PHOENIX – The Bears have their quarterbacks. Jay Cutler, after a prolonged evaluation, is their starter. Jimmy Clausen is the backup. And David Fales is the young draft pick.

But what if a game-changing option presents itself in the near future? What if Oregon quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is available for the Bears’ seventh overall selection in this year’s draft?

It’s a possible and very compelling scenario that the Bears must prepare for and have. General manager Ryan Pace likes what he sees in Mariota, regardless of oft-storied concerns about him being the product of a unique offensive system at Oregon.

“I think you have to watch a lot of tape on those guys to feel good with it,” Pace said Tuesday. “And we’ve done enough research on him that I think he’s a good quarterback. That [system] doesn’t scare me away from it at all.”

Many NFL executives and coaches made similar remarks during the NFL annual meetings at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

Praise for future draft picks can be intended to deceive the opposition at this time of year, but there always will be an onus on finding that franchise quarterback. And Cutler isn’t the long-term solution in Chicago.

There are teams in front of the Bears in the draft, including the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, that will take closer looks at Mariota over the next few weeks. He’s been critiqued to no end for not handling snaps or calling plays, for having predetermined reads and so on at Oregon.

But those teams, similar to the Bears, already like what they see in Mariota, or so they’re saying.

“To me, he shows a lot of the qualities that you see those guys that have been successful in the league have,” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “The team you can see gravitate to him and you can see they really like him. He’s an accurate throw, he doesn’t turn the ball over much, he can extend the play. He can do a lot of things that guys at that position do who have been tremendously successful.’’

Even coaches set a quarterback have been impressed with Mariota.

“When I watched him at the combine, I thought he was excellent with his footwork, with his timing, with his release mechanics,” Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “To the extent that I understand quarterback play, I was very impressed. He looked like a passer to me. If he can master the fundamentals of the drop-back, under-center passing game, then he can be successful in this league.”

Pace believes in adding a quarterback every year, whether it’s through the draft or in college free agency. It’s the same philosophy of the Green Bay Packers.

“It’s a good idea to add a quarterback every year,” Pace said. “Sometimes that’s going to be in the upper rounds, sometimes that’s going to be in the later rounds or college free agency.

“I mean, I played with Tony Romo at Eastern Illinois, so I know what you can do with college free agency. I think it’s a critical position. Because of that, you can take a swing every year at it [to] increase your odds.”

Mariota would be a major swing in Pace’s first year. There could be teams looking to trade up for him such as the Cleveland Browns or the Philadelphia Eagles.

“The mental part, he’s very advanced,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said.

Trading out could be a prudent move for Pace, who said his depth chart is full of needs at the moment.

“Wherever we have needs, we have green magnets and we have a lot of green magnets,” he said.

But if Pace truly believes in drafting the best player available, according to their evaluations, and that’s Mariota when their number is called, then that’s what the Bears might just do.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com
Twitter: @adamjahns