to keep waiting for his breakthrough. And some other team might be a better fit anyway, as it was for Brees.