Chicago Bears

Once more, quarterback decision is offseason priority for Bears

Once more, quarterback decision is offseason priority for Bears

An offseason without a Bears quarterback issue/controversy/move would be news. And the 2017 offseason is already not without a quarterback…situation.

The central figure in the situation is, as it has been for most of the past eight offseasons, Jay Cutler. But this time, as was the case when Josh McCown was the alternative after 2013, Cutler is far from the Bears’ only option, and it was made abundantly clear that the quarterback position is in perhaps its greatest state of flux since the Brian Griese-Rex Grossman-Kyle Orton maelstrom in the Time Before Cutler.

It was also abundantly clear that, unlike last year and the year before, there has been no “Jay is our quarterback” decision.

“In my mind, there is no more important position than the quarterback,” GM Ryan Pace said on Wednesday. “It is a critical, critical position. And I know and I recognize, that the decision that we make on that quarterback is going to be significant for all of us for the direction that this organization is going to head.”

Pace said he had met with more than two dozen players since Sunday, including Cutler, who is around Halas Hall rehabbing an injured shoulder. Their conversation involved letting Cutler know that when a decision is made on his future, he and his agent would be informed.

Which did not sound like something normally said to a player where the decision is to keep them.

“Once we make a decision as an organization whatever it is, you know he'll be the first to know and his agent, Bus Cook, will be the first to know and I made him that promise,” Pace said. “Those decisions haven't been completely finalized yet, but when they are you know he'll know immediately.”

But if the question is, do the Bears move forward with Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, a drafted rookie, a different free agent or a trade acquisition, the answer is…yes.

“There's a lot of things we value in that position,” Pace said. “You know this year it was about consistency and availability. You know we played with so many different quarterbacks it was hard to find continuity. But I think we're looking for consistency and productivity from that position and I think we'll find it this offseason.

“I think everything's on the table right now. It's free agency, it's trade, it's draft, it's current players on our team. Everything's on the table, and we've got to analyze all that and the next two months are going to be huge for that. It's critical that we get that right.”

If the decision is between Cutler and Hoyer, money is likely, and rightly, to be a consideration.

Using passer rating for apples-to-apples purposes, Cutler is a career 85.7-rating passer with a 3.3 interception percentage. Hoyer is an 84.8 passer but with a 2.2 interception percentage, a career pick rate equal to Cutler’s best single-season rate. Both are roughly .500 as starters over their careers.

But Cutler is due potentially $15 million this season; Hoyer is unrestricted after playing under a one-year deal for $2 million. Getting the same production for a fraction of the cost makes simple sense.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Whatever the decision, whether Cutler, Hoyer or an outside option or two, management is leaving the call to the football people.

“I’ve always been a fan of Jay Cutler,” said Chairman George McCaskey, who had to have been one to agree to the $126-million contract given to Cutler by former GM Phil Emery. “I love him as a player. I love him off the field. I think he doesn’t get enough credit for what he does off the field.

“As far as the football evaluation, that’s up to Ryan and John [Fox].”

Mark Sanchez on fast food runs, shutting up and policing a QB controversy

Mark Sanchez on fast food runs, shutting up and policing a QB controversy

When the Bears signed Mark Sanchez March 24, some fans panicked that it meant Ryan Pace would avoid selecting a quarterback for a third straight draft. And when Pace boldly (or, stupidly, to some) traded up a spot to second overall to secure Mitch Trubisky for the future, those critics emerged, too. 

Sanchez signed as Mike Glennon's backup, and according to Pace Wednesday, that's still what he is. For the former fifth overall pick of the Jets, starting would be great. But he's only done that ten times over the past four years after starting all but two games in his first four seasons under the media microscope in New York.

"I thought this team was on an upper trend and it'd be great to help somebody like Mike," Sanchez said Thursday in his first interview with Chicago reporters. "I know they went through a serious injury bug last year and a lot of guys would be getting healthy."

The man is only 30, and things were never better professionally than in his fresh-faced, first two NFL seasons, helping the Jets win two playoff road games in both 2009 and 2010 (including one at New England) before getting knocked out in AFC Championship games on the road. Now, he's not considered a starter, unless it's an emergency.

"It has been a different role, and adjusting your perspective is not always easy, but that's the mental side of this game and that's why I love playing it, no matter what," Sanchez said. "I wanna be competing my butt off in practice, and then pushing the starter as much as I can."

With Tony Romo hurt yet again in Dallas last year, Sanchez was picked up as insurance by the Cowboys after the Broncos decided to go with two other young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, following Peyton Manning's retirement. But fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott's performance kept him on the field and Sanchez in a mentor role. Just as he will be with Glennon and Trubisky.

"Whatever it takes to win," Sanchez said. "And if that means getting him ready to play, and if that's what the role is, which is what it looks like here, then I'll push Mike, get ready to play myself and make sure he's ready to go in. It's been exciting working with him, because he can really play. I think he's a special player. He's decisive, he's got great feet for a big guy, and he can make all the throws so I'm excited to see how well he does."

Sanchez was Prescott in 2009, being chosen as a rookie over veteran options on a contending team.

"I had Kellen Clemens, Kevin O'Connell and Mark Brunell," Sanchez said of his NFL baptism under fire. "And all three of them, my first couple years, were amazing guys. Whether it was body language, footwork, where to live, where to eat, anything, you name it. We got so close. That kind of stuff transcends football when you get close off the field like we did those first couple of years, things take off. That kind of stuff I learned right away. We're still building that here."

There's no telling the degree of influence Sanchez may have had on Prescott's success. He arrived in Dallas late (after opening last preseason with a long touchdown pass to Demaryious Thomas at Soldier Field), too. But he hopes the NFL life lessons he'd been through, from winning, to butt-fumbling, to being cut, will help Glennon and Trubisky as he hope it did with Dak.

"That was a heckuva run," he said. "When you look at these teams, especially heading into year nine, you know from the first practice what you have, what you're searching for, what guys lead, what guys follow. You can feel it right away.

"It's a young team, but the emphasis is for the veterans to help push guys. Speaking from a number two role, I have to push Mike with everything I see. I had the conversation with Dak last year, 'Hey, I'll tell you everything I know, I'll push you as hard as a I can. But if at any point, you need me to turn it off, I'll do that. I'll shut up and won't say a word.' That's the same relationship I have with Mike and I'm pushing him hard, helping him compete, and I think he's gonna do really well.

"The best compliment you can give a rookie is not have to tell him to shut up," the USC product said of the seniority pecking order. "Just keep your head down and work, and that's really been his mentality. That's huge. And that's not easy, especially coming from where (Trubisky's) come from. The status you build as a college player... then a team trades up to get you, all those things, you start to believe all that.

"I remember getting ready to fly to divisional games, championship games, and two hours before the plane takes off I'm going to like, three different places. Popeyes Chicken, Quiznos, and I'm thinking, 'Geez, this is crazy.' But there's Brunell and Kellen Clemens saying, 'Just keep your mouth shut.  Do it or it'll be worse.' But (Trubisky's) done a great job. He's worked hard, doesn't say much and doesn't need to. Just keep working, keep learning, playing hard."

And despite his own desire to play, he won't fan the flames for change when Glennon has a bad practice, series or game. All four quarterbacks (including Connor Shaw) are ready to accept and follow the gameplan that's in place for the most scrutinized position in sports.

"There's no chance that happens here," Sanchez said of a divided room. "It's been defined clearly, and that's what you need. It's already been addressed by Ryan Pace, by Coach (John Fox), and you can't say it enough. You guys (the media) have a job to do, and I totally understand how papers sell, and some don't. Certain quotes, certain headlines, I've been around a bit, so I know. But we're not gonna have that issue because Mike's gonna play his butt off. If anything happens, I'll be ready. Mitch is gonna be ready. We have a great room so, I like where we're at and I like where we're headed."

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

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USA TODAY

Kevin White is starting small to answer the big question: Can he break out in 2017?

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Kevin White isn’t taking his ability to play football for granted anymore, not after missing 28 of the Bears’ 32 games since he was drafted seventh overall in 2015. This is supposed to be fun, White said, even though these last two years couldn’t have been much fun for him.  

So with training camp underway at Olivet Nazarene University, White isn’t putting any added pressure on himself in a year that could determine whether or not he gets labeled a bust. 

“I don’t look at this as a job,” White said. “I think it takes the fun away from it. So I would just look at it as it’s a game. I love to play it, just getting paid to do it. But it was fun to be back out there with the guys and rallying together and going out there to compete.”

White looked solid in the Bears’ first training camp practice of 2017, which was a promising start for the 6-foot-3, 216 pound West Virginia product. But that’s a small step that won’t hold much significance unless White can string a few good practices together, and then eventually turn those practices into productive games. 

The good news is the Bears don’t have any restrictions on White and aren’t planning on giving him any additional rest days during training camp.

“He’s ready to go,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “He’s had a great summer, a great offseason, so he’s ready to go. You can just feel his confidence gaining, knowledge of the offense and just being comfortable with his body. He’s pretty much unleashed.”

The bad news is until White proves he can play a full season, questions will remain about his durability. Since being drafted, White has dealt with a fractured left tibia and a severe ankle sprain that resulted in a spiral fracture of his fibula. Those two severe injuries mean we don’t really know what White can do — the four games he played last year were perhaps nothing more than an incomplete glimpse. 

White had the third-lowest average yards per target (5.19) among receivers with at least 35 targets last year, which couldn’t have been what the Bears envisioned when they invested a top-10 pick in him. This is a guy who had 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year at West Virginia, after all. 

The Bears still believe White can be a go-to target opposite the budding Cam Meredith and in conjunction with the trio of veterans (Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz) they signed in the spring. 

“We all can do whatever the coaches put us in position to do,” White said. “I do have a lot of confidence (in) us.”

But from a larger view, the Bears need White succeed so they won’t have to re-draft a player at his position, or at least be tempted to deviate from their best-player-available strategy. Doing so would be a blow to Pace’s efforts to build through the draft, a process that’s also, notably, seen the additions of Cody Whitehair, Jordan Howard, Mitch Trubisky and Adam Shaheen on offense. 

For White to fulfill those big-picture hopes, though, he’ll have to start small — like with Thursday’s practice. Saturday’s practice will be the first time White will take contact since Week 4 of the 2016 season, and the Aug. 10 preseason opener will be his first game action since then, too. 

“It’s hard to get better at something if you don’t practice it,” coach John Fox said. “So getting a string of practices, getting him out there and developing his skill set. He’s got plenty of athletic ability. That’s why he was picked where he was. Now it’s just getting out there and improving (his) skillset.”

White’s love of the game wasn’t marred by the frustration of his first two years in Chicago, though. In fact, the opposite happened. 

“You get something taken away from you a little bit, you enjoy it more,” White said.