Mitchell Trubisky's Fall from Grace Has Gone Too Far

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 24, 2021

Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) warms up before an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Brett Duke/Associated Press

Back in 2017, the Chicago Bears sent a few eyebrows skyward when they traded up to make Mitchell Trubisky the first quarterback taken in that year's draft at No. 2 overall. But after the North Carolina product threw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, posted a passer rating north of 95 and won 11 of 14 starts in his sophomore season, it appeared the Bears might have the last laugh.

Since then, however, no one has laughed much. After Trubisky's so-so third season, the Bears declined his fifth-year option and brought in veteran competition in Nick Foles. After another 'meh' campaign in 2020, Trubisky hit free agency, where interest in the 26-year-old was so anemic that he wound up settling for a one-year, $2.5 million deal as a backup for the Buffalo Bills.

That lack of interest appears to show that the NFL has essentially given up on Trubisky as even an average starter. That he has been relegated to the annals of bust-dom.

However, an argument can be made that the Trubisky trashing has gone too far. Yes, the Bears shouldn't have taken him second overall, especially when you consider the signal-callers who were drafted after him.

But the notion that Trubisky cannot be an effective starter feels like a reach. And given the number of teams with issues at the game's most important position, relegating him to the scrapheap is an even bigger one.

Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Trubisky's story was not expected to unfold in this manner. As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported prior to the 2017 draft, there were those in the Cleveland Browns organization who thought Trubisky (and not edge-rusher Myles Garrett) should be the first overall pick after he threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns for the Tar Heels in 2016.

While Garrett did indeed go first overall, Bears general manager Ryan Pace shipped a third-round pick, a fourth-round selection and a 2018 third-rounder to the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot and take the 6'2", 220-pounder. At the time, Pace was more than a little bullish about the team's new quarterback.

"There are times when you have to be aggressive," Pace said, per Dan Wiederer of Chicago Tribune. "And when you have conviction on a guy, you can't sit on your hands. I just don't want to be average around here. I want to be great. And these are the moves you have to make."

For a time, it looked like that conviction would be rewarded.

After an up-and-down rookie year, which was hardly a surprise given that the QB started just one season at Chapel Hill, Trubisky took a major step forward in 2018, completing more than two-thirds of his 434 passing attempts for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He averaged 7.4 yards per attempt and made the Pro Bowl. The Bears went 12-4 and won the NFC North.

As Eric Edholm reported for Yahoo Sports, as Trubisky headed into his second season in head coach Matt Nagy's offense, he was eager to take the next step and join the league's elite at the position.

"Just being in the offense for a whole year already I know what he expects out of each play and what we're kind of thinking mindset-wise," Trubisky said prior to the 2019 campaign, "so it's just going through that, continuing to work on the details, going through all the adjustments of each play and kind of just being an extension of him and doing exactly what he wants within each play."

That did not happen. Trubisky recorded roughly as many yards (3,138) as in 2018, but his completion percentage dropped. So did his touchdown passes—by almost 30 percent. His passer rating fell over 12 points, and the Bears missed the playoffs.

After that, Trubisky began to get the short-leash treatment. In March 2020, the same GM who gushed over Trubisky three years prior swung a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars that brought Foles to the Windy City. Pace went one step further in May, declining Trubisky's fifth-year option.

Trubisky eventually beat out the Super Bowl LII MVP for the starting job, but despite winning the first two games of the 2020 campaign, he was benched after a slow start in a Week 3 road game against the Atlanta Falcons.

He got the starting job back when Foles injured his hip, leading the Bears to the final playoff spot in the NFC. Even though Trubisky once again tossed twice as many scoring strikes as picks and had a respectable passer rating of 93.5 and six wins in nine starts, it was clear that he was no longer in Chicago's long-term plans.

Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

Sure enough, the Bears signed Andy Dalton33-year-old who will be playing for his third team in as many seasons—to a one-year deal in free agency.

Chicago wasn't the only organization that turned its back on Trubisky. The Washington Football Team signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 38-year-old on his ninth team who is 27 games under .500 as a starter. The New Orleans Saints re-upped Jameis Winston, who had as many interceptions (30) in his last season as a starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Trubisky has in the last three seasons combined.

Trubisky, on the other hand, was relegated to backing up Josh Allen.

The fall from grace was complete. Trubisky couldn't win the big game. Or hit throws on the opposite side of the field.

It's also kind of ridiculous.

To be clear, this isn't to say that drafting Trubisky second overall wasn't a gaffe. Good luck making that argument given that the Kansas City Chiefs took Patrick Mahomes eight picks later. The Houston Texans moved up to draft Deshaun Watson two picks after that.

But while Trubisky hasn't been great (and may never be), he hasn't been terrible. He has completed 64.0 percent of his passes as a pro with a plus-27 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 87.2. He's 29-21 in 50 starts.

With the notable exception of Allen Robinson II, the wide receivers Trubisky has been surrounded by in Chicago have been less than formidable. And while Nagy has a Coach of the Year award on his mantle, he has been known to have more interest in running "his" offense than a scheme that puts his quarterback in a position to succeed by highlighting the signal-caller's skill set, per Joseph Herff of FanSided.

Where those throws to the left are concerned, it's far from unheard of for right-handed quarterbacks to occasionally release a duck in that direction, especially on the move. But when Patrick Sheldon of Da Windy City took a look at Trubisky's 2019 numbers, he found the stats didn't bear it out...at least on short and intermediate throws.

Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

Again, this isn't to say he has a Mahomes-esque cannon. Only that he can make NFL throws in every direction. And he has with a measure of consistency that Denver Broncos fans would love to see from Drew Lock.

The thing is, we may never know the player Trubisky could be. It's likely the only appearances he will make in 2021 will be in garbage time. If the past month is any indication, there won't be teams lining up to give him a second shot as a starter in 2022.

Barring an injury in front of him, in just four years, Trubisky may have gone from a second overall pick to a career backup. And the odds that he'll ever come close to living up to that draft slot are remote.

But Trubisky has a higher career passer rating than Winston, who just got a deal worth up to $12 million from the Saints. His interception percentage is better than Fitzpatrick, who will get $10 million this season. And his average passing yards per game is better than that of Teddy Bridgewater, who will make $17 million in base salary with the Carolina Panthers in 2021.

Trubisky isn't a stud quarterback. But he's not cat food either. And in more than one respect, he didn't fall from grace.

He was pushed.