For what it’s worth, Chicago Bears fans, your team messed up well before one Cameron Jarell Newton became available. With all the talk lately comparing what the former MVP received from the New England Patriots, people are missing the bigger picture. Chicago shouldn’t even be in a position to be criticized.
Cam Newton Isn’t Where the Bears Messed Up
A Long Time Coming
The past year has been a rollercoaster for Bears fans. Around this time in 2019, they were gearing up for an encore to the Matt Nagy-led group’s 12-4 surprise season. They had become a gif that postseason but found themselves getting talked up by their head coach for the advances made by the offense and, namely, one Mitchell Trubisky.
Almost everyone associated with the Bears spoke of how impressed they were with Trubisky’s command of the offense. They noted his work ethic, his connection to his teammates, etc. But none of that was ever in question. Then came the preseason that wasn’t
Nagy sat his starters for most of the preseason and, whether it was the sole cause or just a piece of the puzzle, they laid an egg. Opening night against the Green Bay Packers, their most-hated rival, and fans that had been getting pumped up all season had to deal with the bitterness of losing to the Packers.
Unfortunately, the turnaround never came. The Bears won their next three games (the third of which Trubisky left with an injury) but ended the year 8-8; mediocre by definition. Trubisky’s accuracy and pocket presence regressed and he even stopped running. He was below average as a passer in 2018 but his legs kept him dangerous. Without that threat in 2019, he was a liability.
His numbers regressed nearly across the board; he dropped his interception rate. He also fell victim to the injury bug again, but it really was a team affliction.
Absence and Familiarity
Trubisky is more physically gifted, but that didn’t stop the Bears from swinging a trade for Nick Foles. The former Super Bowl MVP just signed a huge deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars the year before but got injured and usurped by rookie sensation Gardner Minshew.
Chicago pounced on the opportunity; targeting a player that had a history with Nagy and much of the newly revamped offensive coaching staff. So much so one might think they built this quarterback guru-laden staff for Foles. At any rate, fans were relived the team addressed the quarterback room but giving up a draft pick and valuable cap space didn’t go over so well.
The subsequent releases and signings of Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston, and now Newton have each brought about a new round of scrutiny. After all, Foles has been mediocre or worse outside of Philadelphia. It was easier to dismiss when it was Dalton and Winston, two players that have had their ups and downs.
Newton, though, epitomized what was wrong with the Bears in the eyes of the faithful. He had been the focus of many an article about the Bears and vice versa. Except the Carolina Panthers spoke publicly as though they had every intention of keeping the quarterback. Most anticipated otherwise since he missed 16 games over the past two years with shoulder and foot injuries.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace chose not to wait and risk missing out on a quarterback in free agency.
ESPN recently published a piece that laid out just how bad the quarterback play has been for the Bears; the worst. It makes sense when you look at their history at the position. ESPN took care of that, too. Unfortunately, it shows a history rife with every kind of misstep you could have. Take, for instance, passing on Montana in ‘79 so as not to disrupt the quarterback room.
We have often accused Pace of being a prisoner to his convictions. Chicago’s history makes it seem as if that is just an affliction of the post as opposed to a character flaw in Pace himself. He hasn’t helped himself, though.
Pace inherited a burnt-out Jay Cutler in 2015 and a few years later took Trubisky after a draft-day trade that will go down among the worst in history. The bigger problem is that Pace kept John Fox around long after the coach had mailed it in. He kept his decision to take Trubisky from Fox, who later said he preferred safety Jamal Adams or quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Why keep a head coach with whom you don’t trust enough to tell who he’ll be coaching next season? It makes even less sense when that player is your presumed franchise quarterback. A lame-duck year for the coach is a wasted year for the player. Now, no matter what happens with Trubisky, there will always be the question of what could have been if they brought in a coach for Trubisky from the beginning.
And that is, in essence, why the Bears struggle as a franchise with the quarterback position at a level unmatched in the Super Bowl era.
Bears Messed Up Long Before Newton
Chicago always seems to be at different stages of building within the organization. They have had championship-caliber defenses and wasted them on erratic or ill-equipped passers. They swung for the fences with Cutler but couldn’t figure out the offense with him at the helm. Infighting broke up their only championship team.
Passing on Watson and Patrick Mahomes is egregious, but also par for the course for whoever runs the Bears. It’s not an excuse or a pass, but an acknowledgment that the issue preceded Pace. From the looks of it, it will outlast him as well. His one saving grace is that defense.
If the Bears defense returns to 2018 levels (remember, a lot of their drop off can be attributed to injuries), then the Bears might be able to make the playoffs. That is if they can get competent quarterback play. The smart money is on Foles to be the starter but it’s still Trubisky’s job until they can get on the field.
The issue with all of that (the theme here is Chicago’s flawed logic and execution) is that defense varies from year-to-year more than offense. Chicago has ridden their defense to 20 wins over Nagy’s first two seasons, but they only got younger at two positions and got older and less versatile at another. This defense will decline at some point, though that shouldn’t be this year.
Still, the quarterback will need to be better than replacement level for the Bears to make noise in the postseason. Plugging in Foles in no way guarantees an upgrade, but that will be the expectation. That said, imagine the disappointment if they don’t win the Super Bowl or even make the playoffs but Foles wins enough games to keep them from a top pick. What then?
Embed from Getty Images