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NFL Draft

Arians: Why Mitchell Trubisky Should Be Bears’ Starting QB

  • The Draft Network
  • August 31, 2020
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By Jake Arians

What if I told you Jay Cutler is the Chicago Bears’ all-time leading passer? Maybe that’s not a shock, but by nearly 9,000 yards over Hall of Famer Sid Luckman? That’s surprising.

What surprised me more (as a self-professed historian of the game) is that I didn’t even recognize four names on Chicago’s top-10 all-time passer list. Maybe more surprising than that, is that if Mitch Trubisky throws for a modest 3,014 yards he will go from eighth to inside the top three! Needless to say, one of the oldest franchises in NFL history has had one of the worst histories of quarterback play, or at least the lack of longevity of better than average quarterback play. The Bears, who are historically known for their defense and a great running game, have to fix/find the answer to their quarterback problems and not just a short-term fix.  Defense and a great running game isn’t the modern NFL and will not provide any more championships without better play from the quarterback position.

General manager Ryan Pace has done a phenomenal job since taking over in 2015. The one knock—and it’s a big one—is trading up one spot to take Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft and not taking one of the other two prominent quarterbacks of that draft: Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. While that decision is impossible to defend with the benefit of clear hindsight, I can make an argument for Trubisky to remain the starting quarterback for the Bears in 2020 and for the foreseeable future. 

This is not a popular take, but stay with me. While I’m not against the acquisition of Nick Foles this offseason, competition is always a good thing, I am 100% for this to still be Trubisky’s team. Not because of what they gave up in that draft, but because he showed in the second half of last season he can be the guy. He absolutely shined at times down the stretch, most notably out dueling Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys 31-24 for a big win in December. Trubisky had four total touchdowns in that game, and while it wasn’t all elite top-level quarterback play, it was proof he can be better than average on a big stage and be the reason the Bears win games. 

I was very critical of Trubisky’s play early last season, but the narrative can’t always be written in the first half of the season (see the improvements of the Kansas City Chiefs’ or Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defenses or the Atlanta Falcons—all had bad starts but finished very strong). He completely transformed his game and turned around his play. While the bare stats don’t say there was much of a difference in the second half of the season, the tape surely does. It shows a much more confident and relaxed player.

Matt Nagy and this staff had a lot to do with this. They put Trubisky on the move more and his confidence grew because of it. He implemented quicker throws, easier reads, and let him play faster and more athletic.  These two should be tied to each other and the future of the Bears franchise—as one goes, so does the other. Nagy is the offensive guy the organization wanted to hire and make no mistake that it’s his job—and maybe biggest obstacle—to fix this offense. The defense continues to play at an elite level and that wont change this year. The progression of this team will be directly related to quarterback play. 

While Foles could be a solid-ish short-term upgrade from some of Trubisky's play last season, it does not bring the potential upside of Trubisky’s play down the stretch last season. Trubisky is an elite runner of the football (yes, I damn sure just said that) and one of the more athletic guys playing the quarterback position in the NFL right now. The offense they ran toward the end of last season should be what they build upon this offseason, around Trubisky's athleticism. If they build upon last year’s success using Trubisky’s athleticism, they have a chance to change some of the history of the Bears’ quarterback position.  

By creating an offense Trubisky can play faster and freer in, he can be there another six-plus years, giving them stability and solid quarterback play—thus, giving them a chance to be better than the 8-8 team they will continue to be without getting this fixed. Starting Foles in Week 1 is setting yourself up for exactly that, an 8-8 season or worse. If you take the contract number and now extension out of the equation, Foles is the perfect backup and man to help Trubisky grow and play if something happens to him. 

Weapons are not an issue at all for this team, but the offensive line could be a bit of a liability—another reason I feel Trubisky is the better option. By giving Trubisky an offense he has shown, in small doses, that he can thrive in, and making him the guy in Week 1, you have more upside and a better chance for a more successful season. More importantly, you have the chance to have much longer sustained play from the most important position on your team and the least successful position in the history of the franchise. 

The NFL is the ultimate “what have you done for me lately” league, and by starting Foles over Trubisky, I feel this staff might be shown the door sooner rather than later.  Starting Foles is taking the easy way out. It could give you conservative play by doing the things he does well (like RPOs from the shotgun), but it will very much limit the team’s upside and handcuff their ability to be anything more than an average offense. Starting Foles also means that, more than likely, Trubisky’s time with the team is over, putting you right back to square one looking for another guy to change this history. This staff shouldn’t be ready to make that move. If you start Trubisky and he doesn’t pick up where he left off and make more strides, you can always go to Foles. Vice versa is not beneficial. 

Trubisky isn’t ever going to be Mahomes or Watson or even a top-10 quarterback in the league, but he doesn’t have to be to change the course of the history of the Bears’ quarterback position. He showed toward the end of last season the player he can be. This coaching staff has a couple more weeks to get this right and figure this out. I, for one, am extremely excited to see what they come up with for this offense.

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