Hard Truths for Bears Fans

After failing to acquire Russell Wilson via trade, Chicago Bears fans are ready to fire everybody from the head coach all the way up to the owner, and especially General Manager Ryan Pace.

It’s clear that Bears fans really had their hopes up for Russell Wilson. A lot of them thought it was basically a done deal and that it was only a matter of time before the news broke.

You can understand the frustration among Bears fans when the deal failed to materialize. The Bears haven’t had a true franchise quarterback since 1950, the year Sid Luckman retired. Bear fans thought the 71-year wait was coming to an end.

When the Bears announced they were signing Andy Dalton to a contract to be the team’s starting QB, all hell broke loose in Bear Nation. The fans wanted Russell Wilson, but they got Andy Dalton.

“Really? Andy Dalton? THE RED RIFLE? Is that the best we can do?!”

Actually, yes. I’m here to deliver some hard truths for Bear fans. And that’s one of them: Andy Dalton was the best possible option at QB for the Bears in free agency.

Let’s go over the other potential options and I’ll explain why:

1. DeShaun Watson: On Monday, Ian Rapoport went on Pat McAfee’s show and insinuated that the Bears are making a push for Watson, and are one of five teams completely undeterred by all the lawsuits and allegations. But the Texans have shown zero desire to trade Watson, even amid all the drama. They haven’t taken any phone calls about him and have basically dug in their heels. That could change as we get closer to the draft (and the Texans have zero first round picks), but we’ve never really heard the Bears connected to DeShaun Watson in any meaningful sense. It’s hard to see that changing because the one thing the Texans want (a high draft pick) the Bears don’t have. I’ll never say never, but the Bears are probably not getting Watson.

2. Russell Wilson: We were told the Bears made a big-time offer for Wilson but the Seahawks turned them down. However, I never bought into the idea that the Seahawks were truly considering trading Russell Wilson. I think what really happened was Russell Wilson tried to use the Bears as leverage in his power struggle with Pete Carroll. And it seems like he got what he wanted by forcing Pete Carroll’s hand. Pete Carroll is nearly 70 and doesn’t want to go through a rebuild with a new QB.

However, I was just watching Chris Simms’ Unbuttoned podcast from March 18 and he said that, essentially, all the Bear-Seahawks trade talk was fake news:

“I know from multiple people I trust–that offer [from Chicago for Russell Wilson] was never real. From what I know, that was total propaganda. It was the Bears trying to make it sound like, ‘We got Andy Dalton, but hey, we tried to get Russell Wilson.’ From my understanding, from people who know the situation, there was never a formal offer of that kind from the Bears to the Seahawks. So in my eyes it was a ‘let me put this out there to lessen the blow for when people look at Andy Dalton as our new QB, they don’t totally shit the bed.’ Well I’m hear to let you know, you should maybe shit the bed, okay? They didn’t really try to get Russell Wilson.

So this from Simms would indicate that not only do the Bears no longer have a shot at Russell Wilson, they never had a shot at him ever, at all. There was no time over the past couple months where the Bears were ever serious contenders to get Russell Wilson. It was B.S. the whole time. Russ was never truly available.

If this is the case, then it’s forgivable that Pace was unable to make the trade for Wilson happen. Where he went wrong was in allowing his pursuit of Wilson to leak to the media, because it instantly got everyone in Chicago believing the trade was a done deal. The PR aspect of it was terribly managed.

But really, did Bears fans truly believe, deep down, that the Seahawks would ever part with an elite QB like Russell Wilson without getting a top-4 draft pick in return? The Bears have pick #20. Seattle cannot draft an elite QB with that pick. The Bears don’t have the assets to make a trade for Russell Wilson realistic. They just don’t. It was always a pipe dream.

3. Sam Darnold: He’s not a free agent, but most people believe the Jets are about to move off of him and draft Zach Wilson. It would be far cheaper to acquire Darnold than Watson and Wilson. Sure, he’s a fixer-upper, but the potential is there–at least people believe it is (more on this later).

Wouldn’t you, if you’re the Bears, want to take a chance on him? He’s only 23 years old and going to be 24 in June. He’s actually younger than Joe Burrow despite being drafted two years before Burrow. In fact, Darnold is younger than all but three QBs in the NFL right now: Justin Herbert, Tua and Jalen Hurts.

Some team is going to take a chance on him, why not the Bears? If Darnold doesn’t work out this year, you’re probably fired anyway. And if he does work out, then you look like an absolute genius and you probably keep your job for years to come. Is it likely that Darnold turns his career around with a change of scenery? No, I wouldn’t say it’s likely. But it’s at least possible. The potential reward outweighs the risk.

The problem with this is there’s no guarantee Sam Darnold is actually good, and you’d have to give up a draft pick–probably a 2nd or 3rd rounder–for him. It’s far less risky to just sign a free agent QB. Right now, if we just go by recent stats, there are lots of free agent QBs that had better 2020 seasons than Darnold.

4. Jameis Winston: He’s already re-upped with the Saints, but he was available for a brief time. He might’ve been a better option for the Bears than Andy Dalton. At least with Jameis you know the guy can sling it for 5000+ yards and 30+ TDs. Yes, he’s going to throw a lot of picks, but as I went over in a prior piece, up until that 2019 season, Jameis had a career TD:INT ratio of solidly around 2:1, maybe a little less. With the right coach and the right system, I think Jameis Winston can be highly effective, and that’s why I believe he will surprise people down in New Orleans this upcoming season. I think this is the reason he signed with New Orleans last year and re-upped there this year: he believes Sean Payton can get the best out of him. And I think he’s right. The arm talent is there. He just needs the right coach. So why would Jameis leave Sean Payton for Matt Nagy, a coach most people probably view as a dead man walking? Stability in New Orleans vs. instability in Chicago. Jameis Winston is in a great spot down in New Orleans. He’s going to get to succeed Drew Brees and play for one of the best offensive masterminds the game has ever seen. He would be dumb to leave.

5. Ryan Fitzpatrick: We all know what Fitz-magic is. He is not a guy who is going to lead you to a Super Bowl, in fact he’s never made the playoffs. He has spurts of brilliance, but also spurts where he becomes “Fitz-tragic.” He’s a rollercoaster ride. He’s always going to play his ass off, and he’s always going to be one of the most likable and meme-able quarterbacks in the league. Bears fans definitely wouldn’t have been rejoicing over signing Fitzmagic, but he would’ve been better-received than Dalton. Overall, Fitzmagic is probably a more dynamic player than Dalton, and since they both cost the same, why not opt for Fitz? Well, because, as I went over above, he’s been on 9 teams in 17 seasons, and there’s a reason for that. Andy Dalton is undeniably a better QB overall. Just look at their stats side-by-side:

Let’s get real here. Dalton has a better win/loss record, a better completion rate, more TDs, fewer INTs, a better passer rating, a better ANY/A, and he averages more yards per game. Dalton is better.

You like Fitzpatrick more because he’s more charismatic and meme-able, but he’s not a better QB than Andy Dalton. He just isn’t.

6. Mitch Trubisky: As much of a disappointment as Trubisky has been during his Bears career, at least he can make plays with his feet and improvise. Is Dalton’s arm really that much better than Mitch’s? Mitch wasn’t great in the playoff game against the Saints, but he wasn’t bad. 19/29 for 199 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs for a 96.8 passer rating. Plus he should’ve had that 50-yard bomb TD early on that Wims just dropped. You could do worse than Mitch Trubisky. He was 6-3 as a starter last season, for Pete’s Sake. But let’s be honest: he and the Bears were done with one another. Neither side wanted to do a one-year deal when it was clear there’s no long-term future together. A one-year deal would just be prolonging the inevitable split, so Trubisky was not a realistic option. When the Bears declined his 5th-year option prior to the start of last season, the writing was on the wall: the Trubisky-era in Chicago was over.

7. Tyrod Taylor: T-Mobile isn’t a long-term solution at QB, but he’s probably more dynamic than Dalton. Taylor can make plays with his feet. He can improvise, just like Trubisky. Andy Dalton cannot. The Bears do not have a good offensive line. A pure pocket passer like Dalton could get killed back there. Taylor at least has a chance of escaping and making some plays with his legs. I think Bears fans would’ve appreciated Tyrod more than Dalton. Not by that much more, but more nonetheless. All that said, Andy Dalton definitely has a better arm than Tyrod Taylor. Hands-down. Just look at the stats:

Dalton is the superior passer. Taylor’s stats are pretty comparable, but his arm is just not as prolific as Dalton’s. Tyrod Taylor is just not a guy who is able to drop back and pass 40-50 times a game consistently.

Dalton Was the Only Real Option

I went over 7 QBs the Bears (supposedly) could’ve acquired, plus Dalton himself makes 8.

DeShaun Watson and Russell Wilson were never realistic options for the Bears. Get real. So that’s 2 of the 8 off the board. Trubisky makes 3 of 8.

Then Jameis Winston, who would have been dumb to leave New Orleans for Chicago, makes 4 of 8. Dalton, in my view, is a superior QB than both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor. That’s 6 of 8.

And Sam Darnold isn’t even a free agent. He’s still under contract with the Jets.

So the way I see it, Andy Dalton was the only real option for the Bears at QB. He truly was. I know Bear fans don’t want to hear it, but I don’t think Russell Wilson was ever a real option. Neither was/is DeShaun Watson.

And as for Sam Darnold, there’s still plenty of time for the Bears to make a trade for him. The Draft is over a month away. It’s still possible.

But another thing about Sam Darnold: everybody just looks at the potential upside with him. Nobody really thinks about the possibility that maybe he just isn’t that good and never will be. People just ignore the fact that he’s underperformed his whole career by saying, “Well, it’s Adam Gase’s fault.” Or “It’s the Jets! Nobody could’ve had success there!” That’s how we hand-wave all the real concerns about Darnold away.

Greg Cosell said Sam Darnold has “bad lower body mechanics” (i.e. footwork) and “isn’t consistently accurate.”

And check this out:

So the perception of Darnold around the NFL is way lower than it is among fans. Fans basically pretend the first three years of his career didn’t even happen, but around the league, he’s defined by his underwhelming first three seasons. Lombardo also added that a former GM told him he’s “not surprised guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor have signed [FA deals] before any Darnold deal has gone down.”

Maybe Sam Darnold just isn’t that good, and the Jets are moving off of him for a reason. Maybe Sam Darnold was part of the reason the Jets were so bad these past few years, rather than an innocent victim of Adam Gase’s boundless incompetence.

I think the idea of Sam Darnold really appeals to fans of QB-deprived NFL teams. They see him as a way to get an elite young QB prospect for fairly cheap: he won’t even cost a first-round pick!

But the reality is, if he is indeed made available, it’s for a reason. If he was any good, the Jets wouldn’t be so willing to deal him, much less replace him in the draft after three years. Normally when teams get their hands on a great QB talent, they hold on to him for dear life. This is why the Texans refuse to trade DeShaun Watson even though he clearly wants nothing to do with them.

People really need to adjust their expectations accordingly with Sam Darnold. It’s possible he’s the next Ryan Tannehill, a QB who thrives after being freed from the clutches of Adam Gase. But I think Tannehill was better early in his career than Darnold has been. There was never a point in Tannehill’s career with Miami where he looked as bad as Darnold has looked.

All I’m saying is this: there really is not a historical track record of QBs getting drafted very high, failing miserably with the team that drafted them, and then turning into Pro Bowlers after switching teams. It’s really just Steve Young, and that’s about it. This is not to say Darnold can’t be the next Steve Young, but it is to say that it’s more likely he just isn’t very good and never will be. That’s a far more likely scenario than him somehow blossoming into a future superstar QB.

So before we bash on Ryan Pace for not trading for Sam Darnold, please stop and consider the possibility that Sam Darnold just isn’t very good, and that the main reason you think he’s still going to become a star one day is because you think your team can acquire him for cheap.

On to the next hard truth to swallow.

Nick Foles Isn’t Better Than Dalton

This is another common talking point: “Why would the Bears sign Dalton when they have Foles?! They’re the same guy–hell, Foles might even be better!”

It’s certainly true that the Bears could’ve signed Dalton as a free agent last season, but instead they chose to trade for Nick Foles, and now they have both guys on the roster, making one of them by definition a poor acquisition.

But overall, I think Dalton is the better option at QB.

Here’s the stat comparison between the two:

Dalton has a better winning percentage, a nearly identical completion rate, a nearly identical passer rating, a slightly worse TD:INT ratio, a slightly higher ANY/A, and a clearly better yards-per-game stat.

The difference is that Dalton has shown that he can be a more stable starting QB than Foles. Nick Foles has never once started more than 11 games in a season. He may have won a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP, but he is just not a franchise quarterback no matter how much we all like him and want him to be one. There’s a reason he’s been on 5 teams in 9 years.

Dalton, on the other hand, was a franchise QB for nearly a decade and led the Bengals to the playoffs four times.

A thought just occurred to me: we know Dalton has a pretty good history as a regular season QB, but is famously 0-4 in the playoffs. Nick Foles, however, is the exact opposite: he doesn’t do much in the regular season, but he is an absolute legend in the playoffs. So maybe the Bears are going to roll Andy Dalton out in the regular season, and the unleash Playoff Nick on the league when the postseason starts.

I’m only half kidding.

Andy Dalton: Best Bears QB Since 1950?

Chris Simms said that the Bears liked Andy Dalton because he’s reliable, consistent and even-keeled. Although he’s not a dynamic playmaker, he’s accurate with the football, and he’s very coachable. He’s stable, conservative, and he’s not going to lose you games, which, honestly, might just be enough to make him the best Bears QB since 1950.

I am not kidding about this. The Bears have had consistently below-average quarterback play since the late 1940s. For over 70 years, Bears QBs have been net-liabilities for their teams. Jim McMahon had a few years in the mid/late 1980s where he was a net-asset to the team, and Jay Cutler may have been a net-asset in 2010 (may have been–it’s up for debate), but for the most part, the Bears’ QBs have been headwinds for the team rather than tailwinds.

The Bears probably would’ve won the Super Bowl back in 2006 if they just had a league-average QB. Their defense was good enough, but it couldn’t overcome all the turnovers the Rex Grossman-led offense made.

Now, this year’s Bears defense will certainly not be as good as 2006’s defense. So the 2021 Bears are not Super Bowl contenders with a league-average QB. But my overall point is that Dalton really doesn’t have to be spectacular in order to be one fo the best QBs in Bears history. That’s how bad this franchise has been at acquiring quarterbacks. In 2013, Dalton threw for 4,300 yards and 33 TDs. Those are better numbers than any QB in Bears history has posted. As I mentioned above, the Bears have never had a QB throw for 4000+ yards and 30+ TDs in the same season. If Dalton can do that for the Bears then by default he becomes the greatest Bears QB since Sid Luckman (I’m not holding my breath, however).

That’s how bad Bears QBs have historically been.

I know people think Dalton is garbage, but he was actually pretty good for many years while he was with the Bengals. He wasn’t great with Dallas last year, but they had a horrible defense and a banged up offensive line. Plus, Dalton was in and out of the lineup with injures. He still managed to go 4-5 and throw 14 TDs to 8 INTs.

I think he could actually provide the most stability at the QB position that the Bears have had since Jim McMahon in the 1980s.

Dalton actually has better career stats than Jay Cutler. Not by much, but they’re better. Have a look:

Dalton and Cutler have remarkably similar career stats. But Dalton’s are better, if only slightly.

Now do you get what I mean when I say Dalton genuinely might be the best Bears QB since 1950?

So What’s Pace’s Big Plan?

Roll with Dalton as the starter, try to build up the roster methodically, and win with defense and running while Dalton game-manages and takes care of the football.

You’re not tanking with Andy Dalton at QB and an above-average defense. At worst, you’re going to be like 6-10 or 7-9, and at best you’re going to be a Wild Card team. So you are not going to be able to get an elite QB prospect in the draft as long as Dalton is your QB.

Plus, I don’t think it’s smart for the Bears to trade up in this draft. They’d have to give up so many picks both this year and in the future, and they need all those picks to fill out their roster. They do not have the luxury of trading a bunch of picks just to move up and maybe get a shot at somebody like Trey Lance. I just don’t think it’s worth it. I’d rather take a chance on Kellen Mond in Day 2.

Here are the Bears’ needs right now, ranked:

  1. OT: Drafting at the 20 spot is tough because the top OL prospects (Sewell, Slater, Darrisaw) will all be gone by 20. So you might have to reach on Teven Jenkins or Jalen Mayfield
  2. CB: even though they replaced Kyle Fuller with Desmond Trufant, they need more depth here. However, I don’t expect it to be available in the first round. Surtain and Farley will be long gone by pick 20, so I’d advise waiting until Day 2 to draft a corner. Don’t reach.
  3. WR: You could go Rashod Bateman at 20, but I also think there’s greater value in Day 2 at the WR position. You should be able to get a guy like Kadarius Toney, Terrence Marshall, Dyami Brown or Rondale Moore on Day 2. I would not reach for a WR in the first round. Way too much value later on.
  4. TE: I think Kyle Pitts is the best overall prospect in the draft. He is an unbelievable talent. Unfortunately he’ll be long gone by pick 20. You should be able to get Pat Frieremuth or Brevin Jordan in round 2 or 3.
  5. QB: Now that you’ve got Dalton, you’re not desperate to trade up for a QB. They only way I’d recommend taking a QB in the first round is if somehow a guy like Fields or Lance falls all the way down to you. Otherwise I’d go Kellen Mond on day 2. I think he’s really underrated. And apparently Pace has been scouting him.

Another need I think the Bears have: running back. I don’t think Montgomery is bad, of course. In fact I think he’s pretty good. But I think it’s now more important than ever to have multiple good running backs in the NFL, especially if you’re a team like the Bears who lack an elite QB. By default, if you don’t have an elite passing game, then you should try to have a bruising running game. You should be running all over people. The 49ers ran their way to the Super Bowl in 2019. It absolutely can be done.

The Patriots dynasty always featured a stable of quality running backs. The Buccaneers were pretty stacked at the running back position.

I would have loved to see the Bears draft Najee Harris at 20, but they just signed Damien Williams. And I think he was a great pick-up. So I doubt we see them spend a first rounder on a running back.

They should draft best available, and I’d rather have the best running back available than the 3rd-best offensive tackle, or the 4th-best wide receiver. You have to take what the draft gives you. Don’t reach based on need. Just because you have a need at a given position doesn’t mean the guy you draft to fill that need will automatically be good. If you draft based on need, you are increasing your chances of whiffing. I hate teams that draft for need and try to force the issue. Just take best available. Draft for value. Play the hand you’re dealt, not the hand you wish you were dealt.

There is nothing wrong with drafting a great player at a position you don’t really need. Accumulate as much talent as possible and the rest will figure itself out.

However, I think Pace is going to end up slightly reaching on an offensive tackle like Teven Jenkins, Jalen Mayfield or Samuel Cosmi. It’s not ideal, but those are good prospects at the end of the day. The 20th pick is not really that great a place to be drafting.

But what is the bigger takeaway here? This is a semi-rebuild. Pace is not selling off future assets to win now. He’s not doing what Rams’ GM Les Snead is doing. He’s building in accordance with a longer-term plan, I think.

Pace Might Be Here to Stay

George McCaskey, the man who ultimately calls the shots for the Bears, said he was “impressed” with Pace and Nagy on January 13. In their press conference on that same day, neither McCaskey or team President Ted Phillips said anything about Nagy and Pace having one more year to prove themselves or be fired. Although they very noticeably were not given contract extensions, so that might have implied it.

In his remarks, McCaskey said that “both Ryan and Matt are learning and growing in their roles,” while also admitting that “mistakes have been made.” McCaskey did not sound like a guy who was ready to kick Pace and Nagy to the curb. It doesn’t sound like McCaskey thinks Pace and Nagy were to blame for the season.

Phillips echoed McCaskey’s comments as well. They both believe in Pace and Nagy and think they’re the right guys for the job.

I did not hear either guy say anything along the lines of “Pace and Nagy have one last chance.”

The point is, if you’re like me and you’re wondering why Ryan Pace is being so conservative and methodical when he should be taking risks and going for broke, maybe it’s because he’s been assured he will be with the team for longer than any of us fans think. Maybe McCaskey has promised him a contract extension if he just gets the team to 9-7 or something like that.

I mean, you’d expect Ryan Pace to be selling all the future assets off to help win in the present, because he really has nothing to lose. If it works, great, if not, then someone else has to deal with your mess.

But he’s not doing that. His actions are not reflective of a guy who has been given one last chance to get it right.

Pace is not behaving like a guy who will lose his job unless he does something dramatic.

You learn the most about people through their actions. Is Ryan Pace behaving like a guy who has one year to save his job? I don’t think so.

Which means his job might be more secure than most Bears fans think.

Look, the cap went down this year. That hasn’t happened in a very long time. Most teams in the NFL were not financially prepared for that to happen. Really, only the Patriots, Jets and Jaguars were prepared for a reduced-cap environment, and the Jags and Jets only were because they were tanking in 2020. It was accidental.

This is not to excuse Pace for not preparing himself to be able to make moves this offseason. Teams like the Giants, Browns and Chargers made some big time moves despite the tricky circumstances

Teams all around the league had to make painful roster cuts.

I really think McCaskey and Phillips will cut Pace some slack this offseason given the unique financial circumstances brought on by the pandemic.

And I do like what they said about sometimes the hard decision is to stay the course and not make the impulsive move to “fire everyone.”

At first I thought McCaskey was talking out of his ass when he said he believed Pace was doing the best he could given the circumstances, but the more I think about it, he’s right. Andy Dalton was the best we could do, and Pace was able to get him. I actually commend the move.

I know Bears fans are pissed about not getting Russell Wilson and instantly becoming Super Bowl contenders, but that was never going to happen. That was fantasyland. Pete Carroll would be a complete idiot to willingly part with a quarterback as good as Russell Wilson.

The (semi-)rebuild is going to be methodical and not rushed. We should appreciate that. When the right moment comes and a Super Bowl-caliber QB becomes available in the future, I think Pace should be ready to pounce. Next year and beyond, the salary cap will go back to normal.

Bears fans are just going to have to accept that the Bears are not winning the Super Bowl in 2021, and that firing Ryan Pace will not change that.

Octavian

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