Quarterback’s are the starter of any general football conversation of team building. You can be annoyed how they’re discussed ad-nauseam in comparison to other aspects of the game, and to a degree, have a legitimate gripe. But otherwise, while its endlessly cliche, no one else has more responsibility or individual impact than a quarterback. They are the focal point.
Obviously in the Bears’ case, they’ve mostly had experience with a lack of consistent success here for most of their franchise history. And if you stop and think about it: Is a Bears quarterback really a Bears quarterback if he’s not a lightning rod of criticism? It’s a philosophical but Chicago sports question in line with “If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear, does it make a sound?”
The answer in both cases is definitively no. You can’t perceive one outcome without the other. You can’t play quarterback in Chicago and ever make any mistakes or show subpar body language for even a fleeting moment for risk of career suicide or ... you get the point.
How does one remedy this Bears condition?
For one, for the first time in the modern era, acquire and develop a quarterback of your own that is - stay with me - more than run-of-the-mill. A novel concept, I know. For example, there was nothing inherently wrong with Jay Cutler, but let’s not pretend he was the savior.
With the Bears currently sitting at a crossroads in the Ryan Pace era without their guy in year three of a rebuild, it’s time to go out and get that quarterback. Provided Pace follows the quality distinction guideline, of course.
There aren’t many that expect Jay Cutler to return to Chicago in 2017, and for good reason. Whatever magic he had in 2015 that allowed him to enjoy his first ever season with a passer rating above 90 was nowhere to be found last year. Injuries derailed most of his 2016, but in the spots he did appear, he wasn’t effective either.
One may note that protection reasons amounted to Cutler’s general erratic play, as in his five 2016 starts, the Bears allowed 17 sacks. That’s more than all of the other Bears quarterbacks’ 11 starts only 11 suffered combine. The hallmarks of an eventual subpar 78.1 quarterback rating. He just couldn’t find the same rhythm he possessed under former offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
Financial reasons come into play for Chicago here, too. The Bears can create an approximate $14 million in cap space by cutting Cutler or pulling off a trade. It would behoove the Bears to not continually tie their fate to a 34-year-old middle-of-the-road quarterback. Pace will not let his personnel career go down in flames with someone who he didn’t even draft or trade for.
From Cutler’s point of view, a career revival isn’t going to happen with a rebuilding team. Wherever he should go, he’ll be a sought after commodity for teams such as the Texans, Cardinals, or Chiefs to make a play at once the Cowboys’ Tony Romo has a new destination.
Both parties know they could use a change of scenery and would benefit a clean break.
Furthermore, in regards to overall play of Bears quarterbacks in 2016, I don’t think expressing that none of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, David Fales, and even Connor Shaw are the answer is a “hot take.” A cumulative 81.8 passer rating between all of the Bears passers - mediocre by today’s standards - 4139 yards, and 19 touchdowns to 19 interceptions won’t cut it.
Go through the Bears’ depth chart.
In Hoyer’s case, he was too efficient, to the point of completing 67 percent of his passes while not challenging a defense well. In Barkley’s case, he’s not NFL caliber. 14 interceptions and a 6.5 percent interception rate on only 216 passes is abhorrent. In Shaw’s case, a broken leg suffered in the preseason destroyed all hope of a possible developmental track last season. And the next extended shot of the perennial practice squad player in Fales gets to shine (not that he deserves it) will be his first.
None of these guys are taking the Bears to the promised land. For the purpose of this exercise (independent of players in the draft), let’s take a look at some of the top franchise cornerstones Pace might take a gander at.
- Jimmy Garoppolo, New England Patriots
Recent reports surfaced that New England might, in fact, not trade Jimmy Garoppolo to a quarterback-starving team. That doesn’t make sense, though. If the Patriots truly believe Tom Brady will play for another four to five years, they need to get assets for Garoppolo while they still can. If head coach Bill Belichick and company don’t trade Garoppolo now, they’ll lose him for nothing when he walks to a team that will both pay him handsomely and give him a chance to start elsewhere next spring. Make no mistake, he will leave, barring an early cliff dive in play from Brady.
Any “report” that surfaces of that type is purely posturing and trying to drive up value from New England’s end. “Oh, you don’t want to give up a first round pick for Garoppolo? Well okay. We just won’t trade him then.” Crosses arms
The fact of the matter is, it’ll be quite shocking if Garoppolo isn’t in a new jersey come next fall. The question the Bears need to ask themselves here is: Is Garoppolo worth the trade dominoes?
Getting a franchise quarterback always outweighs any draft picks, but what if he’s a complete bust of an acquisition? Sure, the same risk lies in taking a quarterback at third overall in the draft. But at least that player is cost-controlled to start while you’re developing him and it leaves flexibility. The Bears wouldn’t be able to wiggle their way out so easily if Garoppolo doesn’t pan out because they’d certainly have him signed to a hefty contract extension as soon as they’d make the trade.
The second question they need to ask themselves is: Is mere association with the Patriots and two career starts enough to stake a future in? In the modern era only two quarterback trades have ever worked out with a championship: Brett Favre for the Packers and Steve Young for the 49ers. Minimally experienced NFL players who became stars.
Garoppolo did show off some of his innate traits in his early stint while filling in for an injured Brady last year. He has a lightning quick release, always keeps his eyes down field, and is a quick decision maker in the confines of any offense. He also possesses the necessary poise in the pocket you’d expect from the position.
Making that jump now for Garoppolo certainly isn’t out of the question. But a complete nose dive sinks the Bears for both cap reasons and play on the field altogether. Shades of the Texans’ over investment in Brock Osweiler last offseason linger in the background.
But if the 25-year-old Garoppolo pans out, then hey, you have a foundation.
One thing that Chicago should bank on: He’d be the most generally attractive quarterback they’ve ever had, if brownie points count.
Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills
I hate using the term “bridge” in reference to quarterback because it’s another cliche. Any passer not seen as the leading light, is a “bridge” - meaning a guy simply filling in until a younger player with supposed promise is acquired or developed.
With that being said, the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor would be a perfect “bridge” option. The 27-year-old is expected to be released by Buffalo soon, which will let him hit the open market to cash in as a free agent. The Bills’ potential crazy logic to not pick up Taylor’s contract option and let stability walk out the door is crazy, but it offers an opportunity. He’ll be a hot commodity for many teams such as the Bears looking to potentially use Taylor as a stopgap while they develop someone else. Perhaps, he might even be offered the keys to a franchise.
Taylor isn’t one of the best quarterbacks in football, but he is one of the best athletes and is incredibly efficient as a playmaker.
Tyrod has issues seeing receivers over MOF, but those are often overstated and not viewed through lens of his whole skill set. pic.twitter.com/F2ubfIDAKG— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) January 7, 2017
While not your “traditional” mold of a quarterback, Taylor excels at making plays out of nothing and for all intensive purposes, rescuing his offense.
You hear a lot about the misses when he has a receiver open, you rarely hear about what he does when he doesn't have a receiver open. pic.twitter.com/2Uhv2AWlcT— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) January 7, 2017
580 rushing yards with six touchdowns is nothing to sneeze at as a dual threat signal caller. Add in the dimension of Taylor minimally turning the ball over with a 17 touchdown to six interception ratio and you have yourself a player that can help your team win while grooming the successor in the wings.
Taylor will command standard money on the market and be intently pursued by many. The Bears would do well to be one of those suitors. Acquiring Taylor while drafting an accompanied highly touted but raw player in the first or second round should be considered.
Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
As much as it pains me to say, until Romo - who will be 37-years-old next season - has a new team, you can’t rule out a move to the Bears.
The Bears themselves are keeping it in play.
Given his back injuries and age, I’m not sure why so many potential contending teams such as the Chiefs, Texans, or Broncos have it out for him. That’s a league with a limited amount of good quarterbacks, essentially. Dak Prescott’s rise does help another team in the short term. Teams such as Denver have all the pieces in place for a championship run except for the most important position.
Though maybe with the 19 players that on injured reserve last season for Chicago, they fancy themselves among that “close” group. They’re not, given the holes on defense, but you never know the rumblings at Halas Hall. Romo could be seen as the pillar to take them to a misguided quick fix.
Considering all of the risk that comes along with Romo too, it still might be enough to bank on and hope for the best. Before 2014, no 37-year-old quarterback had ever won a Super Bowl. Now the last three have been won by men older than that mark (Tom Brady twice and Peyton Manning).
That isn’t to say that Romo’s in that high class of Hall of Famers necessarily, but he does have a sparkling resume. In 12 seasons, he has 248 touchdown passes, 117 interceptions, and a career 97.1 passer rating. One of the best of the modern era.
Brady’s career passer rating? 97.2 (Remember, Brady has Belichick.)
So in the right context you can strike gold. Given Romo’s extenuating circumstances, I’m not confident in that notion. However as noted, previous precedents no longer matter. Romo may catch lightning in a bottle.
It isn’t an impressive quarterback market and to some, neither is the draft. Either way, with plenty of choices in both lanes, the pending decision that will define Pace’s Bears career is on the horizon.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.