LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Mitchell Trubisky’s brilliant performance against the Houston Texans notwithstanding, the Chicago Bears seem destined to embark on another offseason quarterback search, regardless of whether they rally in the final three weeks and reach the playoffs for the second time in 10 years.
Trubisky -- barring another injury -- has earned the right to finish out the season against Minnesota, Jacksonville and Green Bay. Despite his inconsistency, Trubisky has been on a tear since he reentered the lineup Nov. 29.
Bears coach Matt Nagy, who benched Trubisky for veteran Nick Foles in Week 3, raved about the 26-year-old quarterback on Monday.
“I think it's real, and I say that because I'll kind of go back to when everything went down the first three weeks [and Trubisky got pulled],” Nagy said. “I do believe that for a lot of different reasons that [Trubisky's time on the bench] is going to end up really helping him out in his career.”
His performance against Houston (24-of-33 passing for 267 yards and three touchdowns) does not change the fact Trubisky’s career in Chicago is at a crossroads.
Even before Trubisky lost the starting job in late September, the Bears had declined his fifth-year option, making him a free agent after the season.
The writing has been on the wall for some time that the 2020 season would likely be Trubisky’s last in a Bears uniform. Always one to take the high road, Trubisky has never publicly aired any grievances about Nagy or the Bears. However, Trubisky could use a clean break from Chicago as much (if not more) as the Bears want a fresh start at quarterback.
A strong finish would enhance Trubisky’s market value and perhaps land him the opportunity to compete for a starting job for a rebuilding team, but the prospects of re-signing with the Bears do not appear strong.
So where does that leave the Bears' quarterback options going into 2021? They could look to the draft or sign a free agent for a stop-gap/veteran help. Let's look at the options.
Foles, 31, is under contract with the Bears for next season. Under the terms of the restructured deal Foles agreed to after being traded from Jacksonville, he could have voided the final two years left on his contract had he reached certain statistical benchmarks. Since it is unlikely Foles played well enough (1,852 passing yards, 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions in 2020) to trigger that, Foles will be guaranteed $4 million in 2021 as long as the Bears do not release him before the fifth day of the new league year.
There has been speculation about Nagy’s (26-20 overall) future with the Bears, but if he returns, the Bears might be inclined to keep Foles since the cost is budget-friendly.
So think of Foles in the mold of Josh McCown: He's a great teammate who can play, but presents all the traits and intangibles of an excellent bridge quarterback to help mentor a developing player. The Bears tried that with Mike Glennon in 2017, but $18.5 million later, the experiment failed after four starts and Trubisky was prematurely pressed into action.
Journeyman backup Tyler Bray always is a candidate to return under Nagy, but he has appeared in just two career regular-season games.
At minimum, the Bears are facing one or two new quarterbacks on next year’s roster. At 6-7, the Bears project to draft No. 15 in the first round. That likely will change, but for this exercise let's assume the Bears will have a mid-first round pick, and are therefore out of the running for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
Justin Fields, Ohio State: Fields is expected to be the second quarterback taken. A transfer from Georgia, Fields took over the Buckeyes' offense in 2019, and the program never looked back. Fields is an explosive player who is surrounded by playmakers. Unless they drop the Big Ten Championship Game to Northwestern on Saturday, the Buckeyes are headed back to the College Football Playoff, where Field’s draft stock is bound to rise even higher.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State: ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes Lance could be a top-10 pick. Lance played only one game this year, but threw 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions, and he rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019. The concern is he only started one full year at NDSU.
Zach Wilson, BYU: Wilson is a three-year starter who has passed for 3,267 yards (fifth in the nation), 30 touchdowns (tied for second) and three interceptions in 2020. Three interceptions in 302 pass attempts isn't bad, but BYU did not play a great schedule. But that is not Wilson’s fault, as COVID-19 made it difficult for them to schedule great competition. It is also worth noting that Wilson and BYU hopped on a plane and played at Coastal Carolina on a few days' notice two weeks ago. Wilson threw for 240 yards and a touchdown in the Cougars’ narrow 22-17 loss.
Kyle Trask, Florida: Trask’s arrow is pointing slightly downward (two interceptions) following the Gators' upset loss at home to LSU. But the senior quarterback leads the country with 3,717 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. Trask has the opportunity to shine on Saturday when Florida plays Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
The following quarterbacks have been around the block a couple times and more than likely will be available in the offseason. And a couple might be long shots.
Cam Newton, New England Patriots: Newton could be one-and-done in New England. He hasn’t topped 120 passing yards in four of the Patriots’ past five games. Newton, 31, has been ineffective and removed from games on multiple occasions. Still, many felt the Bears should have pursued Newton, not Foles, last offseason. But Chicago’s insistence on having Trubisky compete for the job made that a non-starter.
Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts: Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million deal with Indianapolis, but the Colts are 9-4 and likely headed to the playoffs. Rivers, 39, has passed for 3,507 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Conventional wisdom says Rivers and his bolo tie are staying put in Indy unless he retires.
Jacoby Brissett, Colts: Brissett lost the starting job to Rivers, but remains a handsomely paid backup ($15 million total in 2020). Brissett, 28, has been a full-time starter before (2017 and 2019) and figures to be again one day somewhere. Brissett passed for 18 touchdowns and six interceptions last season.
Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers: Taylor lost the starting job in Los Angeles because the team doctor accidentally punctured his lung. That bizarre medical error opened the door for 2019 sixth overall pick Justin Herbert, who played so well he is now a strong candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year. For Taylor, 31, the whole episode must feel incredibly unfair, but he is a free agent in the spring and should be in demand. Taylor made just $11 million over a two-year stint with the Chargers.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: Prescott is recovering from a gruesome season-ending right ankle dislocation. The hope is he is healthy enough to return to football activities sometime in the spring. Prescott played under the franchise tag in 2020 after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on a multi-year extension. The likeliest scenario is for Dallas to apply a second franchise tag in order to buy them more time to hammer out a long-term extension with Prescott. Something of a reach for the Bears, as the Cowboys maintain they intend to keep Prescott, but the price of a second quarterback franchise tag is expected to be $40 million.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins: Speaking of bridge quarterbacks, Fitzpatrick is one of the best. The 38-year-old has seemingly been everywhere and played for everyone. Fitzpatrick has been pretty solid in 2020 as the Dolphins fluctuate between him and rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Fitzpatrick is older and more expensive ($8 million) than Foles.
Andy Dalton, Cowboys: Dalton, who took over for Prescott, is serviceable, which is the best way to put it. The Cowboys might want to bring back the 33-year-old to serve as an insurance policy for Prescott again. A team signing Dalton to be their starter is not going to generate much buzz.
Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints: The former Tampa starter signed a one-year deal in New Orleans but took a backseat to Taysom Hill when Drew Brees suffered 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung. Winston tossed 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in his final year with the Bucs. Winston turns 27 next month.
Joe Flacco, New York Jets: Poor Flacco is probably running for the exits in New York. You think the Bears have issues, how about the Jets? The former Super Bowl MVP fits more into that bridge quarterback category at this stage of his career. He earned $1.5 million in 2020.