For many Chicago Bears fans, it has felt like an eternity.
After trudging through the worst campaign in franchise history, an embarrassing 3-13 season in 2016, the Bears have earned the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, which kicks off tomorrow.
Bears fans began turning off their televisions on Sundays last season, many for the first time in their long careers as supporters of the Monsters of the Midway. Some didn't even bother turn on their TVs, an egregious breach of protocol that would have been considered sacrilegious just a few years ago.
Instead of watching the Bears find ways to lose, many fans began their draft research early, all of which has led to this point.
Tomorrow night at around 7:30 p.m. CT, general manager Ryan Pace will be making his first-round pick for the Bears, a selection that could alter the future of the franchise in both the short- and long-term.
With that in mind, let's dissect the different scenarios that could play out in the first round.
The Ideal Scenario: Trade Back
There is only one bona fide stud in this year's class, Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett.
Beyond Garrett, every top prospect in this class has major question marks, particularly when considering the value of the third overall pick. Historically, only edge rushers, edge blockers and quarterbacks are worthy of a Top 3 pick. This year, there are no offensive tackles even worthy of a Top 10 selection and each QB, as well as each top-tier pass rusher, is littered with question marks.
As such, if the Bears sit still and select at third overall, they will likely be reaching on a player who doesn't have legitimate top-three talent.
In order to avoid dumping the highest pick in franchise history on a borderline prospect, Pace would be best suited to trade back and acquire more picks.
Due to the team's lofty draft slot, a trade back would be very valuable. Just moving back to the 7th slot in the draft could net the Bears an extra second- and third-round pick, and the farther they go, the more they'll receive in compensation.
NFL teams typically trade up to the top of the draft to select quarterbacks, due to the sheer importance of the position. Here are the teams in the Top 15 who could looking to trade up for a franchise signal caller.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4th overall)
New York Jets (6th)
Los Angeles Chargers (7th)
Cleveland Browns (12th)
Arizona Cardinals (13th)
If Pace can flop first-round picks with one of these teams, he'll still land a top-tier talent, all while stockpiling picks in the second and third rounds. Those extra picks would allow Pace to fill the numerous holes that still exist on the roster with starter-level talent.
The Likeliest Scenario: QB Deshaun Watson
Multiple sources have told Bear Report that the top quarterback on Chicago's board is Clemson's Deshaun Watson.
Most draft "experts" believe UNC QB Mitch Trubisky is the No. 1 passer in this class but it appears Pace would prefer Watson.
There are holes in his game -- accuracy, limited read progressions, simplified offense -- but no one can debate the fact Watson is a winner. He plays his best football in the biggest moments of the biggest games, which includes carving up an NFL-caliber Alabama defense to the tune of 421 passing yards and 4 total TDs in the BCS Championship game.
Watson brings leadership, poise in the pocket and moxie, all things you cannot coach. With Mike Glennon on board for 2017, the Bears can sit Watson for a season and help him refine the weaker points in his game before unleashing a proven winner in 2018.
Watson could be Chicago's pick at No. 3 overall but, ideally, Pace will find a way to trade back a few spots and still land his franchise signal caller of the future.
Likely Scenarios: Thomas, Allen, Adams
With the Cleveland Browns expected to take Garrett first overall, the player the San Francisco 49ers select with the second overall pick will set the table for the rest of the Top 10 picks.
If the 49ers take Trubisky, then Pace could panic and take Watson at No. 3. If both QBs are on the board when it comes time for Pace to pick, the odds of him being able to find a trade-back partner increase substantially.
If the 49ers take Stanford DE Solomon Thomas, then both of the top two quarterbacks fall to the Bears. Yet if Trubisky is San Francisco's pick, then a potential premiere edge rusher in Thomas falls into Chicago's lap. That could compel Pace to select Thomas and then try to trade back into the first round to select his QB of the future.
If Thomas is gone and Pace isn't ready to take a quarterback at third overall, Alabama DT Jonathan Allen and LSU S Jamal Adams become real possibilities. Both are impact players widely considered the best at their respective positions, which also happen to be positions of need for the Bears.
The Sleeper Pick: DE Derek Barnett
As we mentioned earlier, rarely do top-three picks spent on anything other than QBs, pass rushers or OTs prove to be worth the value. If Garrett and Thomas come off the board right away, that leaves a bunch of quarterbacks with question marks and Allen, who has arthritis in both shoulders.
Looking down the list, the player many believe to be third best edge rusher in this class is Tennessee DE Derek Barnett.
A starter each season for the Volunteers, Barnett was consistently productive in the tough SEC. He's not an explosive, quick twitch athlete but he's a grinder who plays with passion and power. I'm told the media is not as high on Barnett as most NFL teams. If that's true, then Barnett could be a surprise pick for the Bears at No. 3 -- and a very realistic candidate if Pace trades back a few spots.