Almost three full seasons after Trubisky went second overall in the 2017 NFL draft, the Bears face the uncomfortable reality that, barring growth in Year 4, Trubisky is not a franchise passer, and most definitely not the player to end Chicago’s maddening streak of mediocrity at the position.
The Bears’ choice to trade up and draft Trubisky over generational talents Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson further compounds the organization’s problems, but make no mistake, Trubisky’s overall NFL body of work would still be considered a disappointment had he been the only quarterback taken that year in the first round.
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How the Bears proceed with Trubisky (entering Year 4 of his original rookie contract) could define the franchise’s next five years after that.
“Right now there is too much uncertainty to extend him and too much inconsistency,” ESPN NFL front office insider Louis Riddick said.
“I still don’t trust that [his development is] where it needs to be relative to where the expectations are when you are drafted No. 2 overall. It’s definitely not where it needs to be in terms of signing him to a longterm extension.”
Mahomes and Watson dwarf Trubisky in terms of career statistics (in fewer starts) but the Bears’ quarterback has thrown more touchdowns (48) than interceptions (29) and passed for 8,347 yards with a 63.2 percent completion percentage.
However, when Chicago has asked Trubisky to step up against playoff-caliber opponents, Trubisky has bombed. The Bears lost every such game this season except the Week 14 game against the Dallas Cowboys when Trubisky passed for 244 yards, three touchdowns and rushed for a touchdown.
Trubisky arrives in Minneapolis for the regular season finale 28th in total QBR, tied for 27th in touchdown passes and 23rd in yards passing.
Trubisky ranks 32nd in average yards per completion (9.8) and average yards per pass attempt (6.1), per ESPN Stats and Information.
Chicago’s uneven quarterback play is more alarming when you factor in the defense. Last year, the Bears defense performed at a historically great level, leading the NFL in total takeaways, interceptions, interceptions returned for touchdowns, lowest opponent passer rating, fewest points allowed and fewest plays allowed of 20-plus yards. Blessed with short fields, Trubisky did enough to help Chicago win 12 games and host a playoff game.
The Bears defense took a slight step backwards this year, but is still in the top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed and rushing yards allowed.
And in direct correlation to that, Trubisky did not have as many favorable situations, but the overall goal remained the same. The Bears needed Trubisky to simply play complementary football, and when it truly mattered, he failed to do that.
“I have honestly no clue how Mitch can get any better in this system but the system just does not fit him,” former Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett said. “… He’s one of those guys that needs to be on the perimeter more and this is an offense that needs a pure pocket passer. His footwork, his mechanics, they are not where they need to be.”
Several quarterbacks could sign mega-deals in the offseason. Mahomes, Watson and the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott are likely to receive record-setting deals, but, if Trubisky isn’t producing or developing, even a modest multi-year extension seems too much.
“Do the Bears really want to do what the Rams did with (Jared) Goff?” said ESPN NFL Insider and former safety Matt Bowen, referring to Goff’s four-year extension with the Los Angeles Rams, worth more than $57 million in guarantees. “Look, Goff did help them get to a Super Bowl, but there have been way too many down moments for Goff this year.”
Because Trubisky’s rookie contract is guaranteed for four years and the Bears have until May to pick up the fifth-year option. Trubisky’s option would cost roughly half the amount of Goff’s guarantee, and the option year is guaranteed for injury only.
“There isn’t any reason to sign him to an extension because the team is figuring out who he is and there’s no reason to do it when you have two years left, which is essentially what they have with the fifth-year option,” former NFL Executive of the Year and current CBS NFL analyst Scott Pioli said.
That would leave both sides in some limbo. If the Bears don’t pick up the option, it leaves Trubisky with a year to prove he’s worth another contract. In either case, Riddick is convinced the Bears need to have competition for Trubisky.
“At the very least, I’m bringing someone that can significantly compete with him,” Riddick said. “Whether or not that ultimately serves the purpose of motivating him to get to that place mentally and physically where he can be more consistent or it results in me replacing him … I’m bringing in that person at the very least to see what the result is it going to be. By no means would I commit to him at this point.”
Veteran Chase Daniel currently serves as Trubisky’s backup. But even though Daniel earned $6 million in 2019, the Bears have been reluctant to play him except when injuries have forced Trubisky off the field.
“I don’t think Chase Daniel pushes him,” Bowen said. “I think inside the locker room they know Daniel doesn’t push Trubisky. There is zero competition whatsoever right now for Trubisky.”
Said Riddick: “…we know what profile we would want (in competition). We’d want maybe the same profile that Tennessee had with (Ryan) Tannehill — a guy that shown tremendous ability, still relatively young, career has been stalled and/or stunted for whatever reasons like turnover at the places he’s been before or injuries or lack of weapons. Whatever would cause a team to pull the plug on a young quarterback. That’s the profile you’re looking for but now how do you acquire that guy and how much does it cost us. It sounds great in theory. But finding that right person will be difficult.”
Unless, however, the Bears are prepared to cut ties with Trubisky, it’s hard to imagine Chicago spending $15 million or more for veteran quarterbacks in free agency like Andy Dalton or a trade for someone like Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr or Cam Newton.
Those quarterbacks — all more accomplished than Trubisky — will expect to start immediately, not compete for a job.
The league is littered with younger quarterbacks that for whatever reason have not completely panned out. The Buccaneers and Titans can relate to the Bears. Jameis Winston and Mariota, former top-two picks of the draft, both played this past year on their respective fifth-year options. Mariota lost his starting job to Tannehill and Winston had mixed results this season, with 31 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions entering Week 17.
So the Bears’ dilemma is hardly unique when you sample the rest of the league.
“In my mind they should proceed as if Trubisky is the starter because he is,” Pioli said. “He has shown improvement; just because he’s not up to the standard of where people believe he should be at because of where he was picked and relative to the other guys [Watson and Mahomes] he’s going to be compared to for the rest of his career, he’s an NFL starter.”
As the Bears’ season comes to an edn, Trubisky’s relationship with coach and play caller Matt Nagy is under heavy scrutiny. Nagy, who coached Mahomes and savvy veteran Alex Smith in Kansas City arrived in Chicago with a high-standard for the position.
Trubisky has not met the standard, but Nagy’s play-calling often suggests the head coach does not trust the quarterback to attempt the kinds of throws necessary to make the offense work the proper way.
Something has to give.
“I’m not saying this is the case in Chicago, but the general manager is the one who picked this quarterback, Ryan Pace is the one invested in seeing Trubisky do well,” Riddick said. “Do you really want to bring in someone that could take the place of the guy that you traded up to draft No. 2 overall whereas the head coach is thinking, ‘well, he’s really not my guy. I like him. I’ve given him all that I can as far as developing him but I just don’t see it happening.’”
Bottom line, for there to be a future for Trubisky, the Bears will need to see more from the player they deemed worthy enough to draft No. 2 overall.
“There’s only so much Nagy can do,” Riddick said.
“… Mitch has to be better in the pocket on a consistent basis and make the throws that are expected to be made and then make some throws that are not expected to be made because that’s what No. 2 overall picks are supposed to do. And if he can’t do it, then they are going to have to move on …”