Outside linebacker Robert Quinn has gone from looking like one of the Bears’ worst signings in recent history to the cusp of breaking one of the franchise’s most prestigious records.
After all the turmoil — and there was a lot of it for Quinn in his first season with the team — he needs two sacks Sunday against the Seahawks to break Bears legend Richard Dent’s single-season mark of 17 1/2 set in 1984. Quinn goes into the game with 16.
Quinn had two sacks in all of 2020, the worst output of his 11-year career. Now the idea of him getting two in a game is nothing. He did it in each of the last two weeks and has four games with multiple sacks this season.
And he has done most of that without the help of fellow outside linebacker Khalil Mack drawing two or three blockers.
Quinn has been one of the brightest stories of an otherwise-bleak Bears season, though he hasn’t basked in that success much. He keeps the lowest of low profiles and seems to have no interest in the spotlight. He’s not on Twitter, usually wears sweats to news conferences and often seems completely unaware of the accolades he receives.
‘‘Robert’s a very modest guy,’’ defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. ‘‘He has swag, just a different type of swag. He’s going for the casual, relaxed type of thing.’’
Quinn, for example, learned by happenstance Monday that he had been picked to start in the Pro Bowl and barely reacted. That seems as though it would be a big deal to him, coming off such an underwhelming season in 2020, but Quinn didn’t hear about it until he passed coach Matt Nagy coming out of an elevator.
‘‘Have you heard?’’ Nagy said.
‘‘What are you talking about?’’ Quinn asked, noting that he had been watching old episodes of ‘‘Forensic Files’’ as he passed the time leading up to kickoff.
Nagy told him the big news.
‘‘OK, cool,’’ Quinn said. ‘‘See you at the game.’’
It’s not an act with Quinn. There’s no fake humility. He has acknowledged he’s having a good season — his best since earning All-Pro honors with 19 sacks in 2013 — but he typically frames it as ‘‘just trying to redeem myself’’ after last season.
He was a perplexing signing last year, and the Bears gave him the second-biggest contract of any free agent in his class: $70 million over five years.
It was a stunning commitment to a player whose production had been up-and-down in the previous five seasons. Plus, Quinn has been vocal throughout his career about wanting to play defensive end rather than the outside linebacker role he would have to fill in the Bears’ scheme.
Everyone’s fears bubbled to the surface when Quinn struggled through injuries and offered little help to Mack as a pass rusher last season. He had a strip-sack in Week 2 on his first snap of the season, then didn’t take down another quarterback until Week 14. Two sacks in 548 snaps left the Bears wondering how much they would regret the contract.
Now it’s the opposite. He’s one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing values. By comparison, Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt just signed an extension worth $28 million per season, and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett got an average of $25 million on his deal.
Whether the Bears keep Quinn, 31, depends on how long they expect their rebuild to take. It might be awhile, and perhaps Quinn’s $17.1 million salary-cap hit in 2022 won’t fit into those plans. They can move on from him this offseason for a total dead-cap hit of $12.7 million.
If they do, however, it only will be because of Quinn’s age and salary. His production certainly merits keeping him around. And the Bears have flipped from focusing on how quickly they can escape his contract to seeing whether there’s any way they can justify hanging on to it.