Trading for Nick Foles is an upgrade over Mitch Trubisky, but not the QB move the Bears desperately needed


I’m beginning to think Ryan Pace doesn’t know what he’s doing at the quarterback position.

It’s been five years since Pace took over as the general manager of a Bears team that was ready to move on from the Jay Cutler era — an era that Bears fans at the time might’ve wanted to see end, but has actually aged well in the time since Cutler departed. It’s aged well because in those five years, Pace has tried to replace Cutler by:

As that third and final bullet point indicates, on Wednesday the Bears agreed to send the Jaguars a fourth-round pick for Nick Foles, who is expected to rework his contract to facilitate the trade. In Foles, the Bears are acquiring arguably the sport’s best backup quarterback, a Super Bowl MVP who once led the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl title in relief of Carson Wentz, and an upgrade over Trubisky, who remains on the roster after his inability to improve in 2019 cost the Bears a spot in the playoffs.

Foles should compete with Trubisky for the Bears’ starting job. Assuming it’s a fair competition, Foles should win. Assuming Foles wins the competition, he gives the Bears a better chance to return to the playoffs than Trubisky.

But that doesn’t make it Pace’s first smart move at quarterback. It still represents a failure.

For the past several months, the Bears have known that they needed to upgrade at quarterback over Trubisky. That much has been clear since midseason, when Trubisky was in the process of flushing the Bears’ playoff aspirations down the toilet due to his inability to play quarterback at an NFL level. Without a first-round pick, they were always unlikely to find one in the upcoming draft, leaving free agency and the trade market. But the Bears got lucky. This offseason, a bevy of quarterbacks were available. Some still are. Pace had a chance to bail himself out by making a move for one of those quarterbacks. Instead, he settled for Foles, bailing the Jaguars out of the terrible contract they handed him a year ago.

Foles is an upgrade over Trubisky, but he’s not a big enough upgrade. Pace should’ve aimed higher.

Free agency began with hope, when the Bears were tied to Teddy Bridgewater, a 27-year-old former first-round pick who would’ve been the competent quarterback in the short-term the Bears need plus a potential long-term solution at the position. Instead, the Bears let Bridgewater sign a three-year, $63 million deal with the Panthers. Meanwhile, the Bears were busy giving Jimmy Graham a two-year deal with $9 million in guarantees to join a crowded, but awful tight end group that is only marginally improved by a 33-year-old player who hasn’t been an elite player for a while now.

Even after the Panthers took Bridgewater off the market, better options existed. 

There was — still is — Andy Dalton, who remains on the Bengals roster a month before they go ahead and take Joe Burrow with the top-overall pick. When the Bears hired Bill Lazor as their new offensive coordinator, Chicago felt like the most obvious landing spot for Dalton given Lazor spent 2016 with the Bengals as their quarterbacks coach and 2017-18 as their offensive coordinator. While Dalton is coming off a horrific season that saw him get briefly benched for Ryan Finley, he was set up to fail on a horrible offense that lacked A.J. Green. Dalton is also unlikely to cost much in the trade market because the Bengals have almost no leverage (everyone knows he’s done there), he’s 32 years old, and he’s Andy Dalton — the most average quarterback in the league. But average is exactly the kind of quarterback that could elevate this Bears team from 8-8 to 10-6. It was as recently as 2018 (with Lazor) that Dalton ranked 17th in both DVOA and total QBR. That’d work.

There was — still is — Cam Newton, who is done in Carolina after the Panthers signed Bridgewater. While a trade for Newton would be risky because it’d be difficult to perform a medical exam on the oft-injured quarterback during a pandemic, the price also likely would’ve been cheap. There might’ve been a way for the Bears to offer, say, a fifth-round pick that could’ve turned into a fourth, third, or even second-round pick based on how many games Newton were to start during the upcoming season. It would’ve been a gamble, but a worthwhile one, because if the Bears had acquired a healthy Cam Newton for cheap, they would’ve struck gold. A healthy Cam Newton would put them over the top.

I’m not sure Foles puts the Bears over the top. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s an upgrade over Trubisky. But Foles also isn’t suited to start for an extended period of time. He hasn’t performed like a good starting quarterback since his remarkable 27-touchdown, two-interception season with Chip Kelly in 2013. Since then, he’s performed well in short stretches as a relief pitcher, but not as a 16-game starting quarterback. 

In 2017, he took over for Wentz as the Eagles entered the playoffs and proceeded to piece together an all-time postseason run that culminated with him outplaying Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, but that was a three-game stretch — something for which he deserves nothing but praise and admiration, but it also shouldn’t be used as evidence that he can be a great starting quarterback. Call it the Flacco fallacy. 

While Eagles fans will be quick to note that Foles led them to the playoffs the following season, again in relief of Wentz, that again was a small sample of games. In the final three games of the regular season, Foles threw for 962 yards, six touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 108.4 passer rating. But he followed that up by throwing for 467 yards, three touchdowns, four interceptions, and a 70.6 passer rating in two playoff starts. Sure, the last of those four interceptions, which ended the Eagles’ season, went through Alshon Jeffery’s hands, but Foles was only playing in that second playoff game because Cody Parkey missed a gimme field goal that would’ve pushed the Bears past the Eagles in the wild card round. The irony is, Trubisky actually outplayed Foles in that game. Now, he’s likely to get replaced by him.

This past season should scare the Bears. On a bad Jaguars offense, Foles struggled mightily to the point where it was immediately clear that sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew was the better option. The Jaguars were desperate to get rid of Foles and his awful contract. The only surprise was that they found someone willing to take him off their hands while also parting ways with draft ammunition.

Luckily for Foles, the Bears have a better offense than the Jaguars. Allen Robinson (who just can’t escape bad quarterbacks) is a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Don’t be surprised if Anthony Miller breaks out in Year 3. The offensive line and running back took a step back last season, but there’s talented players there. Everyone will benefit from better quarterback play — including Matt Nagy, who has taken flak for his play-calling even though it’s nearly impossible to design successful plays without competent quarterback play.

Foles will improve this Bears team — a team that managed to win eight games a year ago with Trubisky and Chase Daniel. He might even be able to improve them to the point where they make it into the postseason. In that sense, Pace did give the Bears an upgrade at quarterback — and it only cost a fourth-round pick. In any other offseason, this move would’ve looked far better than it does today. But with better options out there right now, it feels like Pace picked the wrong door.

It’s a shame too, because Pace has actually done a decent job of assembling an otherwise playoff-caliber roster. The first round of the draft has been an issue for him — Trubisky, Kevin White, and the recently cut Leonard Floyd — but he’s found treasure in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft (Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Nick Kwiatkoski, Jordan Howard, and Adrian Amos, etc.). While there’s a legitimate argument to be made that he’s overpaid in free agency (Trey Burton) and the trade market (Khalil Mack), he’s also done well to grab guys like Akiem Hicks for cheap. There’a a reason this team won 12 games with Trubisky in Year 2 and eight games last year. It’s a darn good team, but it’s also a team that is lacking an average starting quarterback. One great relief pitcher and one draft bust doesn’t equal one average starting quarterback. 

And until Pace gets one — to paraphrase Jay Cutler — no one will care.





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