QB frenzy could reap Bears a draft windfall

It’s no sure thing two months before the draft, but the immediate success of young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow only enhances the opportunity for the Bears to turn other teams’ desperation for a franchise QB into a lucrative trade for the No. 1 overall pick.

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Auburn v Alabama

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Even with the Bears unlikely to use the No. 1 overall draft pick on a quarterback, the Super Bowl was good to them in relation to this year’s draft.

The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes was the Super Bowl MVP despite throwing for only 182 yards, and the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts was outstanding in defeat, with 304 passing yards and three rushing touchdowns in the 38-35 loss.

Anything that promotes the notion that a good young quarterback can make a difference is good for the Bears, who are counting on a quarterback frenzy to create a bidding war for the No. 1 pick that nets them a bonanza of draft picks.

With the Bengals’ Joe Burrow, the Bills’ Josh Allen and perhaps the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson added to that mix, young quarterbacks are making a bigger impact in recent years. The quarterbacks in the conference championship games and the Super Bowl all were 27 or younger — Mahomes (27), Hurts (24), Burrow (26) and 49ers rookie Brock Purdy (23).

It marked the first time the starting quarterbacks of the final four teams in the NFL postseason were under 30 since 2010. This year’s quartet’s average age of 25 is the lowest in the Super Bowl era. The previous 10 seasons, it was 31.0.

Perception is important but so is timing. The draft had highly rated quarterback classes in 2020 (when Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert went 1-5-6) and 2021 (when Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields went 1-2-3-11). But last year the Bears would have been out of luck, with no quarterback rated worthy of a top-10 pick.

Even modest expectations in February mock drafts last year were way off. ESPN’s post-Super Bowl mock draft had four quarterbacks going in the first round — Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett (11th), Liberty’s Malik Willis (17th), Mississippi’s Matt Corral (18th) and North Carolina’s Sam Howell (32nd).

As it turned out, only Pickett went in the first round (20th to the Steelers). Willis and Corral ended up going in the third round. Howell went in the fifth round.

This year’s quarterback draft class, which doesn’t include anyone as touted as Lawrence or Burrow, is still considered to be much closer to 2020 and 2021 than last year, with draft projections that figure to hold up better as well.

That’s good news for the Bears. Alabama’s Bryce Young is still rated the top quarterback and the No. 1 overall pick by a team that is looking for a quarterback. And Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Kentucky’s Will Levis are still considered potential top-two picks heading into the most important phases of the draft process — the NFL scouting combine on Feb. 26-March 2 in Indianapolis, the college pro days and the individual “Top 30” interviews.

Things still have to fall into place for the Bears to reap a windfall. Ironically, what they need most is for a general manager to fall in love with Young, Stroud or Levis as much as former Bears GM Ryan Pace became smitten by North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky in 2017. Pace, regrettably, was so resolute about Trubisky he traded four picks to the 49ers to move up from No. 3 to No. 2 because he feared (and claimed he had back-channel intel) that another team might leapfrog him to get Trubisky.

Even if it’s not to that degree, it’s that kind of competitive dynamic that will drive the best deal. The Colts continue to be the team most likely to do business with the Bears. They need a quarterback. And they have the No. 4 pick — a critical element that would allow the Bears to trade down and still get either Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter or Alabama defensive end Will Anderson.

And the Colts also have — inadvertently or purposely — tipped their hand a bit. When general manager Chris Ballard was asked at his postseason press conference in January if he would “move heaven and earth” to get the quarterback he wanted, Ballard said, ‘Yes. I’d do whatever it takes.”

That scenario was strengthened this week when the Colts named Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen as their head coach. Steichen, 37, has a reputation as a quarterback-developer — he coached Herbert in 2020 with the Chargers and has worked with Hurts the past two seasons with the Eagles.

And Colts owner Jim Irsay added fuel to the Colts-Bears speculation when he said he leaned toward an offensive-minded head coach, “knowing we’re going to have to find a young quarterback to develop.”

The Colts still could get their young quarterback at No. 4. But knowing two quarterbacks figure to be gone by then — whoever gets the Bears No. 1 pick and the Texans at No. 2 — they’re more likely to enter the bidding war than stand on the sidelines.

It remains to be seen if that bidding war will become a frenzy, but with quarterbacks and NFL personnel departments, anything is possible. The Texans, Colts and Panthers are teams most obviously looking for a quarterback. And there are several teams that play it coy but might be ready to snipe — the Jets, Raiders, Commanders, Saints, Falcons and Titans among them.

That’s why many reputable mock drafts have the Bears dealing the No. 1 pick. NFL.com’s Chad Reuter, in fact, had the dream scenario at the top of his mock draft released this week — the Bears trading down with the Texans (for No. 2, No. 74 and a 2024 first-round pick, with the Bears throwing in a 2023 fifth-round pick), then trading down again with the Colts (for the No. 4, No. 36, plus 2024 second- and third-round picks).

In that scenario, the Bears likely would get Jalen Carter or Will Anderson — plus a second- and third-round pick this year and a first-, second- and third-round pick in 2024.

The Bears’ fortune isn’t expected to be that good. And the worst-case scenario also looms — that Young’s stock drops during the combine/pro day stage of the draft process, the Colts are willing to take whatever quarterback is left at No. 4, nobody’s that desperate and the Bears are “stuck” with the No. 1 pick. They still get a premier prospect in Carter or Anderson, but the way the winds are blowing in February, that would be a disappointment.

More than likely, it will end up somewhere between those extremes, with a possible critical dilemma for Poles if the Texans at No. 2 or the Colts at No. 4 won’t play ball: Is it worth it to give up Carter or Anderson to trade down for more picks?

With as much background and film-work as personnel departments have done, the next phase of the draft process is critical. Even little things can make a difference. Will Young be 5-11 or 6-0 in his official measurement at the combine? Who interviews well and who doesn’t? Who clicks with whom?

It’s all part of an inexact process. And unless someone blows away the Bears and becomes a better option than Fields, all they have to do is wait for someone to fall in love with a quarterback, and let human nature do the rest.

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