INDIANAPOLIS — With his hands stuffed in the pockets of his blue slacks for much of a 24-minute media session Tuesday morning, Ryan Pace dodged questions about the Bears’ quarterback plans as best he could.
He sidestepped inquiries about bringing in competition for Mitch Trubisky. He ducked and eluded queries about how the club will go about it, saying at one point, “It’s the things we value in every quarterback.”
Just as he did at the end of the season, Pace declined to say what the Bears will do with the fifth-year option in Trubisky’s contract for 2021.
What we do know is Trubisky remains the only quarterback on the roster, he will count $9.2 million against the team’s salary cap in 2020, and coach Matt Nagy has brought in new voices to help. Nagy has hired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to go with Dave Ragone, who was promoted to passing game coordinator.
When the new league year begins March 18, Pace should be able to relax somewhat. We should have a clear picture of the master plan to bring in a challenger to Trubisky or at least a legitimate backup option. Chase Daniel earned $10 million over the last two years more for his knowledge of the scheme than his track record on the field.
When we last heard from Pace, two days after the season ended, he was all in on Trubisky as the starter for 2020. Is that still the plan?
“To be clear, yes it is,” Pace said. “We believe in Mitch. Mitch knows he needs to be better. We need to be better around him. And that’s our goal.”
The deadline to pick up the fifth-year option isn’t until May 30, but the refusal to address Trubisky’s 2021 status while championing his cause for the coming season seems at least somewhat contradictory. How can we be certain Trubisky is the guy this year if you’d rather not say if he might be the guy next year?
“I don’t think it’s uncommon, and those are things that we’ll just keep inside and internal with us,” Pace said. “Again, we have more pressing needs right now. The trigger date isn’t until May, so we have time on that.”
A year ago Pace announced the week after the playoff loss to the Eagles that the Bears were picking up the fifth-year option in Leonard Floyd’s contract. This is just the latest reminder of the uncomfortable limbo the franchise is in three years after it went all in on Trubisky, trading up to select him No. 2 overall in 2017. The quarterback position remains a huge question mark.
There’s no question Pace and his staff have a good idea what direction they’re going. Heck, it’s likely they know precisely what they are doing. It’s reasonable to deduce the Bears have been more straightforward with Trubisky as well. There’s no need to complicate things further for him. Don’t create doubt for a player who struggles with confidence.
Coach Matt Nagy hopes his guy is doing plenty of self-study in order to make improvements.
“One thing that he is able to do is get onto the film on his own and really hammer through what he’s looking at,” Nagy said. “Now, for him, I think the processing part is what … it has to get to a point where you’re so obsessed, no matter what you’re doing, you’re always watching film.
“We’re at a point now where before they get back in here, April 20 or whatever it is, he’s a complete expert at knowing … he needs to know it better than me. And that’s the goal. He’ll tell you that that wasn’t the case last year. That’s not a slight on him — he’s in Year 2 of it — but I want him to make sure that’s where he gets to in the future.”
It’s not a great leap to envision the Bears picking up Trubisky’s option, which is projected to be about $24 million. It’s guaranteed for injury only until the start of the 2021 league year, and ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement are not expected to affect that. It would take a catastrophic injury to put the Bears in a bind with the injury-only guarantee, and choosing to decline the option would effectively be Pace admitting the pick was a bust. Do you really think he wants to raise the white flag on Trubisky?
So, why kick the can down the road to May? Perhaps the Bears don’t want to create a story about their quarterback position in 2021, preferring to keep the focus on their present bid to improve the situation, as fuzzy as it currently is.
It’s an awkward time for Pace, and that’s understandable. The Bears fell to 8-8 in a season Nagy said felt worse than the club’s actual record. The Bears are short on resources. They have eight draft picks, but only two project to be in the first half of the draft. After cutting cornerback Prince Amukamara and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, the Bears created $13.5 million in salary-cap space and two prominent roster needs. Still, they rank in the bottom third of the league in available cap room.
Acquiring a bigger name, via trade or free agency, to shake up the Halas Hall quarterback room will come with challenges. It would take up a big chunk of available cap space unless they can negotiate a contract with someone like Andy Dalton, maybe building in incentives that could be earned with playing time and performance bonuses while lowering base guarantees. First, the Bears would need to pull off a trade with the Bengals for Dalton. That seems at least realistic. He’s going to be available while someone like Derek Carr won’t be on the market unless the Raiders replace him first.
Maybe the option has far less experience. If that’s the case, would it be an upgrade or a gamble on potential? Heading that route at least would allow Pace to allocate the bulk of his resources toward making the Bears better around their quarterback.
“Some (quarterbacks) have a lot of playing experience and some don’t have as much, and you may like one that doesn’t have as much if it fits what you are looking for,” Nagy said. “I don’t want to lose sight on the fact knowing right now Mitch is under contract and that’s it.”
That’s where the Bears are this week, trying to get a clear picture of all their options at quarterback before they have to commit.
“We’re sorting through it,” Pace said. “There’s a lot of different avenues to improve our team, whether it’s free agency or the draft, and that includes that position.”
Bob and weave. That’s what the Bears are doing as they focus on the quarterback position, leaving them somewhere between Trubisky and a prayer.
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