The Bears Can’t Go Out Like This

If it’s a make-or-break 2021 season for Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, they need another quarterback besides Andy Dalton and Nick Foles.
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In all fairness to the Bears’ current power structure, here are two things about Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace that we believe to be true:

Nagy is a creative coach with a deep Rolodex of play calls. He seems to legitimately care about his players and did all he could for Mitch Trubisky. It is possible, but not likely, that Trubisky has some hidden gear that will reveal itself with a new team in free agency. He took a pair of teams that were middling and flawed to the playoffs.

Similarly, Pace will always be doomed by his quarterback selection in the 2017 draft but, unlike other general managers who have made similarly horrendous quarterback decisions and doubled down on them via equally horrendous second contracts, Pace hit the escape hatch and desperately clawed for another option. Was it the right option? No. Could you reason it out, given that Nick Foles had some familiarity with Nagy and, at the time the Bears traded for him, had recently shouldered a team through the playoffs and into a Super Bowl? Yes.

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Now it seems that both are doomed if they cannot solve their quarterback problem heading into the 2021 season. At this moment, their options are Foles and Andy Dalton, whom they signed to a one-year contract in free agency. The Bears reportedly offered a trio of first-round picks and a handful of defensive starters for Russell Wilson, but were rebuffed by the Seahawks.

The league-wide game of quarterback musical chairs is coming to a close. Unless they can suddenly position themselves as a favorite for Deshaun Watson, which is unlikely given the trade capital available from other teams in pursuit, it looks like the draft is the Bears’ final lifeline to buoy this situation.

And it is a route we implore them to take. Because is this the way Nagy and Pace would really want to go out, hedging their long-term prospects on the arm of Andy Dalton?

If you think back to a lot of doomed regimes where the writing is on the wall unless a general manager or coach suddenly turns the team around, so many of those figures revert back to the habits that got them in the hole in the first place or do something completely erratic and irresponsible. There has to be a sensible middle ground between the panic maneuvers that certain embattled coaches and general managers make—let’s spend half a billion dollars on a bunch of coasting 30-year-olds in free agency!—and what the Bears’ plan seems to be at the moment, which feels like pulling up to the starting line of a drag race in a Honda Odyssey.

Pace’s appearance at North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance’s pro day was an encouraging sign that he might feel the same way. Roasting someone who isn’t Jon Gruden after three days of free agency doesn’t feel right or fair, so we’ll give Pace some benefit of the doubt that he is working on it.

Maybe the plan is for Dalton to act as a very short-term bridge quarterback, much in the way some other recently effective collegiate starters were catapulted into the NFL. In Lance, there appears to be some untapped potential. While we won’t pretend to know everything about the current class of upcoming quarterbacks, those who develop quarterbacks for a living suggest that there are more capable NFL-caliber quarterbacks than ever, just not that many NFL coaches, GMs and coordinators willing to imagine a place for them to succeed.

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The answer doesn’t even have to be Lance. It also doesn’t have to be Zack Wilson or Justin Fields. (And here’s where we’ll note that the Bears don’t pick until No. 20, which means landing any of the top quarterback prospects will take some navigating up the board.) It just has to be something with upside that isn’t merely Dalton and Foles. It has to be something that can give the Bears a chance to be something offensively that they aren’t already.

If your argument is that Pace is not qualified to make the decision about who that should be, look at it another way. After having botched Chicago’s last first-round quarterback selection, perhaps he is uniquely qualified to make the next big decision. How many of us perfected our processes without a failure to learn from?

In that way, the coming weeks and months will be instructive. Should Pace stand pat at the quarterback position, the Bears will know everything they need to about their GM. They might even learn something about Nagy, who will again have to operate with half a deck offensively. Should he bridge that gap between desperate and stubborn, to field at least a competent offense to go along with an aging but still sturdy defense, the Bears might finally have something.