The big question in Brad Biggs’ weekly Chicago Bears mailbag was who will start at quarterback Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers. Is it time to turn back to Mitch Trubisky? And looking past this season, how can the Bears address the position in the draft?
The way I see it, and I’m sure I’m probably the only one, the Bears are just a QB away from really contending. Yes, the O-line has issues but none really more than anyone else in the league has to endure. In today’s NFL, you’re not going to keep your QB upright the entire game. The running backs are a good group when healthy. The wide receivers are a good group with good speed, and the tight ends are coming along. The defense is the best we’ve seen in the last few years. With all that said, what are the odds Ryan Pace sells out the entire draft to whoever has the No. 1 pick (most likely the Jets) and the Bears draft Trevor Lawrence? Trevor is a generational talent and may just be the shot in the arm to get the Bears to a Super Bowl win. Or I’m completely nuts. Your call. — Mike S.
It’s an interesting question that shouldn’t be dismissed. I agree with the idea that if the Bears had a top-tier quarterback, they would be massively improved and on the right course with the other pieces needed to fill in much easier to come by. As I’ve written before, an elite quarterback is an eraser of sorts that can mask some of the less talented areas. If the draft were based on the current standings, the Bears would own the 16th pick. Getting from there to No. 1 would require a massive amount of resources, especially when you consider multiple organizations are certain to view Lawrence as a can’t-miss prospect at the sport’s most important position. It could require the kind of draft capital that would make the Khalil Mack trade in September 2018 look small in comparison.
Now, let me flip this around. If you’re the Jets and you’ve been a floundering mess without a playoff appearance since the 2010 season, are you more interested in a quarterback who could help turn things around or a boatload of draft picks, the first of which wouldn’t be until No. 16 in Round 1? Sure, the Jets need help across the board, but keep in mind they currently own nine picks in next year’s draft, including extra picks in Rounds 1 and 3 from the Seattle Seahawks as part of the Jamal Adams trade.
I can say with relative certainty if Jets general manager Joe Douglas, the former Bears college scouting director, considers offers for the No. 1 pick — assuming the Jets are in that position — multiple teams will be in the mix. You can assume the same thing if the down-and-out Jacksonville Jaguars fall into the top pick.
Could Pace consider a bold and expensive trade up with another team near the top of the draft, but not at No. 1, for a quarterback? That’s possible. But any team in need of a quarterback would consider a trade only if it didn’t love the prospect the Bears would be moving up for or if it was inclined to pick another one slightly lower in the draft.
I don’t believe you’re nuts, but it’s a little premature to speculate because we’re six games from the conclusion of the regular season and having the draft order, and there’s still time to evaluate the quarterback prospects.
With the Packers’ loss on Sunday and considering everyone else in the division lost, do you still have faith the Bears can finish the season strong? — @acyflockaveli
The problem for the Bears is the second-half issues the Packers experienced in Indianapolis, the shortcomings of the young Vikings defense against the Cowboys and the pathetic effort the Lions showed at Carolina have nothing to do with the Bears’ bumbling offense. It was a good weekend for the Bears from the standpoint that the Packers and Vikings lost, but you’d probably feel a lot better right now if the Bears had shown any progress whatsoever offensively. At this point, the Bears shouldn’t find any joy in the Lions’ ongoing struggles. If you’re using them as a measuring stick, your goals aren’t very lofty. I’m not writing off the Bears because there is too much football to play and the defense continues to perform at a high level. The Bears have some very winnable games remaining against the Lions, Texans and Jaguars and they face the Vikings again. They have to snap out of their current funk or the continued excellence of the defense won’t matter. If the Bears can spring an upset Sunday night in Green Bay, they would be 6-5 and only one game back in the NFC North with a season-ending rematch against the Packers set for Week 17 at Soldier Field. Crazier things have happened, but, again, this offense has to rise off the stretcher at some point.
How can this offense improve with a shaky O-line and no running game? — @galbers69
That’s the million-dollar question. Heck, you could probably get Matt Nagy to pay more than that if you presented him a clear solution that was guaranteed to work. We’ll have to see what kind of information we get regarding the health of quarterbacks Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky, but my hunch is if Trubisky’s right shoulder is in good enough shape, the Bears will turn back to him whether Foles is cleared or not.
Nagy offered a very long answer when asked how the different quarterbacks affected the running game, and reading between the lines, this hints at a move back to Trubisky.
“Really, you’ve got to look at it in different points of the season, and I say that meaning you look at the first couple games, really the first three games, we were able to get that run game established,” he said. “And that helps out when you’re able to get that going. And I thought our protection was pretty well — they did a pretty good job of protection too. Again, a lot of that was before some of the injuries that have happened and/or the COVID. And then we made the move at the quarterback position and we ended up struggling to run the ball against the Colts and Tampa Bay, and for, again, different reasons.
“I just felt like, looking back at it, we were never able to just establish that identity, per se. We were just kind of, ‘Hey, well we’ve got to get the run game going.’ Well, we get that going, and then we weren’t able to pass the ball, our protection would break down or whatever it was. Or next week we’d get great protection and then we’d struggle for different reasons to run the ball. Also, at the quarterback position and at the wide receiver position, we just weren’t jelling as an offense in general. I think you guys felt the penalties and the mistakes there and what was going on. Us as coaches trying to figure out schematically.
“You saw kind of the transformation that we did. I think it’s pretty evident, the transformation we made in the summer schematically. We made some big-time changes schematically from last year to this year. We were a little bit searching with the identity of what we wanted to be. And also, some of that goes with the quarterback position. So we just for different reasons never ended up clicking, and it took us to the point where we have a good game or a decent game, but it just wasn’t enough to win and it’s way worse and it feels worse. Then all of a sudden you have two bad games with the Rams and our last game against the Vikings, and they’re just really bad. So when you’re losing and you have that happen, the bye week comes now at a time where it gives us a chance to figure out, ‘OK, what are we doing? How are we doing it? And how are we going to get it fixed?’ And that’s just kind of where we’re at.”
The Bears ran the ball effectively in the opener in Detroit, the next week against the Giants and in Week 3 in Atlanta, although the rushing numbers for that game were propped up by Trubisky’s 45-yard run. That’s an element he can bring to the offense and a reason I think the Bears try starting him this week — if he’s deemed healthy.
I’m also wondering if the Bears will emerge from the bye week and potentially tinker with the starting offensive line. Injuries and COVID-19 have forced Juan Castillo to play musical chairs up front. I wrote after the Week 7 loss to the Rams that Sam Mustipher might have played well enough at center to earn consideration for a starting job. That was before knowing Mustipher finished that game with a knee injury that has sidelined him since. If he’s healthy coming out of the bye, is that something the Bears would consider? If they start Mustipher at center, they could slide Cody Whitehair to left guard, where he is comfortable. Alex Bars has gotten pretty good reviews from Castillo. We’re talking about a very small sample size, but when I asked Castillo about Bars during the bye week, he was effusive.
“The biggest thing that I can say about Alex is, and I think it’s a compliment, I know two guys in the last two places I have been that played with passion: Richie Incognito and Marshal Yanda,” Castillo said. “Alex is still young. What Alex did (in Week 10 versus the Vikings) is he played with passion. He played with heart. That’s hard because you have to be in good shape to run to the ball, pick the ball carrier up, do all those kinds of things. You saw him play with passion. Like I said, I’ve been around a couple guys that played like that. I was really proud of him. There’s still fundamental things that we have to correct and things like that, but he played with passion. He played with heart.”
That leads me to believe the Bears would like to look a little more at Bars. Why not, right? As they begin to consider what they need to do this offseason and look to get the best combination of five players on the field together, it’s time to move some pieces around. How Bars would fit into the mix, I’m not sure yet, but this is something at least to mull over this week.
Is Matt Nagy the problem with this offense? — @humansabre
At this point, just about everyone who enters Halas Hall — short of defensive players, the grounds crew, janitorial staff, equipment guys, security staff and a few others — is part of the problem on offense. It’s a problem that has permeated virtually the entire building, and everyone has to pull in the same direction in an effort to find some patches.
With the lack of any sustainable progress in building the offense, provided Matt Nagy keeps his job, do you think the Bears will consider bringing in another play caller during the offseason? I’m aware history isn’t kind to coaches who have bottom-ranked offenses in consecutive years. — @eduerrwaechter
In that scenario, I would imagine nearly everything would be on the table and the Bears would enter 2021 under significant pressure to have a winning season. That being said, coaches who appear to be on the hot seat can have a difficult time luring top assistants because the situation is viewed as a possible one-and-done.
Does Eddie Jackson have a chance of playing Sunday? — @farhansyed54
Yes. Jackson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday because a close contact tested positive for the coronavirus. Jackson has not tested positive, and provided he doesn’t, it’s likely he will be activated in time to face the Packers. However, he’s likely to miss most of the week of practice as he quarantines. Keep your fingers crossed he will be good to go.
Which Bears have a realistic chance at the Pro Bowl this year? — @davidtapia
Well, we can rule out anyone on the offense. The Bears have a couple of players on defense who might get strong consideration, including defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, inside linebacker Roquan Smith and cornerback Kyle Fuller. Kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson is an option too. Keep in mind, fan voting counts one-third in the process, and it’s generally a popularity contest won each year by marquee players on good teams. The fans who vote tend to be the ones whose teams have excellent records. There will be no Pro Bowl this season because of the pandemic, but the league will recognize Pro Bowl players. This is significant because you won’t have players opting out of the game and replacements named. So that could make it more challenging for the Bears to have players named.
Is the draft the main aim now or the playoffs? No point getting stuck in no man’s land when so much is wrong up front. — @dmorr80
That’s an easy question to answer. The front office, coaches and players are motivated above all else to try to reach the playoffs. They’re judged by their final record, and 10-6 would reflect so much better on them than 6-10 or 8-8. Players are judged by what they put on tape, and if a guy has a lousy final six games, that might improve the team’s draft stock but it would adversely affect the player when he’s seeking a new deal or heading to free agency. Coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace are ultimately judged by their win-loss record. They’re out to win every game possible, and they’ll figure out the draft after the season.
When do we start talking about Roquan Smith’s second contract? Do you have a look ahead to what that might cost? Hard to tell him he shouldn’t be paid as one of if not the top LBs in the league. — @salted_pepper
Smith is having a fantastic season and is a main cog in the middle of the defense, emerging in his third season as the kind of player the Bears hoped for when they used the No. 8 pick on him in 2018. Smith is eligible for a new contract after this season, and it’s a lock that the Bears will pick up the fifth-year option in his contract that covers the 2022 season. Whether a new deal gets done in 2021 depends on how motivated each side is to make that happen. The sooner the Bears get a deal done, the better bargain they would get. Or that’s conventional thinking anyway when it comes to second contracts. Smith has a cap figure of $5.129 million in 2020, and as you likely know, the Bears will be strapped for cap space. It will be challenging to give Smith the kind of blockbuster deal he’s earning and keep that number down, but the Bears pulled that off for this season with free safety Eddie Jackson, whose 2020 cap number is only $3.7 million before it jumps to $11.45 million next year. Jackson is a prime candidate for a restructure because of this.
At the top of the market for inside linebackers is the Seattle Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner. His deal averages $18 million per season, and with the Bears having two years of control with Smith, plus the franchise tag beyond that, there’s no way Smith is getting that kind of money. C.J. Mosley of the New York Jets is next at $17 million, followed by Zach Cunningham of the Houston Texans, Deion Jones of the Atlanta Falcons and Myles Jack of the Jacksonville Jaguars. All are between $14.5 million and $14.25 million per season. I would imagine Smith would aim to be in their range or a little above it. Smith doesn’t currently have an agent listed in NFLPA records, and who he signs with will naturally have an impact on what he’s seeking and how likely a deal is done before the 2021 season.
So many fans are quick to place all the blame at the feet of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, but how much (and what specifically) is on Ted Phillips? — @armchairoc
There have been an increasing number of questions about Phillips’ role in the organization and his culpability in the ongoing struggles. Phillips doesn’t pick players, doesn’t choose who plays and has nothing to do with play calls. The extent of his involvement in football operations is having a hand in the process when the team hires a general manager and head coach. Phillips has endured even more trying times at Halas Hall when the team’s struggles have run deeper. Keep in mind, the Bears are only two years removed from a 12-4 season and a division title. They’ve gone through longer playoff droughts, and Phillips largely oversees business operations. When the Bears hike ticket prices, Phillips is the one who pens a letter to season ticket holders. Everything should be evaluated if this season continues to spiral out of control, but the Bears have been under fire before after lousy seasons, and the changes they’ve made haven’t involved Phillips. He has had a remarkably long run with the organization — starting in 1983 — and that’s best explained by the trust the McCaskey family has placed in him. Ultimately, the Bears are mired in their current mess because they’ve been unable to solve the quarterback position, and as troubling as that is, I don’t know how much blame you can heap on Phillips for those repeated failures. Remember, when the Bears hired Pace, they hired former NFL executive Ernie Accorsi to assist them with the search. Everyone should share in the blame if this season disintegrates, but I’m not sure to what extent Chairman George McCaskey will want to make changes.
To help improve an offense that may be the worst in my 60 years of watching football, I have the following thought. I see a lot of personnel groupings coming in and out. The Bears are not very talented physically on offense, so why would they try to play so many receivers/running backs? Would it make sense for the Bears to play their best 11 players for most of a series to help them get into the flow of the game? — Gerald G., Dallas
The Bears are really in a funk on offense, but you’re using some hyperbole when describing this as potentially the worst offense you’ve seen in six decades of watching football. The Bears have been worse offensively than they are now. Trust me, there have been some other stumbling and bumbling teams that have been worse as well. Recency bias plays a factor here. This isn’t to defend anything that is going on because it’s an absolute mess. You raise an interesting question and one that Matt Nagy has been asked earlier this season. When the Bears have had success in their hurry-up or no-huddle offense, they’ve been more static with their personnel. They’ve struggled to sustain momentum, so it’s natural to wonder if players running on and off the field contribute to inefficiencies. Some of it is matchup-related. Maybe you want to run the ball and involve tight ends, and to do that you need to pull wide receivers from 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) off the field. The problem is almost nothing the Bears have tried has worked, at least with any level of consistency. Until it’s sorted out, most questions, including this one, are fair game.
I don’t think Mitch Trubisky is the long-term answer to the QB woes, but at least he will give opposing defenses something to think about when he’s behind center. Nick Foles, on the other hand, poses no threat of running or doing run-pass options. In fact, he has posed little threat as a pocket passer, looking uncertain and hesitant back there, and when he’s been more certain, he too often has missed wide-open receivers. My take is that they should get Trubisky back there again ASAP. What do you say? — Norm G., Sedona, Ariz.
The question we don’t know the answer to is where Trubisky is physically after being inactive for the previous two games with his right shoulder injury. The Bears cannot make a change to a quarterback who isn’t healthy, and Trubisky certainly doesn’t want to risk a more severe injury with free agency looming in March. That would not be wise. You’re correct that Foles has really struggled from the pocket, and that’s been disappointing. I was chatting with a pro personnel man the other day who knows Foles well, and he admitted he was a little surprised Foles hasn’t been more poised in the face of pressure. Factor in that he hasn’t been making consistently good throws when he’s not under pressure, and that brings us to where we are with the Bears in between a jam and a hard spot. I wrote previously the only way I thought Trubisky would get back on the field this season was if Foles was injured — which he is, having been knocked out of the loss to the Vikings. But even if Foles were healthy, the Bears are in a spot where they have to do something because he looks too fragile in the pocket. My hunch is Trubisky starts Sunday night against the Packers.
If Mitch Trubisky comes back in and plays well for the rest of the season and the Bears miss the playoffs by a game or two, who gets held accountable? That would assume a 3-0 Trubisky record through the first three games and then a very good 4-2 record to close it out or a respectable 3-3 record (making them either 7-2 or 6-3 under Mitch) vs. Nick Foles’ four-game losing streak and 2-5 record. Would Matt Nagy have to own up to the apparent error in making the switch? — Josh H., Huntsville, Ala.
There has been an increasing tide of questions regarding the decision Nagy made during the third quarter of the Week 3 game in Atlanta to bench Trubisky and replace him with Foles. My first reaction is that I’d guess the majority of folks saying Nagy made the wrong move were fully onboard with a quarterback switch at the time. Let’s not revise history and say Trubisky was playing well during the first 2 1/4 u00bd games. Let’s also keep in mind the decision was made on two-plus seasons of Trubisky starting in Nagy’s offense — not 2 1/4 u00bd weeks. It’s understandable to question the move now because, in turning to Foles, the Bears have not improved. You can make a case the offense is getting worse. That’s partially because other issues have mounted, such as injuries on the offensive line and the loss of running back David Montgomery.
I have written that it’s probably time to see what Trubisky can do, if his right shoulder is healthy enough for him to return, because Foles has his own injury now and has been performing poorly. He looks very uncomfortable in the pocket, and that’s a problem. To me, if Trubisky does return and the Bears show improvement, it would reflect positively on Nagy. I didn’t see the offense playing at an acceptable level when he was in there to begin the season. The Bears did not play well in the season opener in Detroit. The offense scored 17 points against the Giants in Week 2 and was a mess for the first 2 1/4 u00bd quarters of the Week 3 game in Atlanta. Trubisky hadn’t played at the level required to keep the job after an open quarterback competition in training camp.
More than anything, a revival of sorts by Trubisky would reflect well on him and boost his stock as he looks ahead to March and an opportunity to explore free agency. A 4-2 finish might be enough to land the Bears in the playoffs at 9-7.
Given the Bears’ superb defense has an inevitable expiration date, the offense needs to be rebuilt fast. They don’t need a great offense, just one that can run the ball well enough to complement the defense. Since they likely won’t have the capital to perform a rapid rebuild through free agency and are more than a single player away, is it possible to stockpile second/third-round picks for next year by trading out of the first round and/or making Anthony Miller-type trades to obtain second/third-round picks a year early in order to accelerate an infusion of quality offensive line starters? — Jerrod H.
I usually like the idea of adding draft picks because the more volume you have, the more chances you have to hit on some picks. A ton of factors play into this, though, not the least of which is where you sense the strength of the draft is. Are there 12 really good players on your board and then the talent drops off after that? Do you see great value from, say, No. 15 through No. 40 with not a lot of difference in grades between Nos. 25 and 40? What picks could you recoup in a potential trade down? Let’s see where the Bears are situated when the draft order comes out and then get an idea of what the board looks like. Keep in mind, this scenario would make it very difficult for them to find a quarterback who could potentially play early in his career. I also don’t think the Bears want to consider starting more than two rookies on the offensive line. Yes, they desperately need to add young talent at the position, and I’ve written about that multiple times this season, but a nice mix of veteran additions and draft picks is probably the preferred route to improve the line.
Jordan Howard is on the Eagles practice squad. The Bears running back room is looking a little thin. Time to consider a reunion? — Greg M., Chicago
No. The hope is that David Montgomery will return from the concussion that sidelined him before the bye week, and that will get the Bears back to full strength. Howard didn’t work out in Miami, and there was a big opening for him after Myles Gaskin was placed on injured reserve. Howard was a decent back when the Bears had him and a good fifth-round draft pick, but he was the kind of back an offense can win with but won’t win because of. There’s quite a difference. So far, there’s little doubt Montgomery falls into the first category as well. Howard has a lot of miles on him, and bringing him back wouldn’t help the rushing attack.
I have seen widespread criticism of Philadelphia’s inept offense: the poor play-calling, a lack of creativity, its predictability, a failure to adjust, an abandonment of the run, a quarterback controversy, etc. It sounds exactly like an analysis of the Bears offense. So, why are these two branches of the Andy Reid coaching tree withering? Is Reid’s offense personnel specific? Is it Reid specific? Doug Pederson and Matt Nagy were initially very successful, so is it that opponents quickly found glitches in the system simply because apprentices were at its helm? Or are these parallels unrelated, making this echo merely a coincidence? What can you make of it? — Damian W., Missoula, Mont.
You’re right that the Eagles are a mess, and the only reason they lead the NFC East at 3-6-1 is because the division is a joke. The first thing both of these teams have in common is they’re really struggling along the offensive line. That’s making it difficult for either one to establish any sort of identity. Both teams have been hit with injuries on the line, and the Eagles probably have had more issues, as hard as that might be to imagine. They have had a revolving door at wide receiver, and Alshon Jeffery has missed a ton of time and hasn’t looked good in the brief period he was on the field. Tight end Zach Ertz has been out too. First-round pick Jalen Reagor has been injured, hurting his development at wide receiver. But it always comes down to quarterback play, and I don’t need to detail how the Bears have struggled there. Carson Wentz has been bad in Philadelphia as well. He has been holding the ball too long, trying to push the ball downfield instead of taking plays that are there to be made. Pederson has struggled too. Both teams looked like they could be playoff challengers before the season began. The Eagles might get there if they can survive their division. The Bears’ chances rest on their ability to awaken offensively. But the key parallels here are underwhelming quarterback play and subpar offensive line play. Both teams have been forced to lean heavily on quick-game throws to get the ball out, and they’re struggling to create explosive plays. Wentz has more traits than Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky, but he has looked like a shadow of his former self this season.
Given how Tom Brady and Philip Rivers have elevated their teams this year, two teams that were barely average last year, did the Bears (in desperate need for a quality quarterback) choose not to pursue them or did they choose not to pursue the Bears? — Tom R.
I don’t believe there was ever much of a chance either quarterback was destined for the Bears. I know some have said the Bears were a dark-horse contender for Brady’s services when it looked like the Buccaneers and Chargers were the two real players for him. Why would Brady sign with the Bears given their offensive personnel last season? The appeal would have been joining a team with a top-notch defense. Guess what? The Bucs have a top-notch defense, too, and a talented group of wide receivers that is leaps and bounds ahead of the Bears. As far as Rivers, it was easy to connect the dots for him from the Chargers to the Colts because of his relationship with Colts coach Frank Reich. The Bears also went the route of getting a guy their coaches had past ties with in Nick Foles. It hasn’t worked out as well for them or Foles as it has for the other two quarterbacks and their teams.
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