5 veteran QBs the Bears could replace Mitchell Trubisky with in 2020
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images Chicago needs to upgrade its QB situation. Fortunately, next spring’s veteran market is robust. The Bears didn’t just draft Mitchell Trubisky over Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes in 2017. They traded multiple draft picks to move up from the third overall pick to No. 2 to be able to do so. That set the franchise off in one of its most tried and true traditions: the search for a quarterback capable of keeping pace with a talented roster. Instead of an electric MVP candidate, Chicago has buttressed a suffocating defense with a turnover-averse version of Tom Savage. Since taking over as the team’s starter in the early stages of 2017, Trubisky has been a model of mediocrity with occasional bursts of outlying mastery thrown in to keep the Bears hopeful. He’s 19-16 as a starter overall, but 2019 has seen him take a major step backward in a year when many NFL quarterbacks begin to truly build their legacies. Through 11 weeks and nine starts, the embattled QB ranks: 29th out of 33 qualified starters in touchdown rate (nine in 282 passes) 33rd in yards per pass (5.6) 33rd in adjusted yards per pass (5.6) 26th in passer rating That swirling storm of inefficiency came to a head Sunday night against the Rams: Mitchell Trubisky struggled tonight despite being pressured on just 5 of 44 dropbacks (11%). Trubisky had little success throwing to his left compared to right.LEFT: 5/10, 40 yards, INT (20.8 passer rating)RIGHT: 13/21, 104 yards, TD (90.2 passer rating)#CHIvsLAR pic.twitter.com/f2nw5GMNP2— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 18, 2019 The nadir of Trubisky’s night came in the fourth quarter. With his Bears trailing by 10 and three minutes left in the game, head coach Matt Nagy threw career backup Chase Daniel into the lineup. Nagy and Bears’ officials blamed the change on a hip injury suffered back in the second quarter. That Daniel created no offense in his limited comeback duty is beside the point. Trubisky, even while healthy, hasn’t been able to generate more than an occasional pulse for a zombified offense. While he’s under contract through 2020, his drastic step backward has effectively destroyed the Bears’ chances of repeating as NFC North champions. It’s time to scrap the Trubisky experiment behind center, but Chicago may find itself invested in another year of the underperforming quarterback thanks to a lack of reliable options elsewhere. 2018’s Khalil Mack trade left the club without a first-round pick in either 2019 or 2020 — and even if the Bears were making a Day 1 selection, they’re just good enough to miss out on the top end of rookie prospects. So who could Chicago bring in to replace — or at least push — Trubisky next spring? We’ve included five impending free agents likely to land on Nagy’s radar, starting with the best fits for an offense that’s thrived with a mid-range passing offense but typically struggled to sustain any kind of field-stretching deep game. Teddy Bridgewater Bridgewater has rebuilt the value a catastrophic knee injury stole from him in 2016. As the Saints’ backup, he’s proved capable of leading a roster stocked with a smothering defense and some Swiss Army Knife offensive playmakers by going 5-0 as a starter when Drew Brees was out with an injury. Here’s how he stacks up against Trubisky when it comes to passer efficiency and deep ball accuracy: Bridgewater (5 starts in 2019): 98.9 passer rating, 7.5 adjusted yards per attempt, 51.2 completion percentage on passes of 10+ yardsTrubisky (9 starts in 2019): 82.2 passer rating, 5.6 adjusted yards per attempt, 41.1 completion percentage on passes of 10+ yards Bridgewater is also only 27 years old — less than two years older than Trubisky. The question is whether his revival has been solely dependent on an offense that revolves around the binary star system of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. Would his 2019 success translate with a supporting cast of Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery, and Trey Burton? He’s also been very picky about his shots downfield, throwing screens and checkdowns at a much higher rate than the current Bear QB; Trubisky’s average throw depth is a fairly average 7.4 yards past the line of scrimmage, while Bridgewater (and Brees, interestingly), clock in at a bottom-of-the-barrel 5.9. If the Bears are looking for a quarterback who can make the throws Trubisky can’t and won’t turn the ball over much, Bridgewater makes sense. If they want someone to transform the offense into a risk-taking aerial offense, they may want to excuse themselves from the bidding. Marcus Mariota The Bears could swap one turnover-averse quarterback for another by luring Mariota north. His career as the Titans’ starter came to an abrupt end this season after a toothless 16-0 loss to the Broncos sparked Ryan Tannehill’s ascendance to the top of the depth chart. Mariota’s had his share of career highlights. Even so, he’s been a fairly nondescript quarterback in his four-plus years in the NFL. His 89.6 career passer rating ranks 30th among 63 qualified starting QBs since 2015. Mariota remains a useful if not mind-blowing passer. Take away a disastrous 2017, when he played through a series of nagging injuries, and he’s got a two percent interception rate that speaks to his ability to tuck and run with the ball in tight situations rather than force bad passes downfield. His career 5.8 yards per carry is a testament to this skill as well. He’s never been much of a deep ball connoisseur, but that’s not all on him — his leading wideouts since 2015, by year, have been Delanie Walker (twice), Rishard Matthews, Corey Davis, and now rookie A.J. Brown. Mariota is effectively a higher ceiling version of Trubisky’s current state, and betting for a big uptick in his performance is probably as likely as betting on the Bears’ former No. 2 overall pick figuring things out. Chicago’s already done a bunch of planning around a mobile passer (Trubisky rushed for 421 yards and 6.0 yards per carry in 2018) with limited downfield prospects. Bringing Mariota in would allow them to keep that blueprint. Trubisky, at his 2018 best, played roughly at Mariota’s career baseline. In 2019, even a benched Mariota would be an upgrade over the Bears’ third-year starter. Andy Dalton Dalton is the oldest player on this list at age 32, but even after a trying 2019 he’s still got plenty to offer for a team that can surround him with a healthy receiving corps and even an average offensive line. The Bengals’ shining crapulence turned Dalton into a gunslinger version of himself. While he used the extra reps that come with a perpetually trailing offense to make players like Auden Tate and Alex Erickson viable fantasy starters, he wasn’t able to turn any of that into wins. Dalton is a slight statistical downgrade from Trubisky if you compare their 2019 seasons, but they’ve been surrounded by very different rosters. Without A.J. Green — and later, John Ross — in the lineup, Dalton was forced into more short range and screen passes than ever before, effectively rewarding opponents for flooding the line of scrimmage against him. That negative feedback loop only closed once first-year head coach Zac Taylor decided to bench him in favor of rookie fourth-round pick Ryan Finley. The good news for Chicago is that sudden stock drop could make Dalton an inexpensive acquisition. Getting him on a short-term contract may be the team’s best option given its lack of cap space next year; per Spotrac, the Bears’ estimated $13.7 million of spending room is the fifth-least in the league. Dalton is technically under contract for 2020 in Cincinnati, but he can be released from the final year of his deal without leaving any dead money on the Bengals’ cap. He’s as good as gone. Once he’s released, he’ll have to prove his limitations were the Bengals’ fault and not his own. Jameis Winston Trubisky has proven too low-wattage for Nagy’s offense. Winston wouldn’t have that problem. The boom-or-bust quarterback has no problem taking chances downfield. That’s resulted in 107 touchdown passes (11th most in the NFL since 2015), but he also leads the league in interceptions in that span. That includes the 18 he’s thrown through 10 games in 2019. Winston hasn’t improved under first-year coach Bruce Arians this fall, and he’s more or less going to be the same flawed passer he’s always been. If the Bears’ brain trust wants to take a home run swing on a big-play QB, however, Winston fits the bill. The former No. 1 overall pick led the league in average throw depth each of the past two seasons thanks to the presence of wideouts like Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Chris Godwin. Though his accuracy has fallen off a cliff in 2019 — his catchable pass rate has gone from 75.1 percent to 68.2, putting him in the bottom 10 percent of starting QBs — he’s still the kind of player who can throw his way to a win. Would the Bears be willing to tax their defense by installing a quarterback known for giving his opponents short fields? Winston would be an extreme departure from Trubisky, but his history as a starter — 24-40 overall and once replaced in the lineup by Ryan Fitzpatrick — suggests that won’t necessarily lead to more wins than Chicago’s already getting from its beleaguered QB. Ryan Tannehill Tannehill has regained some of his value as a starter after taking over for Mariota, making a noticeable impact on the Titans’ passing game in the process. Those aren’t top-tier numbers, but they’ve led to success on the field; Tannehill’s 3-1 start has put Tennessee back in the playoff hunt. The question is whether they’re sustainable. His biggest strength as a Titan has been his ability to turn young wideouts into chain-moving targets. He’s utilized his team’s undervalued wideouts in the intermediate game, completing nearly 74 percent of his passes that traveled between 10 and 19 yards downfield this season. That’s exactly the range where Bears standbys like Robinson, Burton, and Taylor Gabriel thrive. He could bring a shift from the Trubisky era without turning the Chicago offense on its head like Winston would — but only if this small sample size over a four-start stretch holds. It may be difficult to pry Tannehill out of Nashville, even with his pending free agency. The Titans don’t have a quarterback with starting experience under contract for 2020 and won’t have the kind of premier draft capital to acquire a surefire rookie starter. The former Dolphin’s hot start could convince the Titans to keep him on board for the near future while they sort out the future of their offense. The Bears have a lot to consider in 2020, and this list doesn’t even factor in potential trade candidates or mid-round draft picks who could also fight their way into the mix, such as Cam Newton or Nick Foles. There’s no easy answer to Chicago’s quarterback problem, but there are a handful of round pegs who could be hammered into square holes under the right circumstances. For the franchise, it all comes down to picking the right one. Given the way the 2017 draft unfolded, that’s not a choice Bears fans should be super confident about.
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