You’d have figured that Ryan Pace would not be the one to pick the Chicago Bears’ next quarterback.
Pace, the Bears’ general manager, famously moved up to take Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 draft. He passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, as everyone knows by now. It was a career-defining gamble. It did not work.
By the end of last season, when Trubisky tanked and the Bears fell apart too, it seemed Pace might not keep his job. He did. And he’s acting like a GM who has one last chance, including a trade for quarterback Nick Foles on Wednesday.
The Bears’ moves have been questionable. Let’s take a look at the main ones to this point:
Floyd was a disappointment, with 18.5 sacks over four seasons. The Rams still thought enough of him to pay him $10 million for one year, and that deal can be worth $13 million with incentives.
Quinn is coming off a fine 11.5-sack season, and he was great early in his career with the Rams, but here were his sack totals for the four seasons before last year: 5, 4, 8.5, 6.5. This will be his fourth team in four years. He was traded to Dallas for just a sixth-round pick a year ago and seemed to be fading out of the NFL.
The Bears are gambling a $70 million, five-year deal that Quinn is all the way back, and not the same player who posted 24 sacks over the previous four seasons.
But for Graham?
Graham isn’t the same player he was with the Saints, and the Packers found that out. He didn’t do much for a Packers offense that desperately needed a second option. A two-year, $16 million deal for Graham seems like wishful thinking.
Trade for Nick Foles: If you get the best version of Foles, great. We’ve seen his best and it’s fantastic. But we’ve also seen his worst.
He got hurt last season and then after he came back he lost his job to rookie sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew II. The fourth-round pick the Bears gave up isn’t egregious and the restructured contract helps, but is Foles going to be the answer? Was he a better option than Teddy Bridgewater or Cam Newton? We all know that he’s going to be the starter unless he face-plants in camp, but it might not be the solution the Bears are hoping for.
Cut receiver Taylor Gabriel and cornerback Prince Amukamara: Two free-agent additions (Gabriel: $26 million over four years; Amukamara: $27 million over three years) who didn’t stick. The Bears gained $13.5 million in cap space by moving on, but haven’t replaced either.
These moves could work out. Quinn might be back on track. Perhaps we’ll see the Foles we saw bail out the Eagles twice after Carson Wentz’s injuries. Maybe Graham can produce enough to justify $8 million per season. There’s a lot of risk involved. The key will be Foles. If he can’t provide a significant upgrade over Trubisky, Chicago will be back at square one at quarterback. They’ll probably have a new general manager too.
We knew the Bears were coming into the offseason needing to make a couple of big moves after a disappointing 2019. They better work.
Here are some other winners and losers after a wild first three days of free agency (and you can look at our winners and losers after a wild first day, leading off with Kyler Murray and the Cardinals), starting with the so-called tampering period on Monday:
Tyrod Taylor, for now: Who knew that the quarterback carousel’s biggest winner would be Taylor?
When the offseason started, nobody figured Taylor would end up as one of the league’s 32 starters. But the Los Angeles Chargers cut ties with Philip Rivers, didn’t land Tom Brady and haven’t made a move for Cam Newton or anyone else. Through NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Chargers put out word that they’re planning on Taylor being their starter.
Maybe that’s a way to gain leverage from Carolina in a trade, or the Chargers have some other plan they’re keeping secret. Drafting a quarterback seems like a given, though they can’t be guaranteed to land their preferred option at No. 6. It’s unlikely, but It’s possible the top five picks will be quarterbacks Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jordan Love, and defensive end Chase Young in some order, with the help of some trades. Or perhaps three of the quarterbacks go and the Chargers aren’t in love with who falls to them. Then what?
Either way, at the moment Taylor is in position to start and get a shot to rejuvenate his career. That’s one of the biggest surprises of the offseason.
Nick Foles: Foles wasn’t guaranteed to land in a great spot. In fact, reports said the Jaguars were resisting trading him this offseason.
Foles lost his job to Gardner Minshew last year after he came back from injury and couldn’t drag the Jaguars back into playoff contention. Minshew is cheaper, younger and had some promising moments as a rookie. It would have made no sense for the rebuilding Jaguars to start Foles over Minshew in 2020.
The Bears could have traded for Andy Dalton or Cam Newton or stuck with Mitchell Trubisky or gone another route altogether. Then Foles might have been stuck. Now he steps into a situation with a creative offensive coach in Matt Nagy, a decent bit of talent around him and a city that spent the past year criticizing Trubisky. He’s not exactly replacing a legend.
Foles has had a weird career, with extreme ups and downs. It could go either way in Chicago. Here he has a chance, in a much better situation than he faced in Jacksonville.
Buffalo Bills: If the Bills are going to break the Patriots’ streak of AFC East titles, now is the time.
The Patriots won’t have Tom Brady at quarterback, and we don’t know who their next quarterback will be. While New England could end up figuring out a great solution, the Patriots are entering a brand new era and we don’t know how it will look.
The Bills seem to realize what’s at stake and have been aggressive. They filled their biggest need with a huge trade for Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs. Other additions have been good for the overall depth of the roster: defensive linemen Mario Addison, Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson, cornerback Josh Norman and linebacker A.J. Klein.
Prepare for the Bills to be one of the buzzy teams of the offseason. Right now, as crazy as it sounds, you’d have to call them the favorites in the AFC East.
Cam Newton and Jameis Winston: Both quarterbacks won national titles and Heisman Trophies. Both were No. 1 overall picks. Newton was the 2015 NFL MVP. Winston led the NFL last season with 5,109 passing yards, which ranks eighth in NFL history.
And it’s possible one or both won’t have a starting job in 2020.
There aren’t many teams still looking for a quarterback. Winston lost his job when Tom Brady agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Newton, who has been a far better NFL quarterback than the interception-prone Winston but is coming off a foot injury, was given permission to seek a trade when the Panthers settled on Teddy Bridgewater as their new starter.
What teams make sense for either quarterback?
The Patriots need a Brady replacement, but there has been no news on what they will do (Andy Dalton could be their answer). The Bears traded for Nick Foles. The Chargers insist they don’t want a veteran and will go forward with Tyrod Taylor. A few teams will take a quarterback early in the draft. Which starting jobs are available for Newton or Winston? There are no obvious ones now.
It’s hard to figure out their landing spots. There might be some nervous moments for them over what happens next.
Jacksonville Jaguars: While the Nick Foles trade is debatable for the Bears, signing Foles was a nightmare for the Jaguars.
The Jaguars’ final bill for four games of Foles? They paid $30.5 million for one year, according to NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero. Foles threw three touchdowns with two interceptions, and the Jaguars went 0-4 in his starts. The Jaguars have a staggering $18.75 million dead cap hit this year from trading Foles. That’s an extreme example of mismanagement.
The Jaguars have seen a lot of talent leave, and their main addition was a five-year, $53.75 million deal to inside linebacker Joe Schobert, which seems like an overpay at a position that has been marginalized. A long rebuild is coming in Jacksonville.
Jadeveon Clowney: Perhaps the most surprising development of the first three days of the free-agency period was the lack of any news about Clowney.
There were no specific reports of teams reaching out to Clowney or making a concrete offer. Clowney was arguably the best player to hit the market, but nothing developed right away.
Clowney’s asking price has always been high. There were reports when he was with the Houston Texans that he wanted a $100 million deal. It seems safe to say if there was a $100 million deal waiting for him in free agency this offseason, we’d have heard about it by now.
All it takes is one team to realize it has cap space for Clowney and their other free-agent targets have signed elsewhere. It’s not like Clowney won’t get a significant contract, even if it’s short of $100 million. But teams might believe that Clowney, who is great against the run but not the pure pass rusher that most franchises covet, isn’t worth a contract that would make him one of highest-paid defenders in the NFL. Perhaps Clowney is looking at having to settle for a shorter deal than he wants. So he waits.