Every decision comes down to assessing the alternatives. And as absurd as it might have sounded just a month ago, and as impossible as it would have sounded when he was benched in Week 3, re-signing Mitchell Trubisky just might be the Chicago Bears' most logical choice this offseason.
"And play with who if they don't sign him?" said one pro scout.
"What are your other options?" said an NFC executive. "He's played well, regardless of competition, and proved doubters wrong."
"If the regime stays, I wouldn't be surprised if they re-sign him at a reduced rate and let him compete again next year," another executive said.
At 8-7, with one game left and a shot at the playoffs, Chicago will be at least 17th in the draft order—not high enough to get a top-three quarterback prospect who would be a rookie starter in 2021.
"They are going to need a bridge player at QB," the pro scout said.
Trubisky isn't the perfect choice, but he's shown real progress recently. And as the league sources asked: If not Trubisky, then who?
Most NFL insiders agree there are six quarterback prospects at the top of the draft class: Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zack Wilson, North Dakota State's Trey Lance, Alabama's Mac Jones and Florida's Kyle Trask. There are at least seven teams with a strong need for a quarterback: Chicago, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New England, New Orleans, the Jets and Washington.
One veteran NFL agent who has studied the upcoming quarterback market says there are at least nine other teams who might enter the quarterback market: Atlanta, Carolina, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Tampa Bay.
"Half the league is going to look seriously at this position," he said.
Dak Prescott is the only long-term answer among this year's free-agent quarterbacks, and he's likely to remain with the Dallas Cowboys. The others—Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston—are not clear upgrades over Trubisky.
There are some intriguing potential targets in the trade market, where nothing is certain. Carson Wentz, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Foles, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Matt Ryan and Gardner Minshew II are among the quarterbacks who might become available.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace and his staff were interested in Wentz ahead of the 2016 draft and had looked into trading up for him that year. But based on his 2020 performance, NFL insiders aren't sold that Wentz would be an upgrade over Trubisky. Head coach Matt Nagy has a close relationship with Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, whose opinion could factor in.
With Trubisky's improvement in his return to the starting role, the Bears already have a bridge quarterback whom they can keep on a relatively inexpensive two- or three-year deal with incentives since he has yet to prove from one season to the next that he can be the guy.
The agent said the likely annual salary would be a small raise on Trubisky's rookie-deal average of $7.25 million.
"The way Mitch has played, they are foolish to try anybody else on this list and pay him," the agent said. "I don't think Trubisky is going to have a big market outside of Chicago."
Trubisky is currently playing the best football of his young NFL career. Getting benched for Nick Foles in Week 3 might have been just the medicine he needed.
It also helps that Chicago's offensive line is finally playing better. Better offensive line play has opened up the long-suffering run game and allowed the Bears to incorporate more play action and to put Trubisky on the move, all of which plays to his strengths.
Over their past four games, the Bears have averaged 159 rushing yards on 32 attempts. Over the previous seven games, they averaged 66 rushing yards on 19 attempts. Their passing efficiency has also jumped to a 72 percent completion rate over the past four games compared with 64 percent for the previous seven.
The improvements on the field have come as offensive coordinator Bill Lazor took over play-calling from Nagy in Week 10. After a Week 11 bye, Trubisky returned as Chicago's starter in Week 12.
In his last four games, the Bears are 3-1. He's completed 72 percent of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns, only two interceptions and has a 108.5 rating. In that span, Chicago has averaged 35 points per game, albeit during a soft stretch of the schedule featuring opponents whose defenses rank between 27th and 32nd in yards allowed per game.
Trubisky isn't a completely changed man. He's still good for at least one infuriating decision every week. He's thrown an awful end-zone interception in each of his last two games.
On Sunday, Trubisky will take on Green Bay at home with a playoff spot on the line. Chicago is in with a win or an Arizona loss at the Rams. The Packers, who are playing for the NFC's No. 1 seed, have the league's hottest offense right now, but the Bears are shockingly right behind them. Per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, Chicago's offense is fourth in offensive efficiency and second in successful play rate over the past four weeks, trailing only Green Bay.
Green Bay's defense is not in the same category of those Trubisky has thrived against in recent weeks. The Packers allow the league's seventh-fewest yards per game, and Trubisky went 26-of-46 for three touchdowns, two costly interceptions and a sack-fumble during a 41-25 loss at Lambeau back in Week 12.
Against the Packers on Sunday, Trubisky has another chance to prove his doubters wrong. He is 1-5 against them in his career, and if he can salvage the Bears' season after everyone counted him out, the NFC executive said it would be a story for the ages.
"If he can beat Green Bay, he can be a legend," he said.
This executive's team had Trubisky graded as a third-round pick in the 2017 draft. They didn't think he was an elite player, but they did see the potential for him to develop into a starter. For that reason, he thinks Chicago's best choice is to stick with him in 2021.
Together, Nagy and Trubisky are 25-12. That winning record is significant, and it looks like the coaching staff has figured out how to play to Trubisky's strengths.
A month ago, when the Bears lost their sixth game in a row to the lowly Lions and Trubisky lost a costly fumble deep in his own territory with less than two minutes to play, it seemed certain that he'd be a backup for another team next season. And when Bleacher Report polled league insiders on GM openings at that time, every source agreed that Chicago's GM job was likely to become open. Possibly the head coaching job as well.
Now that the Bears have won three straight and are in position to clinch a wild-card berth, league insiders think there's a good chance the whole cast of characters—Pace, Nagy and Trubisky—will be back for 2021.
"If they make the playoffs, Nagy is safe for sure," said one veteran scout. "If they beat [Green Bay], everyone stays."
"I think they bring everyone back in Chicago, either way," said the NFC executive.
Nothing is for certain. By going to Foles early in the season, Nagy showed his interest and willingness to move on from Trubisky. And in terms of job security, a new quarterback might help earn Nagy and Pace some more leeway.
"Rolling the dice [on another quarterback] might give them more time," said the veteran evaluator.
Sunday could be Trubisky's last start for the Bears, but more likely than not, he'll be back until the Bears can try—yet again—to find their true franchise quarterback.