Nick Foles — remember him? — still an option for Bears at QB
If the dream scenarios don’t pan out, the Bears aren’t likely to get a quarterback who is much better in their current offense than Foles, who had a tough 2020 season — under difficult circumstances.
The dream scenario of the Bears acquiring quarterback Deshaun Watson appeared to be dealt a blow this week when the Bears reportedly were not on the list of three teams (Jets, Dolphins and Panthers) for whom he would waive his no-trade clause to facilitate a deal.
While the Texans insist they will not trade the disgruntled Watson, it’s still possible he can force their hand, and it’s also still possible the Bears could find a way into the picture if the Texans want to send Watson out of the AFC. Stranger things have happened.
But that’s still pie-in-the-sky stuff. Even the less unrealistic scenario of trading for Derek Carr could be out after it was reported that the Raiders were contemplating extending Carr’s contract rather than trading him to make room for an upgrade, perhaps Watson.
The other dream scenario to acquire a quarterback, trading up in the first round of the draft to acquire BYU’s Zach Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, remains unlikely. Though you can never put anything past Bears general manager Ryan Pace, the Bears aren’t in good position to overpay to make such a bold move.
That still leaves the Bears with many options heading into the heart of the 2021 offseason, but few if any that would be slam-dunk upgrades at the position. If Watson ultimately is traded, the Bears could be in the running for the quarterback displaced by Watson. If Watson’s reported list is accurate, the Jets’ Sam Darnold, the Dolphins’ TuaTagovailoa and the Jaguars’ Gardner Minshew would top that list.
But after that — maybe even including that — the Bears’ options would drop to an unfulfilling category: quarterbacks who very likely would be no better in the current Bears’ offense than Nick Foles. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marcus Mariota, Darnold, Minshew, Jacoby Brissett, Jameis Winston and Tyrod Taylor, among others, all have had their moments in the NFL. But so has Foles. Just not last season.
In fact, if Foles were not on the Bears, he would be near the top of the list — again — of candidates outside of the dream scenarios. But now he’s quarterback non grata after posting an 80.8 passer rating (10 touchdowns, eight interceptions) in nine games (seven starts) with the Bears in 2020.
Foles’ standing dropped even further after Mitch Trubisky replaced him and led a resurgent Bears offense after the bye week. In a four-game stretch against the Lions, Texans, Vikings and Jaguars, the Bears averaged 35 points (third-most in the NFL in that span) and Trubisky had a 108.5 passer rating (seven touchdowns, two interceptions).
But that was at least a little deceptive. That offensive outburst — the first time the Bears had scored 30 or more points in four consecutive games since 1965 — came against defenses that ranked 29th, 30th, 22nd and 32nd in the NFL in yards allowed.
Foles didn’t have that luxury in his seven starts last season. Four of his first five starts, in fact, came against defenses ranked in the top 10 in the NFL — the Colts (eighth), Buccaneers (sixth), Rams (first) and Saints (fourth). For what it’s worth, Foles’ most efficient games in that stretch came against the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers (83.7 rating, with his only interception a ball deflected by Allen Robinson) and Saints (92.7). But by the time Foles faced a bottom-10 defense, the offensive line was in tatters after injuries to guard James Daniels, tackle Bobby Massie and center Cody Whitehair.
Against the Titans’ 25th-ranked defense in Week 9, the Bears offensive line was three-fifths makeshift: seventh-round rookie Arlington Hambright at left guard was making his first NFL appearance, 2019 undrafted rookie Alex Bars played center for the first time at any level and Rashaad Coward was starting at right tackle for the first time in the NFL. Foles threw for 335 yards and had a 99.4 rating in a 24-17 loss — though much of that production came after the Bears fell behind 24-3 in the fourth quarter.
Pace acknowledged the disparity between the degree-of-difficulty faced by Trubisky and Foles in his end-of-season news conference.
“I respect the way he handled a lot of adversity this year, not just for himself in the quarterback room,” Pace said. “He was a leader in the room as a starter or as a backup. And . . . when he was playing, there were some things that, in fairness to him, the offensive line was a little unsettled and the run game wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be.”
It could be that the critics are right — that at 32, Foles is too limited, especially mobility-wise, to succeed under anything but optimum conditions, which the Bears’ offense currently does not provide. But it’s also possible that Foles, a former Super Bowl MVP, can still be effective if you give him a fighting chance.
Regardless, the reality is that unless a dream scenario ensues, the Bears’ quarterback in 2021 will not be appreciably better than Foles — effective in a good offense; ineffective in a poor one. So Foles could end up contending for the starting job or serving as a place-holder for a first- or second-round draft pick in 2021. The onus is on the Bears to build an offense that will make the quarterback better.