A final judgment made on Mitchell Trubisky's Bears career after one rookie season is a mistake. A bust label or tagging him as a bona fide star is a disservice to evaluation of all young players, not limited to quarterbacks. Trubisky showed plenty of flashes of athleticism outside the pocket, deft accuracy when called upon, and generally looked more advanced than many had originally expected in his 12 2017 starts.
On the other hand, Trubisky's mechanics also often broke down when under pressure. He was fooled by exotic blitzing defenses with troubling pocket presence from time to time. He didn't consistently bring his "A-game" week in and week out, exactly the way you would expect an inexperienced passer to do so. All in all, he showed that he has plenty of potential as well a lot to fine tune before the 2018 season.
Before we consider any of those short term leaps to be made this off-season for Trubisky under a new head coach and complex offensive system, as well as any personnel upgrades like receiver, we must first look at overall NFL history to set the time table for his success. History meaning what every single quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl accomplished before they climbed the mountain: which is the obvious ultimate goal for Trubisky and the Bears outside of consistent individual success. Lighting up the league won't mean a thing without a ring.
Trubisky was allowed an outlier of a rookie year as a starter, like many young quarterbacks before him. A year where he had a 77.5 passer rating, threw for just over a paltry 2,000 yards, and only seven touchdowns is okay in the short term. 2017 was his developmental season, where he could attain valuable experience and understand what he had to work on. He faced a bevy of elite defenses such as the Vikings (twice) and Eagles, which will afford him the standard as to which he must rise next year. The very clear timeline to be a championship starter, to be remembered for treasured moment in a future February starts now, however.
If Trubisky wants to join hallowed company, he must become part of a starting quarterback trend that is more than a mere coincidence: making the postseason early in your career.
Here is the comprehensive list of every starting quarterback to win the Super Bowl, all the way through LI.
- Tom Brady, Patriots: Five (XXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX, LI)
- Terry Bradshaw, Steelers: Four (VIII, IX, XIII, XIV)
- Joe Montana, 49ers: Four (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, )
- Troy Aikman, Cowboys: Three (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX)
- Peyton Manning, Broncos and Colts: Two (XLI, 50)
- Eli Manning, Giants: Two (XLII, XLVI)
- Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Two (XL, XLIII)
- John Elway, Broncos: Two (XXXII, XXXIII)
- Jim Plunkett, Raiders: Two (XV, XVIII)
- Roger Staubach, Cowboys: Two (VI, XII)
- Bob Griese, Dolphins: Two (VI, VIII)
- Bart Starr, Packers: Two (I, II)
- Steve Young, 49ers: One (XXIX)
- Drew Brees, Saints: One (XLIV)
- Aaron Rodgers, Packers: One (XLV)
- Brett Favre, Packers: One (XXXI)
- Kurt Warner, Rams: One (XXXIV)
- Johnny Unitas, Colts: One (V)
- Joe Theismann, Redskins: One (XVII)
- Mark Rypien, Redskins: One (XXVI)
- Doug Williams, Redskins: One (XXII)
- Phil Simms, Giants: One (XXI)
- Jeff Hostetler, Giants: One (XXV)
- Jim McMahon, Bears: One (XX)
- Russell Wilson, Seahawks: One (XLVIII)
- Joe Flacco, Ravens: One (XLVII)
- Trent Dilfer, Ravens: One (XXV)
- Len Dawson, Chiefs: One (IV)
- Joe Namath, Jets: One (III)
- Brad Johnson, Buccaneers: One (XXXVII)
- Ken Stabler, Raiders: One (XI)
To be clear: "starter" doesn't necessarily mean the team that drafted you. Nor does it mean you had to play right away after being drafted. Some quarterbacks such as Rodgers and Staubach took several years before they were ever officially named the starter with Dallas or Green Bay. This is within the realm and time period of whenever your team acquired a quarterback, and when that quarterback first received regular starting duty with that specific team. (It also must be multiple starts before we consider the countdown.)
Of every Super Bowl winning starter, each guy made the postseason with his team by at least year three. The only exceptions are Theismann with Washington, who made it by year four: when the Redskins won his lone Super Bowl. Namath with the Jets, who made it by year four: when New York won his and their lone Super Bowl. Griese with Miami, who yes, also made it by year four: when he won his first Super Bowl. Starr with the Packers, who made it in a ... drum roll please ... by year four. And Dawson with the Chiefs, who you guessed it, crashed the playoff party in year four.
The biggest outlier that stands alone among all of these champions is Simms, who took six years to make the playoffs with the Giants as a starter.
Now, diving even further, much of the list has the truly transcendent winning quarterbacks (and even the outliers) all actually making it by at least year two.
That includes Brady (first year), Elway (first year), Roethlisberger (first year), Brees (first year), Wilson (first year), Dilfer (first year), Flacco (first year), Wilson (first year), Warner (first year), Williams, both Manning's, Plunkett, Young, and Favre.
Which brings us to the overall historic math: of every quarterback to ever win the Super Bowl, 15 of 31 were gaining postseason experience by their second year as a starter. A mere six men took four years or longer, which was the definitive final threshold, save for Simms' strange longer career track.
For pure comparison's sake to the present NFL, here is the only current clear entrenched starter (meaning someone to count on for 2018) in great danger of not meeting this playoff bar with his team.
- Jameis Winston (2015, with Tampa Bay)
Before past weekend's clinched playoff berths, Tyrod Taylor with the Bills (2015) and Marcus Mariota with the Titans (2015), were both at risk of keeping the same company with Winston. Not any longer. Every other assumed starter in the league moving into next year has played in at least one playoff game.
Quite clearly, as the Bears reboot with a second head coach under general manager Ryan Pace, the time to win with Trubisky is urgently now as history indicates. They'd do well to avoid joining Winston's state of jeopardy as a potential (if ever) championship quarterback.
If Pace is going to lift a Lombardi trophy with Trubisky, playing relevant football, even as early as January 2019 needs to be firmly in the crosshairs. Since that's in mind, the Bears should be contending once the fall rolls around, no excuses. And, while it pales in comparison to even one championship, they'd obviously like Trubisky to be more than the short lived title winning wonders such as Rypien, Williams, Hostetler, and Dilfer. If this is about "sustained success" as Pace so often alludes to, then Trubisky can't win a hopeful Super Bowl and vanish out of thin air career-wise. The Bears will take any opportunity to add to their trophy case regardless, but shooting for consistency with your promising 23-year-old quarterback is the gravy on top.
It's not all going to lie on his shoulders, as it hasn't in the past. Some of these title quarterbacks - such as Wilson and Roethlisberger - were immediately saddled with more than solid rosters and elite defenses, which is why they made the playoffs quickly. Luckily enough, Chicago's own quality roster construction (that includes a budding great defense ideally) had two years to gestate before Trubisky was even drafted. Take the upcoming fresh head coach, maximize this off-season, and let your young passer fly to stay in line with that past.
It's funny, that as the professional game has advanced so much over the past five decades - particularly offensively - you can still in a way, point to the title success of any quarterback with this playoff making docket. The NFL is a copy cat league and it's also a cyclical league at heart.
They say if you don't know your history, you're doomed to repeat it. In this case, that "doom" is actually glory. The Bears and Trubisky need to repeat history once more.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.