Drafting Mitch Trubisky was a major misjudgment by Bears general manager Ryan Pace, but maybe coach Matt Nagy exacerbated that mistake by failing to maximize Trubisky’s NFL-caliber skills and develop the 2017 No. 2 overall pick into a better quarterback than he was. Even if Trubisky wasn’t Patrick Mahomes, maybe he could have been an Alex Smith.
It’s a legitimate debate, with Nagy’s ability as an Andy Reid disciple to build a proficient NFL offense in question after three seasons. In fact, the book on Nagy at this point is a carbon copy of the book on Trubisky — pretty good when conditions are just right and the degree of difficulty is lowered, but substandard when the wind isn’t totally at his back.
Facing almost any hurdle except maybe the clock, Trubisky was unable to lift the Bears’ offense on his shoulders and will it to victory. Was that Trubisky’s fault? Or Nagy’s?
As John Fox and just about any other NFL coach would say when presented an either/or query, it’s probably a little of both. Or a lot of both.
Be that as it may, the league will weigh in on that matter — at least indirectly — as Trubisky enters free agency this week. Is there a team out there that thinks the Bears underdeveloped Trubisky and can unleash his full potential in a better offense? Or have four seasons of inconsistency defined Trubisky as a break-in-case-of-emergency backup? Or something in between?
We’ll see what kind of opportunity Trubisky gets. Washington and the Broncos have been mentioned most prominently as destinations where Trubisky could win the starting job — along with the Colts, Patriots and Panthers. (Washington will sign Ryan Fitzpatrick to be its starter, ESPN reported.) The Texans, 49ers and Jets also have been mentioned, pending resolution of their quarterback situation.
While what’s done is done, there’s merit to both sides of the Trubisky argument — that he isn’t a winning NFL quarterback and certainly not worthy of being the No. 2 overall pick; and that he was mismanaged in Chicago and will thrive in a better situation with better coaching elsewhere.
On the one hand, in four seasons with the Bears, Trubisky showed little if any of the instinct for the position the Bears thought he had. He was an assembly-required quarterback who needed everything to be in perfect working condition to succeed. He struggled to master reading defenses, going through his progressions and finding the open man late — three pretty integral parts of elite quarterbacking.
And outside of some late-game desperation production, he showed little of the “it” factor — the ability to raise his game in a time of need and make everybody around him better. (On this team anyway, he was similar to Jay Cutler in that regard. Players said they believed in him. They wanted to play better for him. But they rarely did.)
On the other hand, at his best Trubisky showed the physical skills to be a successful quarterback — mobility, ability to throw on the run, accuracy and arm strength. In a well-designed offense that creates more open receivers and better rhythm with a more consistent run game, it’s easy to see Trubisky thriving and winning.
The question is, how perfect does it have to be for Trubisky to succeed? Trubisky’s career-best passer rating — 154.6, with six touchdown passes — came against a 2018 Buccaneers defense that ranked last in the NFL in passer-rating defense. His second-best rating — 148.6 — came against a 2018 Lions defense that ranked 30th. In fact, his 16 games with a 100-plus passer rating came against defenses that averaged 25th in the league in passer-rating defense — 12 of them were in the bottom 10.
Those stellar performances are just part of the frustration of the entire Trubisky episode. Trubisky is the Bears’ all-time leader in career passer rating — though his 87.5 career average is below the 90.9 league average during that span. (Of the Bears’ all-time leaders in career passer rating, only Erik Kramer’s 80.7 was above the league average — another testament to the Bears’ sorry quarterback history.)
He went to the playoffs twice and made the Pro Bowl (as an alternate) after the 2018 season. He was 28-21 as a starter, joining Jay Cutler (52-45, excluding games in which he left early with an injury), Rex Grossman (19-12) and Kyle Orton (21-12) as disappointing Bears quarterbacks with winning records.
The Bears surely will wish Trubisky the best — who doesn’t? — but even that gesture of graciousness is fraught with danger. If Trubisky is great somewhere else, it will only make the Bears look worse than they already do.