Ryan Pace knows how stunned you were. And the Bears GM is aware of how Chicago fans reacted to his trade of third-round and fourth-round picks to move up one spot and draft North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky, seven weeks after he signed 27-year-old ex-Buccaneer QB Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million deal.
It’s OK. He gets how you might feel, and he’ll even concede he feels a little differently about it now than he did in April.
“I was just thinking about that. In fact, it actually just feels better now,” Pace said, sitting in the atrium of the athletic building at Olivet Nazarene, where the Bears hold training camp. “I go to bed at night with a smile on my face. I just feel better. We all do. I think every thought we had, we’re seeing it now. The good thing, let’s face it, that can be tough for those guys. But they’ve all handled it awesome. And that’s really good to see.”
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What are we seeing? Well, this isn’t just about the Bears. It’s about the Eagles too, and a trend that may well take off in the years to come among teams that are wandering around in the wilderness looking for their next franchise quarterback.
In this week’s Game Plan, from the camp trail, we’ll have an update on the knee of Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater; we’ll explain why Mike McCarthy is trying to carry the vibes of last fall over to this summer; we’ll get a way-too-early look at the potentially incredibly rich quarterback market of 2018; and we’ll also check in on the progress of Carson Wentz in Philly.
And we’re going to start with Wentz too. Because in a roundabout way, Wentz—and more specifically the way Philly acquired him—became a Bears story this offseason, Or, at least, that should’ve been the story once people got past the initial shock of Pace and his group moving aggressively for a rookie quarterback soon after handsomely rewarding a veteran at the position.
You may have forgotten, but the Eagles signed Sam Bradford to a two-year, $36 million deal and Chase Daniel to a three-year, $21 million deal last March before trading up twicein the first round to land Wentz. A year later, Wentz is the only one left. And if he’s what Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson think he is, no one will remember the rest.
Pace has proof, too. “I grew up in Dallas, and when they acquired (Troy) Aikman, they also brought in Steve Walsh.” The Cowboys got Walsh, as no one remembers, with a first-rounder in the 1989 supplemental draft. That wound up costing Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones the first pick in the 1990 draft. Aikman won three Super Bowls, made the Hall of Fame, and Dallas hasn’t heard much about Walsh or the forfeited pick since.
The point? If an over-the-top investment solves a team’s quarterback problem, no one will ask if it was worth it. There’s no price too high for that.
“For us, it went back to that original thought—it’s just too important a position to mess around with,” Pace says now. “And god, if we’re able to create a scenario—and we always say ‘competition everywhere’, but this is bigger—where it works out where we have two good quarterbacks, that’s a great thing, coming off a situation where we really wanted to upgrade that position.
“And then as you start talking about it, we have an environment where we can handle it the right way, you don’t have to throw this guy out there right away.”
That brings us to where the Bears quarterbacks are now. On most days, they’ll split the reps up 4-4-4, Glennon with the 1s, Mark Sanchez with the 2s, and Trubisky with the 3s. On Wednesday, for the first time, Trubisky took some snaps with the 2s. The idea here is entrench Glennon with the starters, and pace the development of Trubisky, who literally needed to learn to take a snap and call a play in the huddle.
But if it sounds like all of this worked out as Pace and Co. saw it back in January, as the Bears prepared to cut ties with Jay Cutler, that wouldn’t be quite right either.
Glennon was a target from the start. Pace had a high grade on him before the 2013 draft, and got to see him play for two years while working for the Bucs’ NFC South rivals in New Orleans. The Bears saw Glennon as a starting-quality quarterback who just needed a chance to play. Chicago would give it to him on a contract that would allow the club to bail after a year if the match didn’t work.
Meanwhile, Pace knew his own feelings on Trubisky—after the fall, Pace felt like the first-year UNC starter was the best prospect in the class—but guarded them. Then, his colleague’s evaluations started pouring in.
“The area scout, the over-the-top scout, the director of player personnel, the college director—it was unanimous that he was the No. 1 quarterback in this year’s class,” Pace said. “And then to sit back quietly, and see our coaches come to the same conclusion, it gives you conviction. Because now, without me making them biased, and everyone on board like that, we can be aggressive and just go get it done.”
And part of his decision to be aggressive was, indeed, inspired by Philly.
“We liked Wentz too and to see a team aggressively go do that at a position of need? Hell yeah,” Pace said.” You’ve heard stories of ‘God, there’s a player right in front of them, and they don’t do it, and he goes and it deflates the room.’ I was in New Orleans when we traded up for Brandin Cooks, and last year when we traded up a couple spots for Leonard Floyd. If the room has conviction on a player, go get him.”
Another thing played into it, too. A couple days before the draft, the Bears started getting calls about their pick. They knew they were at the mercy of the Browns, who they worried would take Trubisky at 1, and they were confident the Niners wouldn’t take a quarterback at 2. But, Pace says, “people are calling, wanting to come up to our spot, and we had a pretty good idea of who it was for. So if they’re calling us …”
He figured they were calling the Niners, too, and that was enough to push him to fork over the two mid-round picks to move up one spot. He recovered one by moving back in the second round, and the truth is that if Trubisky is who Pace believes he can become, none of it will matter.
Pace saw Drew Brees up close for nine seasons in New Orleans. Pace told me that it taught him, first, to value traits like accuracy, an ability to process, and work ethic over arm strength and size. And it also drove home to him how much it means to have an elite quarterback.
“You could call them erasers, these top quarterbacks in the league that can erase flaws on your roster, make people around them better,” Pace said. “I feel like when you don’t have a quarterback, you almost have to be perfect in every personnel decision you make. When you have a quarterback, he can raise boats, there’s a little bit more margin for error.
“So now to look at the room, to have Mike Glennon, a guy we’ve liked since he came out of N.C. State, and to see him in a starting opportunity is awesome. And then go to Sanchez, a guy that we’ve always valued and I think he’s perfect in this role. And to get the top quarterback in the draft, what the quarterback room of the Chicago Bears looks like now compared to what it looked like not very long ago, it’s exciting.”
Time will tell if he’s right about Glennon. We probably won’t know for a couple years what the Bears have in Trubisky.
But the truth is, for how the Bears were criticized, and the Eagles took some heat last year, a trend rooted in common sense may well be emerging. Would anyone argue there’s a price too high to get it right at quarterback?
“I do think it could easily become a trend,” Pace said. “It’s just too important of a position, and you can increase your odds of success doing it this way.”
Hard to argue with that.
FIRST AND 10
1. At this point, it’s easy to see where Colin Kaepernick is stuck. In both cases this offseason where a team showed public interest in him, it became a referendum on the league and the organization in question. And that could well work against him now. Or at least make it so any interested party is very quiet in kicking the tires.
2. There’d be no shock in the Vikings organization if, by year’s end, third-year rusher Danielle Hunter is considered the best player on a defense teeming with talent. One staffer used a single word to describe him to me: “ridiculous.” Last year, Hunter had 12.5 sacks, despite playing about 40 percent of the snaps.
3. The people in Carolina are less than surprised that Kony Ealy, traded in March to New England, is struggling in his early days as a Patriot. His rep with the Panthers was that he was late for meetings off the field, busted assignments on it, and had excuses for all of that. He never fully bought into the program, and it’ll be interesting to see if Bill Belichick can get him to in Foxboro.
4. Under-the-radar position battle to watch: Raiders right tackle. The team is encouraged with rookie David Sharpe, who’s pushing veteran Marshall Newhouse at the position, with second-year man Vadal Alexander factoring into the equation too. The Raiders’ o-line was among the league’s best last year, and how this shakes will go a long way in determining whether they get back there.
5. That, of course, assumes that holdout Donald Penn is in place at left tackle. It’s hard to blame 30-somethings like Penn and Houston left tackle Duane Brown for trying to get one more bite of the financial apple. It’s also hard to see these holdouts actually keeping either guy off the field when the games actually count.
6. Along those lines, Branden Albert‘s attempt at squeezing some money out of the Jaguars—Jacksonville traded for him in March—was worth a shot. Now that he’s retired, rookie Cam Robinson gets the left tackle assignment. We wrote on him in May, with this from an AFC scouting director: “Athletically, he’s good enough, he’s a great bender. Is he an elite left tackle? No. But he can be an elite guard or an elite right tackle. He’s gonna be a good player, and he’s every bit as good as the guy the Giants took a couple years ago at 10—he’s a better athlete than (Ereck) Flowers.”
7. The Jets are pretty pleased with the early camp returns they’ve gotten from Christian Hackenberg, whose mechanical work with QB coach Jeremy Bates seems to be paying off. Hackenberg has taken a significant step from last year, in cleaning up his footwork, accuracy and delivery. He needs to be more consistent still, but the big question is whether the changes will hold up when the bullets are flying.
8. The Lions left tackle situation, with Taylor Decker on the shelf, is still up in the air and is one worth watching. Decker’s not expected back until midseason, at the earliest, and big-ticket free-agent right tackle Ricky Wagner lacks the flexibility to flip sides.
9. Just terrible injury luck for the Chargers, after enduring similar fortune over the past two years, with the torn ACL to second-round pick Forrest Lamp. That means their top two picks (WR Mike Williams being the other) may not play this year, and those guys came in a draft year where Los Angeles was trying to play it safe with medicals—shying away from Ohio State’s Malik Hooker and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen as a result.
10. After being at Bears practice Wednesday, I can give you two rookies you should keep an eye on. One of them is gigantic: 6-foot-6, 270-pound tight end Adam Shaheen. The other is not: 5-foot-6, 181-pound scatback Tarik Cohen. I’d expect both will find roles as rookies.