The tagline for the Bears going into the 2017 offseason has been evident for some time, ever since Jay Cutler made it painfully clear with his injuries and performances that he is not the quarterback answer for the Bears. The natural storyline became: “The Bears have to get a quarterback.”
That’s not exactly right. In point of fact, the line confronting GM Ryan Pace and staff, coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains is more specific than that.
The Bears have to get THE quarterback.
The reason for the refinement to the mandate is right there in Super Bowl LI. Reasons, plural, actually.
It is beyond obvious that the quarterback situation involves several layers, with increasing levels of importance. First is the decision on Cutler, which, as Fox and coaches everywhere hold to, is a decision the player makes himself. Cutler has.
After that is the “bridge” quarterback decision, which may have been between Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer at one time, but, again, Barkley made that decision for the Bears. Camp competition with Connor Shaw, maybe, but anything beyond that will be a surprise.
After that it becomes more interesting, which is where the object lessons provided by the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots come in.
The Bears hold the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. That was the slot the Falcons owned in 2008 when Matt Ryan was in the draft pool. Selecting Ryan was not a terribly difficult call for the Falcons, since the Boston College standout graded out as worthy of the spot. (Then again, so did Blake Bortles in 2014, Joey Harrington in 2002, Akili Smith in 1999, Heath Shuler in 1994, and… you get the idea).
The 2008 draft also included Joe Flacco, who the Baltimore Ravens took at No. 18, which actually netted the Ravens a Super Bowl and playoff success faster than Ryan has gotten the Falcons.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
But that draft also featured Chad Henne and Brian Brohm, who both went in the second round, the only quarterbacks taken before Kevin O’Connell went late in the third to the Patriots.
Point being: The No. 3 pick is where true elites live — Joe Thomas, Gerald McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, Cortez Kennedy. The temptation may be to take best-available, always a sound, reasonable philosophy, and get a quarterback in the second round. Except that it didn’t work for the Miami Dolphins (Henne) or Green Bay Packers (Brohm).
No, it has to be THE quarterback, and if Deshaun Watson has a Russell Wilson (third round) or Flacco (mid-first) grade on him, and he is THE quarterback, should be an easy decision.
Which then turns to the final decision in the process. The “When.”
The Patriots had Drew Bledsoe in place when they drafted Tom Brady in 2000, and Bledsoe was still in place to start 2001. Then he suffered a serious chest injury in game two, whereupon the Brady legend commenced.
But there was a fork in the road, and Bill Belichick took the right fork, for the organization and history.
I was covering the Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship game in 2001 when Brady was injured and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots through the Steelers and into the Super Bowl.
During Super Bowl week, THE question was whether Belichick would stay with Bledsoe, who’d been given a 10-year, $103-million contract just the previous March. Belichick matter-of-factly announced that Brady was his quarterback. Period. Bledsoe, who’d gotten the Patriots to the 1996 Super Bowl, was done in New England after that, playing five more years between Buffalo and Dallas.
But the final piece was the decision to go Brady, which just as easily could’ve gone back to Bledsoe, who’d just played well in the AFC Championship game. Just as it was this season with the Dallas Cowboys to stay with Dak Prescott over owner-favorite Tony Romo.
At some point, assuming it falls something like this, Fox and the Bears will need to make a choice between Hoyer (hopefully not involving any injury situation) and “The Kid.” That decision projects to be the pivotal last call in a decision process that the Bears can only hope turns out as well as that one did for the Patriots.