The timing of the Bears’ demise under coach Matt Nagy is impeccable. And not in a good way, of course.
Two days after Mitch Trubisky’s fumble led to a disastrous 34-30 loss to the Lions that in the eyes of most Bears fans sealed the fate of both general manager Ryan Pace and Nagy, the Bears began preparing to face the Texans and Deshaun Watson — the quarterback the Bears passed up to draft Trubisky in 2017 — on Sunday at Soldier Field.
When Pace was asked after last season how he missed on Trubisky, he said, “I don’t think we’re there yet.” Well, we are most definitely there now, and if Pace ever speaks publicly again as the Bears’ GM — he might not get that chance when this is all said and done — he’ll finally get to explain how he missed on the biggest decision of his professional career.
Truth be told, it was a mistake other GMs would have made had they been given the chance. With Watson the high-profile quarterback who led Clemson to the national championship by destroying Alabama’s defense, while Trubisky had started just 13 games at North Carolina, it gave the impression that Trubisky was a wild, rogue reach.
In reality, Trubisky was the highest rated quarterback in that draft, according to most (but not all) draft analysts, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who had Trubisky rated ahead of Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, Watson and Pitt’s Nathan Peterman. (For the record, former Pro Football Weekly draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki had it Watson-Trubisky-Mahomes.)
In retrospect, it’s Pace’s blinding fixation on Trubisky that reflects most poorly on his judgment.
At that time, there was no shame in liking Trubisky. That Pace liked him so much that he never had an in-depth one-on-one with Watson is a damning lack of the “due diligence” personnel executives like Pace swear by. That he traded four picks to move up to No. 2 and get Trubisky when he could have stayed put — or better yet, traded down — makes it even worse.
Pace’s infatuation with Trubisky was mocked the moment he made the deal with 49ers general manager John Lynch on draft night. But history has been even more unkind, as Trubisky has struggled, Watson has excelled on a bad team with the Texans and Mahomes has skyrocketed to superstardom with the Chiefs.
But time changes every perspective. And it has been long forgotten that Trubisky was rated so highly heading into the 2017 draft. We’ll never know which GMs are breathing a sigh of relief that Pace made their mistake for them. But they’re out there.
So here’s a look back at nine other factors that surrounded Pace’s ill-fated decision to draft Mitch Trubisky.
2. The Bears weren’t even expected to take a quarterback with the No. 3 pick after signing Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract in free agency. According to an SB Nation survey of 104 mock drafts, the most popular players to the Bears were LSU safety Jamal Adams, Ohio State cornerback Marsahon Lattimore, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and Ohio State safety Malik Hooker.
3. The Sun-Times was among most local outlets expecting the Bears to take a defensive player — Jamal Adams (Adam Jahns), Solomon Thomas (Patrick Finley) and Jonathan Allen (Mark Potash). But I also was in favor of using the No. 3 pick to acquire more picks:
“Their more realistic best-case scenario is to trade down and get two or three players they covet. That could put them in play for tight end O.J. Watson, wide receivers John Ross or Corey Davis, quarterbacks Pat Mahomes or Watson and safeties Obi Melifonwu and Jabrill Peppers.”
4. A virtual consensus of mock drafts had Trubisky being the first quarterback drafted, ahead of Watson and Mahomes. Various mock drafts had Trubisky going to the Browns, Jets, 49ers, Bills and Cardinals.
5a. Only three known mock drafts had the Bears drafting Trubisky — Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, Andrew Gribble of ClevelandBrowns.com and Adam Stites of SB Nation.
5b. At least two mock drafts correctly had Trubisky going second overall (but to the 49ers) — Chad Reuter of NFL.com and Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.
6. The Bears did not host Trubisky or Watson for a pre-draft visit to Halas Hall. They hosted Kizer twice, probably a feint by Pace as part of his plan to hide his love for Trubisky.
“I thought they’d be showing more interest,” Trubisky said after arriving in Philadelphia for the draft. The Bears did have several representatives at Watson’s pro day but reportedly never had a one-on-one interview with the quarterback considered the best prospect in the draft.
7. The Bills, in a 17-year playoff drought and still looking for the successor to Jim Kelly, had a shot at both Mahomes and Watson, but — comfortable with Tyrod Taylor — traded the No. 10 overall pick to the Chiefs, who jumped ahead of the Cardinals to get Mahomes. The Bills recovered the following year by trading up five spots in the 2018 draft to take Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, who is having a breakout season in 2020.
8. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock (now the Raiders general manager) said Trubisky “might be the most ready to play quarterback in this class. And he’s only a one-year starter. Like his pocket presence. Think he has good feet and quick release. Don’t think he’s got a ceiling as high as some of the other guys. But I think he can become a solid NFL starter.”
9. Mayock’s endorsement of Trubisky wasn’t the only one that was notably lukewarm for a player who would be drafted second overall.
“For me, Trubisky is the top guy. He just doesn’t have a fatal flaw,” Brugler wrote “I’m not sure he has a huge upside, but when you look at the traits — his arm, his size, his mobility, what he brings between the ears — you’re impressed. I think his issues are based more on inexperience, not lack of talent. I think he can be an Andy Dalton, a very capable quarterback who can help win games and compete for the division.”
10. Mahomes was generally seen as the No. 3 quarterback prospect in that draft — a second-round pick in many mock drafts, but with a lot of late buzz as the draft approached. His high-ceiling prospectus was almost the polar opposite of Trubisky.
“Mahomes is a pure gunslinger,” Mayock said. “Makes a lot of mistakes. Technique breaks down, throws interceptions. But every single play something either really good or really bad is about to happen. I think he’s an exciting talent. I like the fact that he’s an athlete. He was a high school baseball player that was drafted.”
Mahomes, of course, is a sensation with the Chiefs — already a league MVP and Super Bowl winner. But — like Pitt’s Dan Marino going 27th to the Dolphins in the famed quarterback Class of 1983 — Mahomes also had the advantage of going to the right coach and the right team at the right time. That undoubtedly has magnified the impact of Pace’s mistake.