MORRISSEY: With playoffs as guide, which path will Mitch Trubisky take?
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Some Bears fans think the team gave away too much when it traded up to get Mitch Trubisky in the 2017 draft. Some were underwhelmed by his rookie season.
But most everyone who cares about the Bears seems to be on board with at least the idea of Trubisky: a young, physically talented quarterback who, if the planets align correctly, might end up being a fixture for 10-plus years.
That idea — that ideal — is what every team wants. It’s what the Bears have wanted for decades. You’ll recall former general manager Jerry Angelo saying the franchise had to get the quarterback position right if it ever wanted to be a regular playoff contender. He said that immediately after he had traded for Jay Cutler. Angelo’s intentions were good; his judgment, not so much. The next GM, Phil Emery, compounded the problem by giving Cutler a big contract. And, well, let’s not torture ourselves any further.
So the quarterback position is supreme in the NFL, correct? Yes, of course, absolutely.
But then you look at the last four quarterbacks standing in the playoffs: the Patriots’ Tom Brady, the Eagles’ Nick Foles, the Vikings’ Case Keenum and the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles.
And you realize it’s Brady and three guys still wearing their Halloween costumes.
This year is teaching us what the playoffs teach us year after year: Great quarterbacks regularly get their teams deep into the playoffs. Great defenses can get a mediocre quarterback to the Super Bowl once, if they’re lucky.
The Trubisky experiment is still in its infancy. The Bears’ latest GM, Ryan Pace, is talking about the importance of sustained success for the franchise because it’s on Page 3 of Things Front-Office Types Are Supposed to Say These Days. But the message behind what Pace is selling is the right one: To be a regular visitor to the postseason, the Bears need a franchise quarterback.
If Trubisky doesn’t become that, if he becomes Cutler or Rex Grossman or any of the so-so quarterbacks who have paraded through Chicago, the Bears might get a shot at the Super Bowl once every 20 years or so. Might.
They would love for Trubisky to turn into Brady, a future Hall of Famer. They also would love for world peace to break out. But they traded up one spot to take him with the second overall pick in the draft with the idea that he was going to be special. Maybe not Brady-special (no one is), but special enough to be a star. Will he be? Your guess might be as good as Pace’s, with a lot less riding on it.
Foles is the Eagles’ starter only because Carson Wentz blew out his knee in December. The team’s success this season has a lot to do with Wentz’s progress in his second year. That leaves two teams in the final four with franchise quarterbacks (Brady, Wentz) and two with franchise quarterbacks only if the franchise is a 7-Eleven (Keenum, Bortles).
Keenum had been mediocre in four previous seasons, then 2017 came along. He has had career bests in almost every meaningful stat this season, and it’s why Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur likely will be the Giants’ next head coach.
But the Vikings are in the NFC Championship Game because their defense is a force, in the same way that the Jaguars are in the AFC Championship Game because their defense has made everyone forget their quarterback is the beige Bortles. Go ahead and try to make the case that Bortles’ star somehow is rising, but know that the Jaguars are likely to look for a better quarterback after the season.
The Bears got to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season with Grossman as their quarterback. They had a great defense and a mediocre signal-caller. In other words, they were the Jaguars before the Jaguars were the Jaguars.
That raises a question: Would you rather the franchise you cheer for be a regular contender with no guarantee of a title, or would you rather be guaranteed one epic Super Bowl victory for your memory bank? Choosing sustained success shows your brains. Choosing one epic Super Bowl title shows your soul.
Everything about Trubisky is conjecture at this point, and that’s OK. The alternative — dwelling on a dreary future — has been done to death in Chicago. The Bears are hoping and praying that Trubisky’s doppelganger will end up being Wentz, without the knee injury. It’s a big leap, but few people expected Wentz to become what he was in 2017 (101.9 passer rating) after what they saw of him in 2016 (79.3).
There’s excitement in town about new Bears coach Matt Nagy, who helped tutor Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes with the Chiefs. Because these are the Bears and because the team sells Kool-Aid by the barrel, lots of people are assuming Nagy will work wonders with Trubisky.
Perhaps he will. But just in case, Pace might want to keep building up that defense.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.