After the NFL free agency frenzy has calmed down, we usually have a solid idea of what each team needs heading into the NFL Draft. The Chicago Bears traded for quarterback Nick Foles to compete with former number two overall pick Mitchell Trubisky for their starting job. Does that mean that the Bears QB situation is set, or should they look to add another piece?
It would be foolish to rule anything out in the Windy City. After all, two months ago, Bears general manager Ryan Pace declared at the NFL Scouting Combine that Trubisky would definitely be the starting quarterback come September. Then, they signed Foles.
The trade for Foles seems to indicate that there isn’t 100% confidence in Trubisky to lead the team to success in 2020. That lack of trust in his ability is further supported by the hesitation to pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year option.
Although both Pace and Nagy reiterated that Trubisky goes into training camp, whenever that might be, as the Bears starting QB, they discussed having a transparent and very honest competition.
Put simply; the job is there for either player to make their own.
Of the two, who is the better option as the Bears QB for 2020?
At first glance, Foles appears to be the better option. He has a recent history of success in the league, having led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl LII and lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy with an MVP performance.
Some of the Bears off-season moves seem intent on making Foles a success in Chicago too.
John DeFilippo was hired as the new quarterback coach, reuniting Foles with the positional coach that helped guide him to that Super Bowl ring. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor just so happened to be the quarterback coach when Foles had his best statistical year of his career in 2013. He had career-high passing yards (2891), yards per attempt (9.1YPA), and a touchdown to interception ratio of 27:2.
A Super Bowl-winning quarterback versus a much-maligned Trubisky seems like a no-brainer, especially when you consider that Trubisky is coming off a season where he appeared to regress in terms of traditional statistics.
Trubisky threw for less passing yards in 2019 than 2018, 3138 versus 3223. This was a result of averaging fewer yards per attempt, as he threw for 6.1 yards per attempt in 2019 against 7.4 yards per attempt in 2018. He threw just 17 touchdowns in 2019 compared to 24 in 2018.
This is also supported by more detailed NFL Next Gen Stats analysis.
Trubisky’s completion percentage versus expectation differential went from +1.7% in 2018, meaning he was completing more passes than expected, to -1% in 2019. By comparison, Foles had a +4.9% differential in 2018 and in his limited 2019 action, had a +3.3% differential.
Trubisky also regressed in terms of his ability to move the chains and drive the team downfield. In 2018, his average air yards to the sticks was +0.1, whereas, in 2019, it was -1.2. He relied on other playmakers, such as Anthony Miller to pick up the first down.
While that seems damning for Trubisky, Foles didn’t fare much better. In losses to the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts in 2019, his average air yards to the sticks were -1.2 and -2.5, with the latter being the same as his 2018 season average.
Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) takes these into account, and the results from 2019 show there wasn’t much to choose between the two Bears QB options.
Trubisky had an overall OSM grade of 22.14, ranking him QB18 for the season. Due to his injury limited season, Foles didn’t qualify for an overall grade, but in the two games he did qualify, he received grades of 25.33 and 22.77. Those would average out at 24.05, slightly ahead of Trubisky and Lamar Jackson at QB14.
Interestingly, both were short of backup Chase Daniel’s average OSM grade of 28.89 during his two-game stint in relief of Trubisky. However, it is unrealistic to think that he could have continued that performance if handed the reigns for the entire season.
Both Foles and Trubisky were short of the median quarterback overall grade of 25.00 in 2019. Unless there’s a dramatic improvement in their game, it’s fair to presume that the Bears QB of the future isn’t already in the building.
Foles has made a career out of being a successful backup, having played less than half the games every season since playing for the St. Louis Rams in 2015. He’ll also be 31 when the season starts, and not everyone can be Tom Brady or Drew Brees.
The Bears’ reluctance to exercise Trubisky’s fifth-year option signifies that they aren’t committed to his future as the Bears starting QB either. In a league where recency bias is more prevalent than most, his mediocre 2019 campaign has erased the memory of him guiding the Bears to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, in 2018.
Could the Bears turn to the NFL Draft for another QB option?
Having traded a fourth-round pick (140 overall) to the Jaguars for Foles, it would seem unlikely. The Bears already have limited draft capital following the Khalil Mack trade, and they have several needs to fill. Their second-round picks are more likely to be traded to gain more capital than to be used on a quarterback.
They could use one of those picks, or even package some of the later round picks, and maybe some 2021 capital to make a run for Georgia’s Jake Fromm. Pace has a history of drafting players from Georgia, and Fromm would fit well with Nagy’s offense in Chicago.
Alternatively, they could use one of their multiple six and seventh-round draft picks to find some quarterback talent. Someone like Florida International’s James Morgan, who has been likened to 2019 rookie Gardner Minshew, could still be available at that point in the draft. Morgan spent his childhood learning from a player the Bears are very familiar with, Brett Favre.
When Foles arrived in Jacksonville just one year ago, it signaled the end of a former first-round pick Blake Bortles’ time as the starting quarterback. He then lost out to a late-round rookie. Could history be about to repeat itself?
The Bears QB situation may be one of the most fascinating storylines of the 2020 NFL season