The Bears Do the Quarterback Shuffle
PHILADELPHIA — Mitchell Trubisky was standing at the top of the famous Philadelphia Art Museum stairs, a Bears cap fitted atop his head, when his new team’s social media director excitedly rushed up to him, ready to capture the moment on SnapChat. “Chicago!” she exclaimed.
Trubisky shook his head in amazement. “You have no idea—I’m pumped,” he said.
The No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL draft turned to walk toward the media tent, where a catering worker extended a hand.
“Congratulations, man,” he said. “The. Chicago. Bears.”
This well-wisher said it slowly, as if emphasizing the astonishment that had swept over the crowd of some 100,000 near the Schuylkill River; the Bears’ hardy fan base back in the Windy City; and even Trubisky himself. The reaction on the NFL Network broadcast summed up what most of the viewing public was thinking: Is it OK to be left speechless by the second pick of the NFL draft?
Last year at this time, Trubisky had exactly zero starts for the University of North Carolina. But he was the first quarterback off the board in the 2017 draft, ahead of reigning national champion Deshaun Watson, and he’s going to a team that signed quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million deal in free agency six weeks ago. And Chicago didn’t just take Trubisky. The team traded up for him, investing significant present and future draft resources—third- and fourth-round picks this year, plus a third-rounder next year—to ensure they got their guy by moving up just a single slot. Few people outside of Halas Hall saw this coming. And Trubisky was as surprised as anyone.
“I didn’t have a lot of discussion with them,” Trubisky said shortly after his name was announced to a shocked Philadelphia crowd. “It was very secretive throughout the process. I think they didn’t want other teams to know they wanted me. But, they definitely did their research.”
The truth is, the Bears had zeroed in on Trubisky several weeks before the draft. Some NFL teams looked at his résumé and saw just 13 starts for the Tar Heels; the fact that he couldn’t beat out Marquise Williams, a quarterback not currently on an NFL roster, the previous two seasons; and no experience operating an offense under center. But the Bears saw, as GM Ryan Pace put it, a quarterback with “special attributes.” Trubisky is a tough pocket passer with good accuracy—he had a 67.5 career completion percentage and a 41:10 TD:INT ratio in college—and that imprecise quality teams refer to as “upside.”
Even more than usual, there was great uncertainty in how the first round would unfold, mostly because no one knew how strongly the quarterbacks would be coveted. The Browns had discussed taking Trubisky at No. 1, presciently knowing they likely wouldn’t be able to come back up to get him with their second pick in the first-round (they stood at 12 before the night started), but Cleveland ultimately took the consensus best player in the draft, Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett. Fearing that other teams would trade with the 49ers to get into the No. 2 position, the Bears made a bold move and set in motion a run on a group of quarterbacks that may not include a 2017 Day 1 starter. The Chiefs moved up 17 picks, into the No. 10 slot, to draft Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes as a successor to starter Alex Smith. Then Houston struck a deal with the Browns to jump from pick No. 25 to No. 12 to nab Watson.
Of the three teams that took a quarterback in the first round, only Houston had an immediate need at the position. And it’s a safe bet that most teams around the league would not have had those three quarterbacks rated among the top 13 rated players on their draft boards. The strongest positions in this year’s class were unexpected ones: defensive back and tight end. So why did this happen?
The crowd in Philadelphia needed to look no further than its hometown team. Remember last year, when the Eagles spent big on two quarterbacks in free agency? Sam Bradford re-signed on a two-year, $36 million deal, and Chase Daniel inked a three-year, $21 million pact . . . and then a few weeks later Philly traded up in the draft and used the No. 2 pick to select North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz. They ended up trading Bradford to Minnesota before the season began, and inserted Wentz sooner than expected into the franchise QB role. Daniel was cut this offseason.
The Eagles certainly didn’t know last spring that their QB situation would unfold that way, but the intent was simple: They were arming themselves with options at the most important position on the field. As Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie explained last May: “Having a lot of assets at the most important position in the NFL is a good strategic move for now. Because in the NFL, it’s the one position you can’t just go get. So when you have an opportunity, you’ve gotta take your shot, and you’ve gotta be bold. Otherwise, if you say to yourself, you know, it is probably a 50-50 shot that maybe the quarterback will be really good, you can’t let that deter you. So that’s how I look at it: You either have a really good QB and you compete for the Super Bowl, or you don’t and you are probably not competing for the Super Bowl.”
So the Bears, after breaking free from eight seasons of Jay Cutler, and in the third year of the Ryan Pace-John Fox regime, pushed all their quarterback chips into the middle. They liked Glennon, so they signed him in free agency. They liked Trubisky, so they traded up to get him. In their mind, passing up a potential franchise safety or running back (plus a bunch of mid-round picks) was worth it for another chance of answering their long-running quarterback quandary. (Pace on Thursday night did refer to Glennon as the team’s starting QB.)
But this is how the draft works: Only time will tell if the gamble was worth it. Trubisky’s night was a blur, but it would have been impossible not to feel the shock waves set off by the Bears’ first-round stunner. “It’s my job,” he said, “to go in there and prove them right—that they made the right decision to [move up] and get me.”
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