Mitchell Trubisky will be the defining player of the Pace-era Bears. If he works out as well as fans now hope, then lesser decisions fall by the wayside. If he turns out to be a bust, then Leonard Floyd is going to stand out as a single good decision—a “Kyle Long” amidst a sea of Emery-like decisions. After suffering without direction, there is a glimmer of hope that the franchise has found its future.
That hope for the future is not a reason to push Trubisky into starting before he is ready, however. In fact, it is the reason to be cautious in determining how quickly Trubisky sees action in a true NFL game. Simply put, Trubisky needs to hone his craft and learn good habits before starting a professional game. To be clear: if he happens to be ready in 2017, then he should absolutely play in 2017. However, if he is not ready, then the typical arguments given for why he should start simply don’t matter.
Meaningless Reason #1: Because Glennon is Bad
If the test for when Trubisky should start came down to the moment when he did some things better than Mike Glennon, then chances are that MT10 should have skipped his junior year at UNC and headed to Tampa Bay. Mike Glennon has never been a very solid quarterback. He is the sort of player trotted out in previous years to demonstrate why fans were afraid to move on from Jay Cutler.
The argument went “if you cut Jay, who is out there to replace him?”, and then the available free agents were listed. Those free agents invariably included a list of players without true potential: journeymen, half-baked prospects who never became anything, and reliable college kids who became disappointing pros. The list included players like Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez, frankly.
I have never been an admirer of Glennon, and so while as a fan I am unhappy with his play, I am not surprised. I understand why he was signed, and I accept that reasoning. He was an attempt to double-dip at the position (best available free agent and top draft pick) while also signalling to the NFL that the position was filled. I might not have done it, but I accept that it was done. However, I have never believed that Glennon was going to succeed. Instead, in April, after explaining why I believed that Mike Glennon had been set up to fail, I wrote this:
Note, this is not an indictment of Mike Glennon or even the decision to sign him. Instead, it is an acknowledgement of one simple reality—the 2017 Bears are still in the middle of a major overhaul, and Mike Glennon’s role is clearly to hold things together and to keep games competitive while providing cover for the quarterback of the future. Maybe I am wrong. Even if I am not, this is still a better approach than throwing a rookie quarterback into a situation this shaky.
I stand by that. The Bears need to build a complete team and not try to force a single player to elevate the franchise.
This is not about being fair to Glennon. It is not about handing Glennon a starting job and the ideological merits of competition. Simply put, Glennon’s job is serve as a placeholder while Trubisky gets ready, and while he is not going to elevate the franchise, it is unlikely that anyone outside of a few die-hard fans ever truly believed that he could. Glennon will likely never be a true franchise quarterback, and he is being well-paid to take lumps for Trubisky while the future of the Bears is made ready.
Meaningless Reason #2: Because he needs more playing time
Of the top quarterbacks drafted since 2014, the central core of 15 players has averaged around 27 pass attempts through the first two preseason games; Trubisky has made 33 attempts. In fact, only two other prospects have had more attempts through the first two preseason games than MT10, and both came out this year: Deshaun Watson (35) and Nathan Peterman (45). Trubisky has more live passes in preseason than Dak Prescott, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, or Marcus Mariota at this point in their careers. He is getting playing time.
Here is a link to chart that compares Trubisky to key rookies during their first two preseason games [Link]. Note that this is simply a comparison of raw stats, not an analysis of who they played against.
It is true that Trubisky is playing against weaker competition and with weaker support, but if recent history has taught Bears fans anything, it should be that sometimes the starting quarterback needs to be able to play with backups. More than that, Trubisky needs pro-level reps of any kind, and he’s getting them. If and when he has mastered those reps, then it makes sense to give him a broader range of experiences. However, everything about the preseason schedule so far has given Trubisky a greater-than-average access to passing reps in a live situation. That’s the situation that needs to be maintained. The depth chart doesn’t matter. Reps under the guidance of Dave Ragone are what matter.
Meaningless Reason #3: He gives the Bears the best chance to win
It is probably true that Trubisky would be able to use his athleticism and talent to pull out situations that are beyond Mike Glennon. So what? The 2017 Chicago Bears are still being rebuilt. Even if Trubisky is worth an extra 3 wins, by himself (which would be remarkable), then the Bears go from being a 3-13 team to a 6-10 team. How many extra wins could the Bears get from their other free agency moves?
There is no window that is closing for the 2017 Bears. There is no wealth of veteran talent that needs a chance to win now. If the defense were playing at the level of the 2010 Bears (with similar aging veterans), then rushing out Trubisky in a desperate effort to win might make sense. However, this is a team that is being built for the long haul, and it is not one player away from being a contender.
As a side note—if fans truly believe that Pace has flipped the roster so completely that a 3-13 team can become a contender, then maybe those fans should believe that Pace also has a decent plan in place for developing his defining draft choice.
So, restate the obvious—what MT10 has done is exciting. However, Trubisky is getting reps and playing time. He is getting a chance to become a true franchise quarterback without the pressure and frustration that undoes many young stars. Abbreviating that process out of impatience would be short-sighted.
Trubisky should play when he is ready for a career in the NFL, not simply when he is better than Mike Glennon. Those are two different thresholds. One is much harder to assess than the other, and one demands more trust in the coaching staff. I understand why that is difficult for fans of this franchise (I really, really do). Ultimately, though, even being a little too cautious in 2017 is a better decision for 2018 and beyond.