Chicago Bears Need to Go All-In on Watson, Dak or Commit to Rebuild

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 19, 2021

FILE - Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace walks the field before an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Chicago, in this Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, file photo. The Bears head into the offseason with some big issues to address after going 8-8 for the second year in a row, starting with whether general manager Ryan Pace or coach Matt Nagy will be retained. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

The next domino in the NFL's quarterback carousel fell Thursday when the Indianapolis Colts agreed to send a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Carson Wentz, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.

And once again, the Chicago Bears were on the outside looking in.

There's little question that the Bears could use an upgrade under center after an 8-8 season and cup of coffee in the playoffs. But there are a few realities in play here, some of which are harsh.

The Detroit Lions were never going to trade Matthew Stafford inside the NFC North. While Bears fans may be upset that they missed out on Wentz as well, they might have dodged a bullet in doing so.

If embattled Bears general manager Ryan Pace has any sense, he will address the issue under center in one of two ways. He will either go all-in on obtaining a difference-maker like Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans or Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys, or he'll resist the urge to slap a short-term Band-Aid on a long-term problem, be realistic about the where the team is and look toward the 2021 draft.

A few days ago, the Bears were rumored to be one of the leading suitors for Wentz. But Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that while the Bears were interested in Wentz, the five-year veteran wasn't so interested in Chicago.

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If Wentz can recapture his MVP-caliber form, the Colts won't regret giving up two early-round picks for him. They had a playoff-caliber roster but no quarterback in the wake of Philip Rivers' retirement. Glove, meet hand.

But the version of Wentz we saw in 2020 was awful. He completed a career-low 57.4 percent of his pass attempts, tied for the league lead with 15 interceptions (more than he tossed in 2018 and 2019 combined) and posted a passer rating over 20 points lower than the season before.

The Bears resisted the urge to overpay for a quarterback who is anything but a sure bet. After missing out on Wentz, they'll also need to resist the urge to respond by making a panic move for a quarterback who won't get them any closer to the Super Bowl.

Sam Darnold of the New York Jets is heading into the final year of his rookie contract after three less-than-impressive seasons in New York, where he has 45 touchdowns, 39 picks, a passer rating of 78.6 and a winning percentage south of .400.

What part of that sounds better than bringing back Mitchell Trubisky or hoping Nick Foles can rebound? Both had a higher passer rating than Darnold did last season.

David Banks/Associated Press

Las Vegas Raiders backup Marcus Mariota was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. But his last start in a meaningful game was in October 2019. After losing his job as the starter for the Tennessee Titans, Mariota landed in Las Vegas as Derek Carr's backup.

Now, if the Raiders make Carr available for a reasonable asking price, an argument can be made for Pace pulling the trigger on a deal. Carr is no Aaron Rodgers, but he's a capable veteran quarterback with a passer rating north of 100 in each of the past two seasons. He wouldn't thrust the Bears past the Packers in the NFC North, but it wouldn't be a stretch to call them a 10-win team with him under center.

What is a stretch is the assumption that the Bears with Mariota or Darnold would be measurably better than the team that went 8-8 last year.

That leaves two courses of action, the first of which is equal parts risky and unlikely.

Making a concerted effort to swing a deal for a high-end quarterback like Prescott or Watson is the sort of move that could define the Bears for years. It would likely cost them multiple first-round picks and/or young impact players like inside linebacker Roquan Smith, but NFL Network analyst David Carr believes it could make sense:

"Chicago is in kind of a similar situation for me as Indianapolis. A team that has a great defense, that has some pieces in place. You might even be able to keep Allen Robinson if you can figure out a way to trade for Deshaun Watson. So for me, this makes a ton of sense—even for both sides, really. So if they could be creative here and make something happen, I think the Chicago Bears could offer them something they might not be able to say 'no' to."

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The Bears might not have the draft capital to pull it off, but the payoff could be enormous. If they put Watson or Prescott under center playing opposite that ferocious defense, the folks up the road in Wisconsin and Minnesota would get plenty nervous.

If Pace isn't willing to mortgage the future in a blockbuster deal, he has only one viable course of action: look to rebuild under center.

As currently constructed, the Bears aren't built to challenge the Packers, Los Angeles Rams or defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But they could acquire their quarterback of the future by trading up in Round 1, as an NFL executive suggested to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune

"Moving from 20 to top five is a king's ransom. And the right guy has to be there for the move obviously. Then you have to sell it. And people have to trust giving away multiple picks for that guy are worth it after they committed to Mike Glennon then Mitch (Trubisky) then Foles and now??? I imagine they have to do something to get better there; otherwise, they're basically returning the same team."

Given what happened the last time Pace traded up to draft a quarterback, moving up to the top five would be a gutsy play, especially given the cost to jump 15-plus spots. But it would at least give the Bears a chance at a franchise quarterback as opposed to a wheel-spin on someone like Darnold or Mariota.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

The wisest course of action might be the least exciting. The Bears should sign a bridge quarterback like Ryan Fitzpatrick, wait for a rookie like Trey Lance of North Dakota State or Mac Jones of Alabama to fall in Round 1 and then swing a less expensive deal to move up a handful of spots or just stand pat at No. 20.

We haven't heard the last of the QB drama in Chicago this offseason. The Bears are a big-market team with a big problem at the game's most important position. But the frustrated fanbase should hope Pace either goes all-in on the present with a blockbuster or looks to the future and April's draft.

Because a half-measure move for a veteran retread won't accomplish anything other than wasting draft picks.