Welcome to the Wednesday “What If” where we look back at pivotal moments of Bears history and examine how different outcomes could have lead to vastly different states of the franchise.
The Bears won a primetime game on Monday night, but one look at a Bears Facebook group, or even our own postgame show would lead some to question the result of the game. An overwhelming amount of criticism has been directed towards Chicago’s offensive performance over the first two weeks of the season.
The person at the center of most if not all the criticism this week?
Second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky. It’s no secret that the North Carolina project has struggled to start the 2018 season. Despite completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, Trubisky is barely averaging five yards per attempt. Additionally, he has missed some home-run opportunities, and his interceptions on Monday night were brutal, to say the least.
However, the claims that Trubisky all of a sudden can’t be the guy or, even more ludicrous, should be splitting time with backup Chase Daniel are unwarranted and baseless. I could go into film and historical development to explain why that is the case, but as the column suggests, we look back at pivotal Bears moments here.
Today we ask, “What if the Bears didn’t take a quarterback in the first round of the 2017 draft?”
(Don’t worry, I’ll address Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson too).
The date is April 27, 2017.
The Bears have finished a miserable 3-13 season and are scheduled to pick third in the NFL draft. Chicago already named a starting quarterback with the three-year, $45 million contract handed out to Mike Glennon in March. Let’s not forget that many were trying to sell Glennon as a good enough player to pass on taking a quarterback early in the draft.
Bears QB depth chart will be something like this: Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez, David Fales, Connor Shaw. Hard to imagine them going QB early.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 24, 2017
Let’s say the Bears did in fact believe that Glennon was a good enough player to justify passing on a signal caller in the first round. I’m going to give this “what if” scenario the best shot I can.
We are going to say that Ryan Pace has a sixth sense as to which players he would acquire throughout the 2018 free agency period and draft. Additionally, I’ll keep the Bears at third overall, which means that they get to keep their 2018 third-round pick.
Without further adieu, let’s rewrite some history.
With the third overall pick in the NFL draft, the Bears select TJ Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
This would have been considered a massive reach at the time, but in hindsight, this would have been a great pick for Chicago. Even if everything in the future held true, being able to rotate dynamic pass rushers like Leonard Floyd, Khalil Mack and Watt in order to keep everyone fresh could lead to championship results. I think of the 2014 Ravens which rotated Elvis Dumervil (17.0 sacks), Terrell Suggs (12.0 sacks), and Pernell McPhee (7.5 sacks) around for incredible results. This pick would provide the Bears with the league’s best pass rush.
However, this is where we run into a problem. Allow me to list the quarterbacks who went after the first round in the 2017 draft: DeShone Kizer, Davis Webb, CJ Beathard, Joshua Hobbs, Nathan Peterman, Brad Kaaya and Chad Kelly.
With the roster at the time of the draft being Glennon, Mark Sanchez and Connor Shaw, the Bears would have almost certainly needed to draft a quarterback in the 2017 draft. In the spirit of giving this “what if” the best chance possible, we’ll say the Bears use one of their two fourth-round picks to take Nathan Peterman, who was a popular prospect at the time.
That leaves the 2017 third-round pick for the Bears to draft Shaquill Griffin, who would provide some much-needed depth at cornerback behind Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara.
Now comes the regular season where things get complicated again.
For those who didn’t subject themselves to the first four games of the 2017 season, Glennon didn’t exactly embody a starting quarterback. It’s hard to imagine the Bears finishing the 2017 season any better than the 5-11 record they had after drafting Trubisky. John Fox still gets fired at the end of the season, but who exactly comes in as head coach? Are the Bears bringing in a young offensive mind to mold the great Peterman? Would Watt’s added pass rush make the defense good enough to convince Pace to promote Vic Fangio as head coach?
Let’s avoid that rabbit hole and say that Matt Nagy still becomes Chicago’s head coach. There’s another problem. Does Allen Robinson choose Chicago if he doesn’t see a future signal caller? What about Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel? All of them cited Trubisky’s attitude and talent as key reasons why they chose to sign in Chicago.
So let’s address quarterback right now so that all those great free agents still choose Chicago (that and Chicago would have imploded if Glennon/Sanchez/Peterman were called on to start for an entire season). The draft is too late to court free agents, and if we’re honest, the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen wouldn’t be doing any better than Trubisky right now.
That in my mind leaves two viable options for Chicago: Jimmy Garoppolo or Kirk Cousins.
Trading a second-round pick for Garoppolo during the 2017 season would make for an interesting end of the season. The Bears would have certainly beaten the Lions and 49ers (in addition to the Browns and Bengals) if Garoppolo’s performance would have carried over to Chicago. This would have caused the Bears to finish 7-9, which would vastly change the dynamics of the 2018 draft.
However, both Garoppolo and Cousins bring a massive stipulation with them, a massive contract. Cousins and Garoppolo carry a $24 million and $37 million cap hit respectively this season. Bringing on a quarterback like these two means making a massive sacrifice.
With either of these contracts, the Bears either can’t sign Robinson/Gabriel or Robinson/Burton, or they could keep those two but not have the space to trade for and sign Mack.
So the Bears could either have their current roster plus some added depth with guys like Watt, Griffin, and an extra third-round pick this season, but have someone like Glennon or Peterman at quarterback.
Or the Bears could have Garoppolo/Cousins at quarterback, but lose Mack, or Robinson along with Gabriel/ Burton.
Essentially, these scenarios boil down to having an army without a general, or a general without an army.
Regardless, this sounds like an extremely painful way of ending up back at square one.
Of course, that still leaves the two quarterbacks who Trubisky is and always will be compared to throughout his career: Watson and Mahomes. Well, they would have major problems as well.
In Houston, Watson had Deandre Hopkins and Will Fuller to sling the ball to. In Chicago, those roles would have been played by Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton. However, let’s say that Watson still set the NFL on fire for a few weeks before tearing his ACL while playing in Chicago.
Even without having to learn a new offense, Watson has struggled mightily to start 2018. He’s not even completing 60% of his passes and was shut down by an awful Patriots defense, and defeated in a duel by Blaine Gabbert. The boo birds would be singing as loud if not louder were Watson standing in place of Trubisky.
However, Mahomes is the name that everyone has been infatuated with to start the 2018 season. Since he’s played lights out so far, many seem to believe the Bears missed a massive opportunity by not drafting him. Unfortunately, Mahomes would have an entirely different career to this point if he was drafted by Chicago. Instead of sitting an entire year under offensive genius Andy Reid, he gets to play 12 games for Fox and Dowell Loggains (aka not offensive geniuses).
After surviving that ordeal, he would get to learn an entirely new offense during his first full offseason. Believing Mahomes’ success this season would have been replicated in Chicago with these circumstances is speculative and shortsighted.
So where does that leave us?
Has Trubisky played well in the first two weeks of 2018? Not exactly. However, understand that Nagy and Chicago’s 2018 free agent class all bought into the Bears’ signal caller when they signed on the dotted line in Pace’s office.
A player like Robinson doesn’t turn down playing with Aaron Rodgers unless he really believes that Trubisky can deliver. Moreover, the above “what if” experiment shows that Chicago’s current roster doesn’t exist unless Trubisky is the signal caller.
Say what you will about Trubisky’s performance to this point, but Pace has built an amazing army, and the entire battalion seems comfortable with anointing Trubisky the general.
Every general loses battles, but the great ones always win the war. I expect that to be Trubisky as 2018 continues.