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Bears free agency preview 2018: Back-up quarterbacks

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At minimum, someone's going to have to hold the clipboard for Mitchell Trubisky. Examining the back-up quarterback market.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

They say it's a folk tale that hasn't been repeated often of late in America's heartland. You know, when in last year's free agency the Bears signed Mike Glennon to a three-year $45 million dollar deal with $18.5 million guaranteed. The same Glennon who would go on to turn the ball over 10 times in four starts in Chicago. The same Glennon that supposedly meant the Bears wouldn't draft a quarterback with their top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

These stories aren't for the faint of heart, nor should they be uttered anywhere but around a campfire. Nevertheless, unlike your favorite spooky tales designed to purely send a shiver down spines, the Bears did sign Glennon, and he eventually did become their overpriced (albeit for only one season) back-up to Mitchell Trubisky.

Oh how the times change for Mr. "It Was His Year" as Glennon is reportedly expected to be released by the Bears before this year's hectic free agent market opens. That's what happens when there's largely only one year of commitment to one of the team's biggest free agent busts ever. In other shocking news, water is wet and Bob Ross was a brilliant, relaxing painter.

Glennon's release creates a sizable gap at back-up behind Trubisky. Unless you're counting on Mark Sanchez doing more than Jon Gruden impressions on the sideline. In that case, your optimism is enviable but not unrealistic.

If the Bears don't believe in Sanchez as a viable No. 2 to the future of the franchise in Trubisky, then they have to consider acquiring someone that can be during this off-season. Which to be fair isn't one of the highest priority positions on a roster. For most NFL teams, if your starter goes down, it's highly unlikely you have a competent replacement to keep the season afloat. That's a fact much of the league has accepted due to an immense quarterback demand, not surplus.

A starter lost at any position, even quarterback, shouldn't have to define and ultimately sink a season. Relenting to the buzz saw of football injury is something only the passive and retroactive organizations do. Having contingencies in place behind your starting quarterback if but for a game or two means you have a bolstered roster with life rafts.

While they're a rare example, look at the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl this year with Nick Foles. A two-year, $11 million dollar deal with $7 million guaranteed given out last off-season wasn't a throwaway for Philadelphia. When MVP candidate Carson Wentz down with an ACL, the Eagles counted their lucky stars they had one of the better back-ups in the NFL in Foles. Head coach Doug Pederson and vice president Howie Roseman understood the importance of foreseeing potential pitfalls due to the unpredictability and volatility of football. That foresight saved the Eagles' season. It lifted them to a trophy and first banner in over five decades.

In direct contrast, the Green Bay Packers had nothing of consequence behind Aaron Rodgers once he broke his collarbone, as the team stumbled to a 7-9 third place NFC North finish. Rodgers' replacement, Brett Hundley, didn't throw a touchdown in his five starts at Lambeau Field. Not an ideal to strive for.

Placing a a quarterback insurance policy in place for the still cash-strapped and armed with top cap space Bears isn't the worst idea when you note previous precedents. That isn't to say there's someone of Foles' stature available - a man who threw seven touchdowns in a game once - on the 2018 market.

If you're Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace, that merely means finding the best possible passing fit for your offense if the worst case scenario happens on the field. It means investing a decent amount of money (relative to other quality back-up quarterbacks) to have failsafes in place. Depth at every position shouldn't be considered a luxury. By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

Let's window shop the back-up quarterbacks and take a look at possible options for the Bears when this year's free agency begins.


Mark Sanchez

Cleveland Browns v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Of course, the Bears can always elect to go with their fall-back option in Sanchez. Once the NFL's prince - a player who began his career with two straight appearances to the AFC Championship Game with the Jets - is now in the mentor role for young quarterbacks.

Last season, due to the overpriced presence of Glennon, Sanchez wasn't the Bears' No. 2 quarterback once Trubisky took over. His play in the preseason also left a lot to be desired, which undoubtedly played a factor.

However, it should be maintained that the last time a team did count on Sanchez as the back-up quarterback, was in 2014 with the Eagles. Ironically, it was in the absence of Foles, who had broken his collarbone in the first half of the season. To Sanchez' s credit, he knew his role and threw 14 touchdowns to 11 interceptions in nine games. With Sanchez performing up to snuff, the Eagles closed out the season 5-4.

The only caveat is that that was three years ago with Philadelphia. How much Sanchez has left in the tank at 32-years-old and having seen rare action in the last two seasons is anyone's best guess.

Two things are for sure. The first is that Sanchez isn't done by any means as an NFL player and still might have something left in the tank. The second is that he's clearly established a rapport with Trubisky, which could have the Bears value him more than any other available option not in-house. The latter could prove crucial once the Bears are finished examining every other choice they have.

Another one-year deal in the realm of $2 million for Sanchez as the entrenched back-up to Trubisky isn't the worst idea Pace has ever had. Look at Glennon, and see that Pace and the Bears don't make the same (eventual) depth mistake again.

Chase Daniel, New Orleans Saints

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Many are going to see the veteran Daniel and connect the dots due to his experiences with Andy Reid in Kansas City and Pederson in 2016: the two other head coaches in the league that will assuredly run a similar offense akin to what Matt Nagy is bringing into Chicago. As they should.

For a back-up quarterback, the 31-year-old Daniel is a solid athlete with good enough to skills to manage a game. Previous substitute appearances with the Chiefs in Kansas City in 2013 and 2014 - both against the Chargers - had Daniel cap out as a guy who can accurately complete over 60 percent of his passes, and keep the offense humming with zero giveaways. The Chiefs went 1-1 in said contests, and the defeat and victory weren't at Daniels' feet: what is in the end asked of a back-up quarterback.

General competency, don't turn the ball over, and you'll make far it in the NFL. Add in established familiarity and that's how careers are made.

None of the back-ups should be expected to run a finely-tuned machine because that's unrealistic. If you can find someone like Daniel from the Bears' perspective, who won't lose you a game: pounce on that opportunity.

A deal similar to what Daniel received with the Saints last year at one year and $900,000 fully guaranteed is digestible.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Once the Bills' and Jets' future (for a time), the Harvard graduate in Fitzpatrick has instead shaken out his career into one of the league's more intriguing back-up quarterbacks.

As a full-time starter, Fitzpatrick once threw 23 interceptions in Buffalo and 32 combined in his two seasons in New York. In an extended six-game relief stint of Jameis Winston with the Buccaneers last year, Fitzpatrick performed more than honorably while throwing seven touchdowns, 1,103 yards, and three interceptions to make for an overall respectable 86.0 passer rating. Over this stretch, Tampa Bay went 3-3. So the eventual 5-11 finishers actually won more games with Fitzpatrick than the erratic Winston.

Who knows, perhaps the lack of pressure in not being seen as the true face of the franchise allowed Fitzpatrick to hold down the fort in Tampa Bay. At any rate, the 35-year-old extended his NFL future should the Buccaneers not elect to bring him back.

While Fitzpatrick has never worked in an offense from the Reid tree, his athleticism is underrated, having averaged 200 or so rushing yards in the last nine years of his career. If you're worried about the sanctity of Nagy's RPO's, have no fear that Fitzpatrick could relatively execute them.

If the Bears made an investment in Fitzpatrick as their back-up, expect a slight raise from his one-year $3 million dollar deal and $1.25 million guaranteed with Tampa Bay last off-season. Exceeding expectations earns more earning power, especially at a premium position. Something a brainiac such as Fitzpatrick has undoubtedly taken into account.

Josh McCown, New York Jets

New York Jets v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The NFL's "Man Of Many Faces" in McCown can thank Marc Trestman forever for what he did for his career. McCown's blazing relief performances with an injured Jay Cutler in 2013, culminating in a blowout of the Dallas Cowboys where the Bears didn't punt, re-invigorated a guy who was supposed to quit football years ago.

Since then, each of the Browns, Buccaneers, and Jets have all taken a flier on McCown in some shape or form. Frankly, they received what they were paying for from a career journeymen that's played for seven NFL teams over the span of 13 years. Underrated athleticism when called upon, professionalism and experience, and a quarterback who can an offense at a high level in short bursts.

Most recently, while with the Jets in 2017, McCown accounted for 23 touchdowns in 13 starts (18 by air, five by ground), and threw a minimal nine interceptions. He had New York in every game even as the squad finished 5-11. That type of play over almost the length of an entire season surely bought the 37-year-old another year in the league if he should choose to return. More importantly, it likely bought him a pay raise from his one year and fully guaranteed $6 million dollar deal last off-season.

The only risk with considering McCown is whether he comes back to pro football altogether. If he does, the Bears couldn't go wrong with a quarterback that's been through every situation imaginable. A quarterback that could act as a mentor for Trubisky, and play well in his absence if need be. The McCown reunion tour of 2018: feel the fever.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and is a contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.