LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Don’t expect the Chicago Bears to host a splashy offseason news conference to announce a lucrative contract extension for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. That, however, doesn’t mean Chicago’s front office is done with the 25-year-old quarterback.
But even Trubisky’s most ardent supporters can’t expect the Bears to offer him a second deal in the range of other young quarterbacks. In September, the Los Angeles Rams gave Jared Goff a four-year contract extension with $110 million guaranteed. In June, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Carson Wentz to a four-year extension with $107 million guaranteed.
Both had their team options picked up prior to the extension, and unlike Trubisky, both have had elite seasons.
But the Bears, without any electrifying results from Trubisky or real playoff success, find themselves stuck in quarterback limbo. The kind of place where a team doesn’t have a solution or a clear path forward.
Goff, who will face the Bears Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), got the deal because he guided the Rams to the playoffs in consecutive years and reached the Super Bowl last season. Goff has passed for 12,191 yards and 76 touchdowns with 35 interceptions since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2016.
Wentz, chosen second overall by the Eagles in 2016, passed for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns with seven interceptions in 11 games in 2017 before suffering a season-ending injury. Philadelphia went on to win the Super Bowl that year. In his career, Wentz has passed for 12,212 yards and 85 touchdowns with 32 interceptions.
Trubisky entered the league as the second overall pick in 2017. Over 34 career regular-season starts, Trubisky has passed for 6,806 yards and 39 touchdowns with 22 interceptions.
Those numbers pale in comparison to those of quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes (8,007 passing yards, 68 touchdowns, 14 interceptions) and Deshaun Watson (8,296 passing yards, 63 touchdowns 22 interceptions), both of whom were drafted after Trubisky in 2017.
Mahomes, the reigning MVP, and Watson are all but assured of inking record-setting deals in the offseason.
For the Bears, it’s a type of football purgatory that many teams have experienced.
“To me, it is a tough situation. There is a lot of heat from the fan base because they don’t think he can play,” said Ryan, who was with the Jets when they drafted quarterback Mark Sanchez in the first round in 2009. “So you have a lot of things to consider, but I think they are going to err on the side of caution and wait and see. They just want some reason to sit back and say, ‘Hey, look, he’s got a chance.’”
But no matter how you spin it, the former North Carolina quarterback is in the throes of a subpar third season. Trubisky’s only bright spots have been against dreadful defenses in Detroit and Washington, against whom he threw six of his eight touchdowns passes. The rest of the season has been one shaky performance after another, a seemingly endless stream of incompletions, inaccuracy, indecision and general ineffectiveness. The Bears could have easily pulled the plug on Trubisky following back-to-back home losses to the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Chargers, but they stayed the course.
“Right now it’s too early to panic if you are in the Bears’ front office,” former NFL executive of the year Scott Pioli said. “Fans are going to react and overreact. The media is going to act and overreact, and that’s what they are supposed to do. … When you’re inside the room, you need to try and hold a steady hand. Keep working towards what you believe in until the time comes that you don’t believe it’s going to work anymore.”
The Bears haven’t reached that point, in large part because general manager Ryan Pace is heavily invested in Trubisky. Pace sent the third, 67th and 111th picks of the 2017 NFL draft and a 2018 third-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot to select Trubisky. By virtue of being the second overall pick, Trubisky signed a four-year, fully guaranteed rookie contract worth more than $29 million.
And Trubisky did -- at times -- reward Pace’s faith last year. He passed for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns with 12 interceptions while the Bears went 12-4, won the NFC North and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
“You can always go back to that [success last year] and see that it’s not that this has never happened,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said Thursday.
Ryan said he considered Trubisky one of the league’s “most exciting players” in 2018.
On top of the strides Trubisky made in the passing game, he added a dual-threat ability, rushing for 421 yards and three touchdowns in 2018. This season, Trubisky dislocated his non-throwing shoulder and suffered a slight labrum tear in Week 4, and he has run just 14 times for 54 yards.
“With Trubisky, look, it hasn’t been great, but I think last year he made huge strides,” Ryan said.
“There is no set timetable for a quarterback. Some guys hit late. The one thing we know he has is the tools to be a legitimate NFL quarterback. And he’s also had some flashes where you say, ‘OK, this kid is pretty good.’ That’s kind of where you run into that fine line of asking yourself will there be other teams willing to roll the dice with him. I don’t know. But you’d hate for somebody else to take him and he hits.”
Pioli believes the worst thing Pace can do is bail on Trubisky prematurely.
“Right now, Mitch is not trending in a positive way, but the thing Ryan Pace can’t do and the head coach can’t do is jump the ship too early,” Pioli said. “This is Mitch’s third NFL season. There is still time. He’s still learning …
“There’s no blueprint for how long you wait on a quarterback.”
The final piece of living in this limbo is procuring Trubisky’s replacement. Where do you find him? Do you turn the offense over to backup Chase Daniel, who plays well in spurts but struggles when opponents have time to prepare for him? Do you sign a veteran in the offseason? Do you use limited draft capital -- the Bears do not have a first-round pick but have two picks in the second round -- and search for a college prospect?
And can the Bears find an upgrade to Trubisky?
For the impressive roster that Pace and the Bears have built, the quarterback spot is still in question. Remember, the Bears originally wanted Trubisky to sit out his entire rookie year. Pace signed veteran Mike Glennon -- and guaranteed him $18.5 million -- to bridge the gap until Trubisky was ready. But Glennon turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and lasted four games before Trubisky was forced into action.
“Be careful what you wish for, because when the guy is gone, who the hell is going to take his place?” Ryan said.
“It’s not like you have a slam dunk heading your way. That’s not the case. It’s really a hard situation. I think they’re going to stick with this guy and give him more time than people want. … It’s easy to say we need a quarterback. Really, where are you going to find them?”
With no clear-cut alternative, Nagy and the Bears have no choice but to preach patience, even if that becomes increasingly difficult after every poor Trubisky outing.
“We all understand the significance and the importance of the quarterback position,” Nagy said. “If you don't, then you're not really being real with the situation.”