After a disappointing eight-year run, the Chicago Bears are expected to move on from QB Jay Cutler this off-season. While it would be mutually beneficial, GM Ryan Pace has yet to determine the team’s next route.
In what is currently being perceived as a weak draft class for quarterbacks, many believe New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo is the best option for a team in need of a young, franchise signal caller.
Garoppolo, an Arlington Heights native, has three years experience in the NFL. He was selected with the 62nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was the fifth quarterback taken.
Garoppolo is a local product, which could make him more enticing to the Bears, who know the fanbase is desperate for something on which they can build some excitement. Yet will the cost justify trading for a player who has thrown just 94 passes in two career starts, during which he played just six quarters before going down with a shoulder injury?
In addition, Pace may be further attracted to the 25-year-old quarterback, as both graduated from Eastern Illinois University. Finally, the entire Bears organization got an extended three-day look at Garoppolo when the two teams held joint practices ahead of their Week 2 preseason game last off-season, adding another layer of familiarity.
Reported Asking Price
According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, the Patriots are looking for a pair of draft picks in the first- and fourth-round range, which is similar to what the Philadelphia Eagles received for Sam Bradford before the start of the 2016 regular season.
On the surface, that seems like a reasonable price for a young quarterback who is considered a long-term, franchise option. That said, Bradford’s over-the-top compensation was based purely on the timing of Teddy Bridgewater's injury, and the subsequent desperation on the part of the Minnesota Vikings.
With that in mind, Volin admits the Patriots may ultimately settle for a high second-round pick and either a 2017 fourth rounder or a 2018 conditional pick, which would likely fall in the third round.
The Bears currently hold the fourth pick in the second round (36th overall), along with two fourth-round picks (100th and 106th overall), so a potential fit that doesn't include trading the 3rd overall pick may be something Pace can swing.
Being in the league three years, Garoppolo holds a bit more value over any quarterback in the current draft class but, given his dangerously small sample size, how much of an advantage is his limited NFL experience?
- Development under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
- Former second-round pick who is highly regarded around the league.
- One year left on rookie deal ($1.1 million cap hit).
- Refined mechanically and good intangibles.
- Adequate size and arm.
- Age: 25. Likely just entering his physical prime.
- Impressive numbers in two starts (502 yards, 4 touchdowns, 113.3 rating).
- Experience on two Super Bowl-winning teams.
- Lack of NFL experience (96 pass regular-season pass attempts).
- Coming from a system well known for producing deceptive results.
- Will need to extend his contract after 2017, likely leading to a 5-year/$100 million-type deal.
- Most of his NFL throws have been on short routes (10 yards or less).
- Does not possess an overly impressive arm and has an inconsistent deep ball.
The Bears are going to be flush with cap space this coming off-season. As of now, they are projected at $54 million, with the ability to create another $24 million by cutting Cutler, Lamarr Houston and Eddie Royal, which would bring their total cap space near $78 million.
"We’re top five in cap space this year in free agency. With that comes major, major responsibility," Pace said. "We’re picking extremely high in every round. We’ve got to take advantage of that."
As of now, very few of the Bears' big contract will come off the books in 2018, which means if Pace spends big on long-term deals this year it will limit their flexibility next off-season. Obviously, there are ways to avoid such issues, including front loading the first year of any long-term contract this year, but if history is any indication, Pace likes to distribute cap hits evenly throughout the life of each signed free agent’s contract.
Big picture: Can the Bears afford to spend big in free agency for the second year in a row and add an expensive quarterback, while also re-signing WR Alshon Jeffery at $13-14 million per year?
Pace must keep this in mind while spending this year, as having a quarterback on a rookie contract would give him much more flexibility for the next four to five years.
The Bears have three avenues through which they can add their future signal caller. While options are always nice, there’s no sure-thing when it comes to adding a starting NFL quarterback.
As usual the free agent market has few long-term options, all of whom carry their own risks, both financially and in terms of productivity. Here are names that are either currently set to hit the free agent market or expected to opt out of their current contracts or be released.
Cousins would become the top free-agent quarterback option if he's allowed to hit the market. That said, he’s unlikely to become available, as the Washington Redskins still hold another two years worth of franchise-tag rights. If he does hit the open market, expect the Bears to be one of multiple teams bidding for Cousins' services.
Glennon is an appealing option for some but keep in mind, he hasn’t seen the field in over a calendar year and although he started 18 games over a four-year period, it wasn’t good enough to keep the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from drafting Jameis Winston first overall in 2015.
One of the more intriguing options is Taylor, who will likely be in high demand if he is released from the Buffalo Bills. His numbers don’t jump out on paper but he could provide a team with a bad quarterback situation a sizable boost in that department.
- Colin Kaepernick
- Nick Foles
- Brian Hoyer
- Josh McCown
This group is currently perceived as weak but I suspect, post-combine, that narrative on this talented group will change. It’s worth noting that while there are well over 20 draft eligible prospects at the position, there’s likely only six or seven that are projected as future starters. That list includes:
- Deshone Kizer (Notre Dame)
- Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina)
- Deshaun Watson (Clemson)
- Patrick Mahomes (Texas A&M)
- Brad Kaaya (Miami)
- Davis Webb (Cal)
- Nate Peterman (Pittsburgh)
The top four names on this list are the most likely to produce starting-caliber results but with quarterback value being astronomical -- thus creating a cyclic, constant need from multiple teams -- there’s a good chance Kizer, Trubisky, Watson and Mahomes could be gone by the end of the first round. So if the Bears plan to grab their signal caller of the future, it needs to be done with the third overall pick or will require them trading back in the first round.
What Should The Bears Do?
The Bears spent the last week of January coaching the Senior Bowl and, while their evaluations surely helped out at other positions, they were not able to get an up-close look at any of the top QB prospects.
The free agent market is stale and filled mostly with retreads, so the Bears are down to two viable options: trade for Garoppolo or invest a first-round pick on a quarterback.
Garoppolo is almost as much of a projection as any of the top draft prospects, so it should ultimately come down to the player Pace and the Bears' talent evaluators deem the best option, regardless of price.
Obviously, the Bears could be outbid in the Garoppolo sweepstakes by either the Cleveland Browns (who hold the 1st and 12th overall picks, as well as two second rounders) or San Francisco 49ers (who also hold the 2nd and 34th overall picks). There's also a chance the Browns and 49ers scoop up the top two QBs, Kizer and Trubisky, with the first two picks in the draft, leaving the Bears empty-handed. It's an unlikely scenario but not completely out of the question.
Most feel a failed first-round pick is more damaging than trading multiple picks outside of the first round but the reality is simple: Pace’s future with the Bears will ultimately be decided by how he handles the quarterback position this off-season. It's a decision he won't take lightly.
While there is no definitive answer, here’s the current projection of Las Vegas odds as to what team Garoppolo plays with next season:
Maybe Vegas knows something we don’t, or maybe Garoppolo’s ties to the Bears organization just make that much sense.