In 2018, the Chicago Bears rode a dominant defense and just enough offense from quarterback Mitch Trubisky to a division title and playoff berth. In 2019, Chicago showed the formula […]
In 2018, the Chicago Bears rode a dominant defense and just enough offense from quarterback Mitch Trubisky to a division title and playoff berth. In 2019, Chicago showed the formula has to be executed perfectly to work. With Trubisky’s offense declining, the defense was stretched thinner, and the Bears went 8-8 as a result.
Trubisky is still under contract for one more season in Chicago, and there’s no indication that he’d be moved in 2020. He’ll enter the Bears training camp as the presumptive starter, but Chicago is reportedly looking at adding a veteran quarterback to their roster.
This isn’t to say the veteran quarterback would instantly supplant Trubisky on the depth chart, but rather push him to elevate his game, while also providing another starting option if things continue to go south for Trubisky. Chicago values finding a backup quarterback with starting experience, rather than a career clipboard-holder like Chase Daniel, who they currently employ.
Which quarterbacks could the Bears to target to fill this role? Here are a few options available through either trade or free agency.
Quarterbacks the Bears Won’t Target
Again, Trubisky is on the books to be paid by the Bears in 2020. While Chicago may spend a little extra on a backup quarterback to bolster the position, they won’t be able to outbid any teams for sure-fire starting-caliber quarterbacks.
This puts a few signal-callers immediately out of Chicago’s market:
- Tom Brady
- Philip Rivers
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Jameis Winston
When the words “veteran quarterback” were linked with the Chicago Bears, plenty of armchair Twitter general managers jumped to the conclusion of Tom Brady or Philip Rivers reviving the Bears offense. But those two quarterbacks will command much bigger pay days from whatever team they decide to start for in 2020.
Jameis Winston’s future in Tampa Bay isn’t set in stone, but he would also merit a larger contract than the Bears can hand out for a backup. Teddy Bridewater would be the cheapest option listed here, but is likely to make the leap to making starter-level money in 2020.
This creates a slight conundrum in the Bears search: they desire a quarterback with starting experience, but not too much starting experience, or at least not recent success that puts them in line for a pay day.
Looking to last offseason, the Tennessee Titans brought in Ryan Tannehill on a cheaper contract to back up Marcus Mariota. Mariota struggled, and Tannehill led the the team to a playoff berth and unlikely AFC Championship appearance.
Tannehill came in to Tennessee with a losing record as a starter, 123 touchdowns against 75 interceptions (not a great ratio), and wasn’t highly valued in the offseason. What he did come in with was 88 career starts under his belt. That’s not something you can find just anywhere.
The Bears are attempting to replicate this formula.
Five Quarterbacks the Bears Should Target
Marcus Mariota, Free Agent
As we just discussed, Mariota was ultimately benched in 2019 with a 2-4 record through six games as the Titans starting quarterback. He completed a career-low 59.4% of his pass attempts, and was sacked 25 games in just six games (4.2 times per game.) On the brighter side of things, Mariota threw seven touchdown passes to just two interceptions, matched his career yards/attempt (7.5) and posted a slightly above average quarterback rating (92.3.)
Mariota is just 26 years old, and likely one of the best 32 quarterbacks in the NFL. Still, with incoming rookies as well as aging veterans taking up many of the league’s starting spots, Mariota may see himself in a backup role in 2020. Similar to Tannehill last year, Mariota could sign a one-year deal with the hopes of proving he’s still an NFL starter.
Perhaps a change of scenery could revitalize Mariota’s career. The former Oregon quarterback holds a 29-32 career record in the NFL after 61 starts. With the Bears valuing starting experience (Trubisky only has 41 career starts and a 23-18 record,) Mariota could be a potential option at backup, and starter if the situation arises.
Andy Dalton, Trade with Cincinnati Bengals
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Cincinnati Bengals are going with Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. While this doesn’t necessarily mean Andy Dalton has to vacate his locker, it’s pretty apparent the Bengals marriage with the red-haired quarterback has been coming to an end.
After being benched on his birthday, but then re-instilled as the starter for a couple meaningless late season games, Dalton finished his 2019 campaign with a 2-11 record. It was Dalton’s fourth straight losing season as the Bengals starter, after five straight winning seasons to begin his career.
Dalton is easily the most experienced quarterback on this short list: 133 career starts, a 70-61-2 record, four playoff starts, and 24 career game-winning drives. (Stats as usual per the great ProFootballReference.com.)
Like Mariota, if you listed out every quarterback in the NFL, Dalton would probably be in the back-end of the Top 32. But due to a poor season in 2019, the 32-year-old could also find himself needing to prove his worth in a new situation.
I list Dalton here, and not among the quarterbacks out of the Bears range, because I think he could be available at a reasonable price. It would have to come via trade, however, and there may be suitors that intend on making Dalton their starter in 2020.
Still, as the Bears backup, Dalton would push Trubisky from day one, and make himself not just an option if Trubisky struggles, but a viable option as the opening day starter.
Case Keenum, Free Agent
The Bears may have competition for the services of Mariota or Dalton, and there’s no reason to enter a bidding war for a backup quarterback. The next two options are much safer and won’t have as many bidders, but also have lower ceilings. Low risk, low reward.
Case Keenum, 32 years old, is an NFL veteran with experience playing for five different teams. He’s started 62 games, with a 27-35 career record. If you took away his 2019 campaign with the putrid Washington Redskins, he’d have a slightly nicer looking 26-28 record.
Keenum would bring a wealth of knowledge, accumulated from playing in different environments and under different coaches. He’s not at the point in his career where he’d be a pure mentor/clipboard holder though. In 2017 with the Minnesota Vikings, Keenum led his team to an 11-3 record as the starter, completing 67.6% of his passes. He even won a playoff game, before struggling in the second round.
Even with a losing record in 2019, Keenum completed 64.8% of his passes and threw 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.
Keenum probably finds himself in a backup role in 2020, but in Chicago, he would have an opportunity to climb the depth chart in the right situation.
Blake Bortles, Free Agent
As a full-time starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars for most of five seasons, Bortles has quickly amassed 73 career starts before his 28th birthday. But save for one incredible season, he hasn’t exactly been a winner.
- 2014: 3-10
- 2015: 5-11
- 2016: 3-13
- 2017: 10-6, 2-1 in the playoffs, AFC Championship Appearance
- 2018: 3-9
- 2019: Backup for Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
Of course, Jacksonville hasn’t exactly been a franchise that breeds prolonged-winning football. Bortles could likely start again in the NFL in the right situation. He wasn’t able to push Jared Goff as the starter with the Rams in 2019, but could he potentially make the competition for the Bears starting role at least a little interesting?
Colin Kaepernick, Free Agent
Obviously this one comes with a huge asterik. Colin Kaepernick has been out of the league for over two years, and although he insists he’s ready to go at any time, a return to the NFL becomes less likely with each passing day.
Putting aside any emotion, politics, or story lines that would surround Kaepernick signing with the Bears, it could actually make sense for both sides. The first concession would be Kaepernick taking backup money, after allegedly asking for starting money with any team he’s met with since his departure from the San Francisco 49ers.
If Kaepernick is willing to do that, and enter camp as the backup, it could be an ideal situation. If he plays well in practice and develops an understanding of the Bears offense, he could push Trubisky as the starter. And if the Bears give up on Trubisky after a bad start to 2020, Kaepernick could enter a low-pressure starting environment with no expectations to win.
Kaepernick has 58 regular season starts on his resume, along with six playoff starts including a Super Bowl appearance.
Do I see it happening? Of course not. But compared to other opportunities that Kaepernick has had to return to the NFL, this one could make a bit of sense for both sides.
Header Photo via PlayBuzz.com
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