For Bears, Super Bowl teams provide templates for multiple franchise quarterback decisions

For Bears, Super Bowl teams provide templates for multiple franchise quarterback decisions

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.

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

If you haven't heard, the Bears are in the market for a quarterback.

It's no surprise that finding a long-term solution at the position will be at the top of GM Ryan Pace's to-do list as it's likely Jay Cutler has played his last game in a Bears uniform.

The Bears have a bevy options this offseason as they're saddled with the No. 3 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and have over $54 million of salary cap space — before roster cuts and an added $8 million in roll over money.

Having the 3rd overall pick, the opportunity is going to present itself for the Bears to nab one of the draft's top quarterbacks or add to their young defensive core with a player like Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen (who ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears selecting in his latest mock draft) or LSU's Jamal Adams (Kiper Jr. also has him as a possibility for the Bears).

If quarterback is the choice, that's where the real debate begins.

The 2017 draft marks one of the rare years where there isn't a consensus No. 1 quarterback. The four signal-callers likely to hear there name called within the first two rounds are UNC's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

Who comes off the board first? That may change 100 times between now and Thursday, April 27.

Despite only starting one year at Chapel Hill, Trubisky has the strongest case to be the first quarterback taken. Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 308 yards on the ground and five rushing scores in his first full year as a starter in 2016.

If the Bears have their eyes set on Trubisky, they may have to pull off a trade as Kiper Jr. doesn't see the former Tar Heel lasting to the third pick. In his conference call on Thursday, Kiper Jr. said it's Trubisky's dream to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns, and sees him in play for both the Browns at No. 1 and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.

Would the Bears pull the trigger on Watson if Trubisky is off the board? Kiper Jr. believes Watson would be a stretch for the Bears at No. 3 and right now he sees Watson as a fit with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10. Kiper Jr. had a second-round grade on Watson before he shined on the big stage in the College Football Playoff. Watson's stock catapulted back into the first-round mix after he torched Alabama for 463 yards and four touchdowns en route to leading Clemson to a National Championship.

By selecting a defensive player at No. 3, the Bears could still have the opportunity to draft their quarterback of the future in the second round. Kiper Jr. believes both Mahomes and Kizer will be available on Day 2 where the Bears hold the 36th overall selection in the draft.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What happens if the Bears don't come away with one of the draft's top quarterbacks? They could look toward free agency or the trade market.

The downfall of the free agent market is that the best available option is former Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon — he hasn't started a game in almost three years. You can cross Kirk Cousins off the wish list because there's a better chance of Brett Favre coming out of retirement and leading the Browns to a Super Bowl in 2017 than the Washington Redskins letting Cousins walk in free agency. The Bears also could elect to bring back two of their own unrestricted free agents in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but neither would provide an ample long-term fixture at the position.

One of the most intriguing players available on the trade market is New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The connection between him and the Bears runs deep as Garoppolo starred at Rolling Meadows High School in the Chicagoland area and played his college football at Eastern Illinois — the same alma mater as Pace — before he was selected by the Patriots in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In limited snaps backing up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Garoppolo has shown potential to be an above-average NFL quarterback, but unless the Patriots step down from their rumored asking price of a 2017 first-round pick and more, trading away the No. 3 pick would be too high of a price for the Bears to pay.

The Bears could explore the possibility of trading for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to serve as a stopgap and help groom a young quarterback, but bringing in the veteran Romo — just four starts since 2014 due to various injuries — would be a lateral move, and the Bears would likely be better off keeping Cutler for another season.

With less than two months until the start of free agency on March 9, we'll finally get our first clue then as to which direction the Bears will go at quarterback this offseason. 

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].”