CHICAGO — When Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy huddled with George McCaskey in the days after last season ended, with the direction of the Chicago Bears hanging in the balance, there’s little doubt the general manager and coach detailed their vision for improving the quarterback position.
There was no way of telling in January what path that would lead the team down, and the Bears surely prepared for a multitude of scenarios. This was before they had any idea that Russell Wilson’s agent would release a list of potential teams, sparking trade talks between the Bears and Seattle Seahawks.
With the NFL draft now two weeks away, the number of possibilities has been whittled and the idea the Bears could make a seismic addition with Wilson has fizzled. The Bears signed Andy Dalton to a one-year, $10 million contract in March and announced he will be the Week 1 starter without even competition from last year’s veteran addition, Nick Foles.
It seems rather unbelievable Pace and Nagy sold McCaskey on the idea of just casting their lot with a bridge quarterback such as the 33-year-old Dalton in the transition from former first-round pick Mitch Trubisky. Surely, signing Dalton is Part 1 of a two-part plan, which creates intrigue as you look ahead to the draft.
The Bears are in an interesting spot with multiple positions falling somewhere between the need and want categories. Wide receiver, cornerback and offensive tackle stand out as positions they should target after salary-cap issues handcuffed them in free agency. But can they prioritize a playmaker for the receiving corps, help for the secondary or a young addition to the line above a quarterback, the position the Bears have struggled with for so long?
Pace doesn’t need to channel his inner Jerry Angelo and announce the Bears are “fixated” on the quarterback position for everyone to realize they are. They have to be. They stand little chance of challenging the Green Bay Packers on a consistent basis as long as Aaron Rodgers still is performing at an All-Pro level and they’re circulating guys like Dalton, Trubisky, Foles and any of the other quarterbacks they’ve used over the last decade-plus.
It’s difficult to say how the draft will unfold with the first three picks expected to be quarterbacks. The Jacksonville Jaguars almost certainly are taking Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence No. 1, and the New York Jets likely will follow by choosing BYU’s Zach Wilson No. 2. The San Francisco 49ers shook up the draft three weeks ago with a massive trade to move from No. 12 to No. 3, positioning them to select Alabama’s Mac Jones, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
The Bears are in a challenging spot because they don’t pick until No. 20, and it would be super costly to trade up to No. 4 with the Atlanta Falcons, who are reportedly open to offers for the pick. Such a huge move would likely require three first-round picks — which the 49ers paid to swap spots with the Miami Dolphins — and it’s unknown if McCaskey would provide his blessing for such a risky move for the fourth pick at the position. Maybe he would, but that would require extraordinary faith in Pace, who is entering Year 7 and traded up one spot to select Trubisky at No. 2 back in 2017.
If Pace and Nagy are eyeing one of the top five quarterbacks — and both have been around the country getting close looks at the prospects, with Nagy photographed Wednesday at Fields’ second pro day in Columbus, Ohio — they have to hope one slides. Maybe not all the way to No. 20 but to a position where a trade up would not be cost-prohibitive. Pace and/or Nagy also have gone to see Jones and Lance.
The Falcons could stay put at No. 4 and draft a quarterback to learn behind Matt Ryan. At least three other teams in front of the Bears — the Denver Broncos (No. 9), New England Patriots (No. 15) and Washington (No. 19) — might consider drafting a quarterback, and you can’t rule out the possibility the Detroit Lions (No. 7), Carolina Panthers (No. 8) or Minnesota Vikings (No. 14) would consider one if they have a high grade on him.
So it’s easy to envision a situation in which multiple teams are jockeying for a quarterback who slides out of the top 10, and if there are multiple bidders, even a modest move up the draft board might not be cheap.
Like everyone else, the Bears are probably trying to figure out which quarterback the 49ers will select and how the board will fall so they can determine where they might be able to have a shot at the fourth or fifth quarterback.
There has been sentiment around the NFL for a few weeks that the Bears are plotting a move for a quarterback, that Pace and Nagy view that as their best chance to spark a turnaround while also providing hope for the future. The Bears could continue with their plan to start Dalton while bringing along a rookie, hoping the veteran performs well enough that they don’t have to turn to a draft pick in an effort to try to save jobs.
A case could be made for the Bears to do all they can to build the roster around Dalton and wait to choose a quarterback, knowing they have other holes to fill. It’s certainly a scenario they have to prepare for because there’s no way of knowing how far the top five quarterbacks will make it in Round 1 and what competition will be lurking.
But whatever plan Pace and Nagy shared with McCaskey when their 2021 status was being determined had to go way beyond simply signing a guy like Dalton to a one-year deal and hoping for the best.
Pace has been bold in the past. That doesn’t mean his aggressive moves have always paid off, but he has taken his shot and the Bears can’t be expected to sit back and wait to see who’s available when their turn comes at No. 20.