With the botched draft pick of Mitch Trubisky and the ill-fated trade for Nick Foles, the Bears are headed into a make-or-break season for general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy without a viable starting quarterback on the roster.
That could change quickly.
Free agency opens Monday, and not only does that give the Bears an opportunity to recruit, it’ll also heat up the trade market. That will intensify teams’ efforts to trade for stars Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson, as well as setting off a domino effect if a team such as the 49ers or Raiders makes a move for a QB.
The only certainty is that the Bears can’t possibly stay the way they are. Foles, signed through 2022, showed last season that he’s not a solution. After rescuing the Bears with an epic comeback against the Falcons in Week 3, his seven starts were disastrous enough for Nagy to turn back to Trubisky late in the season.
The Bears looked better with Trubisky, but they’re fooling themselves if they think a few good games against bad teams is reason to bet on him in 2021. Instead, here’s what their quarterback wish list should look like:
1. Deshaun Watson
While it still seems as if the Texans will keep Watson and hope they can smooth over his extreme distrust of the organization, the Bears must do everything possible to change their minds. There’s no price too high for an elite, 25-year-old quarterback coming off his best season, and it would give Pace a roundabout way to correct his career-defining mistake of bypassing Watson in favor of Trubisky in the 2017 draft. If it’s possible to compel Houston to make a deal, the Bears can’t allow themselves to be outbid.
2. Russell Wilson
No matter how far-fetched this scenario seems, it just won’t go away. Wilson seems to be a legitimate possibility for the Bears thanks to his discontent with the Seahawks, and his talent presents the same situation as Watson’s: Whatever it takes to get him is worth it. The Bears would be getting the most decorated quarterback they’ve ever had, and Wilson would immediately vault them into the mix for the Super Bowl. That’s probably why he has the Bears on his list of acceptable trade destinations, which is down to them, the Saints and the Raiders.
3. Teddy Bridgewater
This is the move the Bears should have prioritized last offseason instead of making a hefty commitment to Foles and splurging on pass rusher Robert Quinn. Bridgewater still has two years on his contract with the Panthers but could be available in a trade if Carolina acquires someone else or drafts a quarterback at No. 8 overall. He had a 99.1 passer rating filling in for Drew Brees in 2019 and a 92.1 rating last season even though the Panthers were struggling through the first year of a rebuild. He’s still young enough at 28 to be a long-term option if he proves to be a good fit.
4. Jimmy Garoppolo
Similar to Bridgewater, Garoppolo has two years left on his deal with the 49ers and will only become available if they seize on an upgrade via a trade or with the 12th pick. He’s hardly a star, throws a lot of interceptions (29 in his last 34 games, including playoffs) and has had significant injury problems. But he’d still be a significant improvement over Trubisky and Foles. In four seasons with the 49ers, Garoppolo has completed 67.5% of his passes (Bears: 64.6% in that span), averaged 237.5 yards per game (Bears: 208.1), posted nearly a 2-to-1 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio (Bears: 1.6) and delivered a 98.1 passer rating (Bears: 86.3).
5. Marcus Mariota
There’s a lot of buzz about Mariota being coveted in the quarterback trade market, but it’s not clear why. After fizzling with the Titans, he appeared in only one game for the Raiders last season. He began his career with two promising seasons (45 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions in 27 games), then plateaued and proved to be about the same as Trubisky before the Titans benched him in favor of Ryan Tannehill in 2019. There aren’t many teams for which Mariota could start in 2021, but the Bears are one of them.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick
On paper, it would look pretty bad for the Bears to open the season with two journeymen QBs: Foles at 32 and Fitzpatrick at 38. The only way that would make sense is if they’re able to draft a QB they believe can be a long-term answer starting in 2022. Don’t laugh at Fitzpatrick, though. He was better in nine games for the Dolphins last season (68.5% completions, 95.6 passer rating) than any Bears QB has been the last two years, and his overall track record has been more consistent than Foles’. He also wouldn’t cost the Bears any draft picks or much money.
7. Jameis Winston
It’s hard to ignore Winston’s talent. It’s also hard to ignore that he threw 30 interceptions the last time he was a starter — most in the NFL since 1988. When Brees missed time last season, the Saints were more inclined to trust Taysom Hill in his stead than Winston. It would be a major leap of faith for the Bears to sign Winston with the belief that Nagy and his staff can correct decision-making issues when Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians couldn’t. The upside is that they can probably get him for a minimum contract.
8. Mitch Trubisky
They couldn’t possibly bring back Trubisky, could they? Pace didn’t rule out that option in a recent news conference, and Trubisky expressed interest in returning. Nagy also believes Trubisky was instrumental in the team’s late-season push for the playoffs. One obstacle to re-signing Trubisky: He might draw decent interest on the open market. There are sure to be teams that liked him in the 2017 draft and believe they can fix him, and he could end up with a deal close to the two years and $17.6 million that Mariota got.