The Chicago Bears quarterback saga, which has twisted and turned since the team were dumped out of the playoffs at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, now has a conclusion. Or something close to a conclusion.
Following an offseason in which Chicago have been linked to nearly every available and potentially tradeable signal caller in the league, the Red Rifle’s signing was not met with universal acclaim by Bears fans.
What does this all mean for the franchise moving forward?
The fans reaction
It’s likely there would have been some derision from Bears Nation at a Dalton signing even without these long standing rumours of trades for Watson or Wilson, but the hangover from one of those deals not being realised perhaps makes this sting even more for fans.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 17, 2021
In this situation, would there have been another quarterback that general manager Ryan Pace could have sold the fanbase on? Quite possibly not. All the options besides Wilson or Watson, short of a surprising trade for Derek Carr, had their drawbacks.
An upgrade over Trubisky
In an end of season press conference Pace, head coach Matt Nagy and team president Ted Phillips made it clear that upgrading the quarterback position was a priority. It’ll be difficult for fans to be convinced that Dalton is a clear upgrade. In some ways, he has clear strengths over Trubisky as a pocket passer. But there are also similar issues between the two: both have been scrutinised for their lack of explosive pass plays downfield; and neither have necessarily been seen as players who can elevate the play of others around them.
Last year, in 11 games for the Cowboys, Dalton managed a completion percentage of 64.8% and a touchdown interception ratio of 14:8. Following 10 games for the Bears, Trubisky’s stat line reads 67% and 16:8. Dalton may have a portfolio that includes seasons when he has far surpassed Trubisky’s level of play, but he turns 34 next year. His signing might also give an indication of what happens next for the Bears…
It seems widely recognised in league and media circles that Nagy and Pace need to win and make the playoffs this season. That makes me think the franchise isn’t done making moves at the quarterback position. I just don’t see the head coach and general manager putting their careers in the hands of a player who isn’t a marked improvement over the player they’ve trotted out at the position for the last few seasons.
That makes the Bears clear contenders to trade up in the draft and will also telegraph that to other franchises around the league. The team’s desperation at quarterback is pretty clear and other franchises will take advantage of that when fielding calls from the Bears about moving up in the first round. Perhaps that’s the reason Dalton went from a $3 million contract with Dallas to a $10 million contract with the Bears…
NFC North QBs PFF Grade/ rank in 2020:
1) Aaron Rodgers – 95.1
10) Kirk Cousins – 83.5
21) Jared Goff – 71.3
23) Andy Dalton – 69.6 pic.twitter.com/nbT3WUNABC
— PFF (@PFF) March 17, 2021
In that draft trade scenario, Pace would be looking to move up from 20th overall to at least in front of the Carolina Panthers, and as close to the top 5 as possible. That’s expensive enough for any team, let alone a team where every other general manager knows how desperately you need to manoeuvre into those top picks.
Even if the Bears throw the picks they were offering for Wilson (including 3 first rounders) at a rookie in the draft, they’re unlikely to get one of the top two QBs (currently Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson).
And they will struggle to get near to a top 5 pick. As a result they may have to rely on a quarterback falling. That could be Trey Lance. It could be Justin Fields. Or even Mac Jones.
All three have knocks on them and what if the player that falls isn’t the guy who Pace and Nagy see as the answer? Would they select that player in the desperate hope he can buy them extra time in the job and gives them a 50-50 shot of turning the franchise’s fortunes around? That could be devastating for Chicago if it doesn’t pay off, hamstringing any future front office-head coach combination. Would Ted Phillips or someone from the McCaskey family, who own the team, step in to prevent the franchise’s future being mortgaged?
On top of that, putting Dalton under center means the Bears have to invest in their offensive line. That unit improved late last season when Trubisky was reinserted into the lineup after his benching, but Dalton’s lack of mobility would require the team to invest in protecting him.
A long shot attempt to sign Trent Williams didn’t come off, with the top linemen now off the board. That again leaves the draft as Pace’s main resource for improving the position. His ability to affect that is likely to be significantly affected if the team takes a quarterback in the first around, even more so if they trade up to select one.
Trent Williams also discussed deals with the Chiefs and the Bears. The Chiefs wound up with signing Joe Thuney, the Bears signed Andy Dalton and Germain Ifedi, ensuring that the 49ers would make Williams the highest-paid offensive lineman in history.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 17, 2021
The Bears have a number of holes on the roster that they need to address via the draft due to how tight they are against the cap and again their ability to move around the board will be limited by giving up any picks in a blockbuster trade.
One last nugget that doesn’t seem to be discussed a lot currently is how Dalton’s ties to current Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor affects the playcalling in the Windy City. Lazor was Dalton’s quarterbacks coach in Cincinnati before being promoted to offensive coordinator for 2017 and 2018. Does this spell the end of Nagy’s time as the offensive playcaller for the Bears? Let’s not forget, the primary reason Nagy was hired was for his ability to put together a potent offense. How does that affect his standing in the eyes of ownership moving forward?
Delaying the inevitable
If the Bears don’t make the playoffs this year and Nagy and Pace are dismissed, will fans and ownership alike look back and rue the fact the Bears delayed a rebuild or a reload by a year by not making changes this offseason?
Regardless, there’s still time left this offseason for the Bears to make another move at the most important position in sports and change the narrative on this franchise for the 2021 season.