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Saturday Spotlight: Robert Quinn

Throughout the 2021 NFL season, we’ll spotlight a Bears player in a weekly column. This week, we’ll take an in-depth look at Linebacker Robert Quinn

Chicago Bears v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Name: Robert Quinn

Position: Linebacker

Number: 94

Age: 31

Time with Bears: 2nd Season

The Past:

“Glennon, looking and - PRESSURE. Football is loose again. That’s it, there it is. Robert Quinn getting to Glennon.”

Robert Quinn made his way into the Bears’ record books in just his second season in Chicago.

15 years ago, he was an all-state wrestler for Fort Dorcester High School. Three-time state champ, in fact. In his words, wrestling “is all about leverage and balance.” Those skills have come in handy when he’s terrorizing quarterbacks. On the football field, he worked his way onto the collegiate scouting lists all the way up to a 4-star recruit by aggregate 247 Sports. It seemed like nothing could slow Quinn down.

Then, he started experiencing blackouts. Confusion, amnesia, and mental lapses became a major concern for the 17-year old and his family. When a doctor found a benign tumor at the top of his spinal column, he was told he may only have a week to live and went in for emergency surgery. It looked as though his senior year would be stolen from him.

A miraculous recovery and a return to top form on the football field led to an invitation to the US Army Bowl Game and scholarship offers from Auburn and North Carolina. He accepted the offer to be a Tar Heel and enrolled in Chapel Hill to play for coach Butch Davis.

Quinn’s capacity in 2008 was as a role player as the Tar Heels went 8-5 with a young defense. Listed as a defensive end, Quinn was a freshman on a team which only had one upper-classman end on the line. He found enough action to log 34 total tackles, inluding 22 solo, 6.5 for a loss, and 2.0 sacks. He also broke up a pass and forced 2 fumbles.

East Carolina v North Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Then, in 2009, Quinn became a full-fledged starter for the Tar Heels and made the most of his opportunities. As NFL scouts started watching, Quinn started performing, and the Tar Heels went 8-5 again. Quinn cracked double-digit sacks, the first of six total times between college and the NFL. With 52 total tackles, 35 solo, 19.0 TFLs, 3 pass breakups, and 6 forced fumbles, Quinn was expected to play one more year in college to bulk up before going in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Leading up to that junior season, Quinn broke former Tar Heel (and Chicago Bear) Julius Pepper’s school record in the 40-yard dash, with 4.38 seconds sounding more like a receiver time. He also broke a school weight lifting record.

Unfortunately, the NCAA called, alleging recruitment voilations to the school and opening a massive investigation of the football program. An academic tutor was found to be providing improper academic assistance to players, and a number of players including Quinn were alleged to have received improper benefits including jewelry and travel. When the NCAA ruled that Quinn had lied about those benefits, they ruled him ineligible to play in 2010. The investigation eventually took head coach Butch Davis down, and the University of North Carolina has officially disassociated themselves from Robert Quinn.

Quinn’s response to UNC? He doesn’t even claim that school.

Bigger and better things were coming his way anyway. His two seasons in college were enough to impress NFL scouts, and he entered the 2011 NFL Draft ready to play football professionally at the high level he’d been playing his entire career to that point.

“With the 14th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams select: Robert Quinn. Defensive End. North Carolina.”

With pass rushers becoming a new hot commodity in the NFL after quarterbacks in the first decade of the 2000s, there was speculation that Quinn could have gone even higher in the draft than he did. Even still, the Rams were a great fit for the rookie. With the team hoping their first round (#1 overall) selection of quarterback Sam Bradford could create an elite NFL offense alongside Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson, the Rams had turned their attention to creating a fearsome defense. With names like Chris Long and James Laurinaitis heading up the defensive front, they needed more young, powerful talent to keep them in games.

Quinn found action in 15 games in 2011, his rookie year. The first where he recorded stats was the Rams’ week 2 matchup with the New York Giants, where Quinn wasted no time putting his stamp on the NFL by sacking quarterback Eli Manning. Quinn’s first start came in December 2011 against the Cincinatti Bengals, where he recorded a solo tackle and a pass breakup. He finished the year with 23 total tackles, 20 of them solo, 5.0 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and a blocked field goal. The Rams went 2-14 and were an embarassment, but Quinn looked every bit the part of a solid first round pick.

Los Angeles Rams v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

He found more starting action in his second season in 2012, with 14 starts in 16 appearances. For the first time in his professional career, he cracked double-digit sacks with 10.5, on his way to 29 total tackles with 24 solo. Teammate Chris Long also reached that benchmark, making this the first time in Rams’ history they had a pairing of such renown. The Rams looked better than the past year with a record of 7-8-1.

Then, in 2013, Quinn started to establish himself as one of the best defenders in the NFL. With career-bests in sacks (19.0), forced fumbles (7), and total tackles (57), Quinn was by far the best player for the 7-9 Rams, who had benched Bradford and parted with Jackson, looking to rebuild their franchise around a relentless defense. The third-year edge rusher Quinn was named First Team All-Pro for his season, starting all 16 games.

Quinn again started all 16 games in 2014, hardly taking a step back at all. In September of that year, he signed the Rams extension offer worth $66.575 million with $41.2 million guaranteed, designed to keep him a Ram for the rest of his twenties. He logged 46 total tackles, 39 solo, 5 forced fumbles, and 10.5 sacks, his third straight season with double-digit sacks. He also broke up 6 passes, the most in a single season of his career. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career, but the Rams struggled again, this time to 6-10 finish.

The injury bug, which Quinn had eluded up to that point, finally found skin and Quinn was limited to 8 appearances for the Rams in 2015 with hip and back injuries. The averages still worked out, with 5.0 sacks on 7 hurries, adding 21 total tackles and 3 forced fumbles on the year before being shut down in December of that year. The Rams went 7-9 in their final year in St. Louis.

A mid-season shoulder injury and a late-season concussion limited Quinn’s 2016 year to 9 appearances. The Rams, having moved to Los Angeles the past offseason, went 4-12 and fired coach Jeff Fisher mid-season, and a re-build was immenent. Quinn logged 10 total tackles, 4.0 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in his sixth NFL season.

Having spent two seasons riddled with injuries, Quinn established himself back into national conversations in 2017 with 14 starts through 15 appearances. In their first season under head coach Sean McVay, the Rams went 11-5 and Quinn was part of a terrifying defense which featured Aaron Donald and (future Bears teammate) Alec Ogletree in the box with him. On his own, he notched 32 total tackles, 21 of them solo, 8.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Quinn missed the Pro Bowl and the Rams were in the middle of a rebuild, so they looked elsewhere to build their team.

The Dolphins called, and were willing to take on Quinn’s expensive contract, so the Rams pulled the trigger and sent him to Miami in exchange for a fourth-round pick and a sixth-round pick-swap. Quinn called the Rams out for it, saying they “turned their backs” on him. For the first time since his last Pro Bowl season in St. Louis, Quinn started all 16 games in 2018 for the Dolphins. He started sacking quarterbacks in nicer weather, this year with 6.5 on top of 38 total tackles, and 2 forced fumbles.

Apparently the Dolphins also found issues with Quinn’s contract, because in 2019 they also traded him. This time he was headed to Dallas, with a restructured contract through his agent for one year. In his lone season for the Cowboys, he started 14 games and found double-digit sacks again for the first time since his last Pro Bowl season, this time for the 8-8 Cowboys, marking yet another season where he terrorized quarterbacks for a bad team. He finished with 34 total tackles, 26 of them solo, 11.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Despite approaching 30, Quinn was looking quite like his former self.

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

For the first time in his career, Robert Quinn was a free agent in 2020, so Chicago Bears’ GM Ryan Pace called his agent and negotiated terms for a 5-year, $70 million contract to come to Chicago. In his first year for the Bears as a linebackers in their 3-4 base, Quinn partnered with Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks to make up a fearsome pass rushing front when healthy. Unfortunately all three dealt with injuries that year. In Quinn’s first appearance and start, he recorded a strip-sack against Giants’ quarterback Daniel Jones, forcing another fumble in the game as well. He finished the year with 20 total tackles, 14 of them solo, 2.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. Considering the Bears were chasing a legendary 2018 season and failing to show progress on multiple fronts, Quinn’s struggles represented the entire Bears’ entire season: immense talent yet unable to amount to wins.

The Present:

With Khalil Mack’s injuries in 2021, the Bears have found themselves welcoming any defensive superstars they can find, and Quinn has shown he’s ready for the demands of a Chicago defensive star. This past Sunday, he logged his 18th sack of the season, breaking a team record previously held by NFL Hall of Famer Richard Dent. Quinn has gotten after quarterbacks all year while the team struggled, with embarassing losing streaks of 5-straight and 3-straight not at all indicative of Quinn’s record-breaking season.

Starting at outside linebacker in 2021 although tasked almost exclusively with rushing the passer off the edge, Quinn has been a bright spot on a mediocre defense this year. He’s thus far logged 48 total tackles with 38 solo, 18.0 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. With a 17 game regular season for the first time in NFL history, Quinn has a chance to break his career-best in sacks with 20.0 as other pass rushers like TJ Watt approach Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5.

Robert Quinn made his third career Pro Bowl this season, a well-deserved honor for a player who came to the Bears a star and will someday retire a record-holder.

The future:

When the Bears signed Quinn to a massive contract in 2020, it contained a potential out (per Spotrac) this coming offseason, but the dead money doesn’t make any sense unless for a trade. With two teams trading him previously due to contract status, and a 2021 season which is a perfect example of bang-for-your-buck, it’s hard to imagine him not being in Chicago next year at least.

There have been rumors that the Bears will completely clean house this Monday, not only sending head coach Matt Nagy packing in a forgone conclusion but also perhaps creatively removing Ryan Pace from his GM role by means of a faux-promotion and removing Ted Phillips from his Team President role. An overhaul to the front office is almost-assuredly followed by an overhaul to the roster, and the Bears will look to clear cap room for a new GM to build a team around quarterback Justin Fields.

Robert Quinn could be a cap casualty for the Bears when that day comes, but as he stayed with the Rams through their rebuilt in their 2016-2017 frame, he could be a lasting piece for the old Bears before they inevitably transition away from this current roster.

Look for Quinn to be in Chicago next year, with another Pro Bowl appearance required to keep him here after.

Week 18 prediction:

4 total tackles, 2 solo, 1.0 sack