This time last year, Chicago Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn was among the team’s biggest free-agent busts with just one sack through 10 games. It was an expensive sack, too, considering general manager Ryan Pace signed Quinn to a five-year, $70 million contract a few months earlier.
Now, through 10 games of 2021, Quinn is fifth in the NFL with 10 sacks. He’s the first Bears pass-rusher to have 10 sacks in the team’s first 10 games since Richard Dent did it in 1990.
Quinn recorded 3.5 sacks against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 11 and has recorded at least 0.5 sacks in all but two games this year. At 31 years old, Quinn looks as agile and bendy as ever, like on this impressive pass rush against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9:
Quinn is no stranger to high-end sack production. He totaled 40 sacks between 2012-2014, including an incredible 19 in 2013. Still, he was a risky signing because of his struggles since 2014. He’s had just one year with more than 10 sacks since (11.5 for the Cowboys in 2019), which is why the Bears’ decision to sign him was met with skepticism. That skepticism was validated last year but has been completely dismissed in 2021.
Quinn has been one of the lone bright spots in an otherwise gloomy season in Chicago. The Bears (3-7) are all but out of the NFC playoff race and injuries to their most important players are beginning to mount. Quinn’s ability to remain focused and play with such a high motor has been an encouraging display of leadership that continued following Week 11’s loss.
“It’s sickening; I’ll just put it that way,” Quinn said of the loss to Baltimore. “It’s a punch to the gut. We had the lead. The Ravens had the ball. It was on the defense to close it out and we didn’t do that."
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for a player whose roster spot appeared on shaky ground entering the season. Quinn’s dead-cap figure drops from $24 million in 2021 to $12.7 million next year, and had Quinn repeated his disappointing 2020 performance this season, his exodus out of Chicago would’ve been all but guaranteed. Now, with Khalil Mack undergoing foot surgery and facing an offseason of rehabilitation, Quinn’s presence on the roster is more important than ever.
"I've got a lot of respect for that guy and just the way the guy goes about his work each and every day, practicing really hard and doing everything the right way,” linebacker Roquan Smith said of Quinn on Sunday. “And I'm so happy for the guy. The guy was making those plays. He does it every week. So, it was great to be able to see that."
Unfortunately, Quinn’s breakout season is happening during a year in which it won’t make much of an impact for the Bears. But for a roster in the midst of a rebuild, establishing a culture predicated on hard work with leaders like Quinn is a long-term win, even if there isn’t much to show for it right now.