I wonder when the obvious smacked Ryan Pace in the back of the head.
Was it when he first saw Mitch Trubisky throw a pass in rookie camp, a week or so after Pace, the Bears’ general manager, chose Trubisky second overall in the 2017 draft? Were there warning signs even then? Throws to the broadside of a barn regularly going astray?
Was it during the 2017 season, when Trubisky couldn’t complete 60 percent of his throws in a basic offense? Did the scout inside Pace say, “Uh-oh”?
Was it during the 2018 season, when Trubisky’s decent stats belied a shaky quarterback?
Did the obvious hit Pace last season, when the Bears, with a Super Bowl-quality defense, finished 8-8 behind a QB who finished near the bottom of the NFL in more than a few passing categories?
Or did it hit him at his end-of-season news conference, when he said “Mitch is our quarterback” and had to duck from all the things suddenly being thrown at him?
We’ll probably never know because Pace is a man of few words and fewer candid ones.
What we do know is that the Bears on Monday tried to move on from Trubisky. They had talks with free-agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 for the Saints last season in place of an injured Drew Brees. Hallelujah?
Uh, it didn’t look like it as of Monday night.
Alas, they were also in trade talks for lesser talents Andy Dalton of the Bengals and Nick Foles of the Jaguars. It was a big comedown from the earlier Bridgewater revelation. Both quarterbacks would fit the bill as competition for Trubisky, and that’s not a solution. It would still allow the Bears to declare Mitch the winner after a “fair-and-square” QB training-camp battle. But Pace can’t present the same offense with the same quarterback to the fan base next season — not if he values the use of his limbs.
The Bears did agree to a contract with 33-year-old tight end Jimmy Graham on Monday. You might remember him from the 1970s.
The idea of bringing in a quarterback to challenge Trubisky — to “push” him, as it has been framed — is offensive. It assumes he deserves a chance to keep his job (he doesn’t), and it implies competition is all it will take for him to play better. The second part doesn’t speak well for Trubisky’s self-drive or for coaches’ ability to get the most out of their players.
For all the Bears’ lofty words about their beleaguered quarterback over the last three years, for all their energetic defenses of him, we now know from the Bridgewater talks what they really think of Trubisky: not much.
Too bad Pace didn’t have that epiphany before he fell in love with the idea of a lunch-bucket, blue-collar quarterback who drove a 20-year-old Toyota Camry with 170,000 miles on it. It should have raised red flags that Trubisky had just 13 starts at North Carolina. There might have been a reason for that. It could have saved us from having to hear about his being a good teammate, as if that has anything to do with being a great quarterback.
Because these are the Bears, a strange organization that works in strange ways, you don’t have to be an investigative reporter to figure out how Pace still has a job. But it is galling: The man who made one of the biggest NFL draft mistakes in recent history is the man tasked with correcting that mistake.
Bridgewater would be an immediate upgrade at quarterback, and — provided Pace finds some offensive linemen and more skill players — the Bears might be back in playoff contention. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr would be an upgrade, too. Dalton or Foles? Not enough of one.
We weren’t idiots when it came to what we saw in Trubisky, no matter how much Pace and Nagy wanted us to believe we were. There’s backing your quarterback, and then there’s the overboard PR blitz the two put on for Mitch. The football handbook said they had to support their guy, but it was clear early on that they were trying to compliment a great quarterback into existence. It didn’t work.
At a minimum, it appears there’s going to be competition for the Bears’ starting job. That’s only a good thing if they bring in a better quarterback than Trubisky and if that better quarterback is allowed to win the job.
But nothing is certain, for one simple reason. These are the Bears.