The Bears didn’t pick up the fifth-year option of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky before the season, making most believe there was little chance the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft would return to Chicago with a new contract in 2021.
But that was before the Bears went 6-3 with him as their starting QB and they made the playoffs at 8-8. Trubisky didn’t light things up and make a sudden jump to top-flight passer by any means, but he was effective in moving the offense along with his arm, accuracy and athleticism, to the point he was a much better option than midseason replacement Nick Foles.
Trubisky made the decision on his future trickier with a December to remember. While the Bears scored at least 30 points in four consecutive games for the first time in 55 years, Trubisky put up these numbers, leaning heavily on the stellar running of second-year back David Montgomery: 72.4 completion percentage, 108.5 passer rating, 8.1 yards per attempt, 73 yards rushing, 8 total TDs to only 3 turnovers.
Now the Bears are faced with a tough question. Should they bring back Trubisky as a relative value vs. the rest of the QB market in 2021? Or should they let him walk as planned in free agency, and go ahead with the plan to target another QB high in the draft or find a different veteran bridge option?
Had the Bears collapsed and not snuck into the playoffs as an NFC wild-card No. 7, that would be a no-brainer. But now with the Bears out of the top 18 picks without a clear shot at their QB of choice and a salary-cap crunch, figuring out what they should do at the most important position under coach Matt Nagy is the most important call of their upcoming offseason.
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How much would it cost the Bears to re-sign Mitchell Trubisky?
The Bears are projected to be a little over the projected salary cap for 2021 with the players they will have under contract. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is the ideal cut candidate to make some room ($10.5 million), folowing by tight end Jimmy Graham ($7 million) and offensive tackle Bobby Massie ($5.4 million).
They can’t afford to invest big money to either keep or acquire players. Wide receiver Allen Robinson is fully expected to walk and find a third NFL team, one that can compensate him better ahead of his age 28 season, in search of a better quarterback/offensive situation.
The Bears might have gotten the best of both worlds with Trubisky in terms of not being good enough to earn a top-half QB salary but also good enough to be a worthy return on investment. Trubisky made $7.2 million this season, so Chicago could bump him up to something like 2 years at $20-$25 million and still be bottom-third in paying its starting QB.
If the Bears think Trubisky can further improve under Nagy and or at least facilitate parts of the offense to be successful while counting on their defense to help them win more games, that’s the equivalent of a high-end backup’s salary and just more than what a rookie first-round pick would make over the next two years. They could still keep Foles as reasonably priced contingency plan or find a way to trade him to be someone else’s No. 2.
What are the Bears’ free-agent alternatives?
There’s not much out there that would feel like better spending. Dak Prescott will be re-signing with the Cowboys and Philip Rivers could easily retire if he doesn’t re-sign with the Colts. Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Andy Dalton have little appeal as Foles-like stopgaps. Jacoby Brissett has some intrigue, but then again, that feels like a move parallel to keeping Trubisky for a QB that needs to learn Nagy’s system.
The Bears already didn’t have interest in Cam Newton or Jameis Winston when both were free agents in 2020. They could think about trading for the Eagles’ Carson Wentz, but their cap situation is rather prohibitive to make that work. The veteran market doesn’t offer any obvious other solutions, given for how cheap they can keep Trubisky with Nagy.
Who could the Bears draft?
This then is the only other question for Chicago to answer. Should form hold in the playoffs with the Bears losing in the wild-card round, they would pick No. 20. They don’t have a lot of good ways to trade up into the top 10 from there to target BYU’s Zach Wilson. North Dakota State’s Trey Lance is a more realistic possibility, but he’s headed to a top-half pick now.
For the Bears’ purposes, Florida’s Kyle Trask and Alabama’s Mac Jones might be reaches at No. 20, also given tapping into a strong wide receiver class will become a priority with Robinson about to leave. The Bears still should think about drafting a QB but bringing back Trubisky and drafting someone such as Georgia’s Jamie Newman, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett or Iowa State’s Brock Purdy with a Day 2 or Day 3 pick seems like.the better route.
Just like Trubisky wasn’t bad enough to forget about in 2021, the Bears were likely too good for landing Wilson or Lance once Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields are off the board first.
Bears fans may want to groan at the thought of Trubisky returning. But for Bears’ officials, he’s given them reason to be their most logical, continued short-term solution — with still the potential to be a longer-term one with a big second chance.