The Bears should be preparing Mitch Trubisky to start against Atlanta in two weeks. Anything else is a foolish waste of time. I will admit that I was well behind Jeff in coming to this conclusion, but I have reached it all the same. Allow me to break down my reasoning.
Best QB on the Roster
For those arguing Glennon should play now, I have one simple question: what has Glennon done better than Trubisky this preseason? The only positive answer I can come up with is getting the team lined up properly and in time.
What has Trubisky done better than Glennon? Get through progressions quickly, make accurate throws from the pocket, escape pressure, make accurate throws on the run, throw past the chains on 3rd down, avoid turnovers. Basically, Trubisky has been better at everything you want a quarterback to do after the snap.
At worst, you could say the two QBs are even right now. That could be a somewhat reasonable argument to make based on Glennon playing against better defenses and looking progressively less bad every week. But here’s the thing: if it is anywhere close to even right now, you play the uber-talented rookie with superstar potential over the mediocre veteran with serious physical limitations. That should go without saying.
I’ll happily take the 2-3 delay of game penalties a game (that will be gone in a month) in exchange for the 5-6 big plays Trubisky makes a game that Mike Glennon could only dream of.
Ideal Situation for a Young QB
The blueprint for working a quarterback into an offense from an early stage is clearly established. Surround him with a solid offensive line to protect him, a strong run game, and a stout defense. That way he won’t be leaned on to put up 30 points and win a shootout every week, but instead can manage games at first as you slowly increase his responsibilities. That was the formula that worked for Tom Brady in New England, Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, and Russell Wilson in Seattle. All of those guys started as complementary pieces and eventually emerged after several years as centerpieces who were expected to make the guys around them better.
Now look at the Bears’ roster in 2017 and notice they check every single one of those boxes.
Their defense looks ready to emerge as one of the better groups in the NFL behind a dominant front 7 and revamped secondary, the offensive line is easily one of the 5-10 best in the NFL, and the stable of running backs is talented, deep, and diverse. You simply could not script a better spot for a rookie to step in and learn on the job.
Sitting Him Stunts His Development
Many people have argued that playing Trubisky too early will stunt his development; I would say that they have that backwards. Here’s why: snap distribution in practice changes from training camp and preseason to the regular season. Now the focus shifts to being all about preparing for every Sunday, which means the starter takes almost all of the reps in practice. As we’ve seen with Kevin White, Christian Hackenberg, Paxton Lynch, and many other young players around the league, sitting and watching only gets you so far. Everybody’s saying the only thing Trubisky needs is the reps, but the only way he gets the reps is if he’s starting.
Besides practice, Trubisky could also learn a lot from taking the 1000 or so in-game reps awaiting Chicago’s QB this year. And doing so will provide him with plenty of tape to study next offseason so he knows exactly what to improve on, making that a more productive time in his development as well. The combination o practice reps, playing time, and film to study next offseason should make Trubisky much better by 2018 than sitting this year, which is really important, as we’ll see in a minute.
All of the above arguments should be perfectly sufficient to make the case Mitch Trubisky should be taking every snap possible in 2017. If that’s not enough, there’s one last one I have to make too. Brace yourself: this one involves talk of a Super Bowl. For the first time in a while, I think that’s a realistic discussion to begin having about the Bears.
Limited Championship Window
Take a realistically optimistic look at young talent on roster. That is, assume what we’ve seen between last year and this preseason is not a mirage and several young guys pan out like we reasonably think they will.
Let’s specifically focus in on 7 key players and project them somewhat optimistically: Leonard Floyd becomes a superstar. Jordan Howard and Cody Whitehair remain upper echelon players at their position. Eddie Goldman, Eddie Jackson, Mitch Trubisky, and Jonathan Bullard all establish themselves as quality starters.
This is certainly an optimistic projection for all 7, but not unrealistic for any of them based on what we’ve seen so far. And it doesn’t mention Tarik Cohen, Adam Shaheen, Cam Meredith, Kevin White, Roy Robertson-Harris, Bryce Callahan, Cre’Von LeBlanc, or Nick Kwiatkoski, any of whom could also emerge into that quality starter territory as well. We won’t bank on that though, so they won’t be considered in the ensuing financial discussion.
The Bears should be looking at that collection of young talent and thinking they have a strong title window from 2018-20. When you have a number of quality players on cheap rookie deals, including a quarterback, you should absolutely be thinking championship. That needs to be the expectation for the Bears in the next 4 years.
Now lets look at just how fast the financial situation changes as those players’ initial 4 year rookie deals expire and they need to be paid.
All of the above 7 players will be on rookie deals through 2018, with a combined cap hit of just over $16 million that year (barring a Goldman extension after this season). By 2019, Goldman will need to get paid (and Bullard, Whitehair, Floyd, and Howard will be eligible for early extensions, which are often the most team-friendly 2nd contracts you can get). The other 6 besides Goldman will have a cap hit of about that same $16 million, so it’s safe to say the cap hit with Goldman included should be $25 million or less, maybe $30 million if he absolutely dominates in 2017.
By 2020, Bullard, Whitehair, Floyd, and Howard will all have played out their rookie deals, with Trubisky and Jackson eligible for early extensions.
By 2021, all of those players will be on their 2nd contracts. How much will that cost? A look at current comparable contracts around the NFL gives us a conservative estimate, as values are likely to rise in the next three years. A quality QB will be at least $30 million a year by that point. A top pass rusher is currently just under $20 million a year, with Khalil Mack set to re-calibrate that market soon. Good defensive linemen go for at least $10 million a year, top centers currently make around $9 million a year, running backs are around $8 million a year, and safeties make around $10 million annually.
Now you’re talking about close to $100 million a year for those 7 players, a far cry from the 2018-19 totals. That’s $75-85 million less you have to spend on the rest of the roster. For some context, the 2017 cap hits of Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Bobby Massie, Prince Amukamara, Danny Trevathan, Akiem Hicks, Quintin Demps, Dion Sims, Marcus Cooper, Zach Miller, and Markus Wheaton add up to just less than $75 million.
Suffice it to say those big contracts for guys currently on their rookie deal will cost the Bears quality players elsewhere. This is not to say the rest of the roster will suck, but it becomes harder to fill holes with competent veterans when you don’t have the money to pay them, as has been Ryan Pace’s practice so far. Instead the Bears will need to fill holes by drafting well, which is harder to do.
Look no further than Seattle, which recently rode a wave of cheap talent playing on rookie deals to two Super Bowls, winning one and coming a yard away from getting a 2nd. Now that all those guys have gotten paid, they’ve taken a significant step back in the last 2 years while looking for their next wave of drafted talent.
Or look at Denver, who lost just a few expensive players coming up on their 2nd contract that they couldn’t afford to keep after winning the Super Bowl in 2015. They finished .500 and didn’t even make the playoffs last year, though admittedly the QB changeover due to Peyton Manning’s retirement is also a contributing factor there. But their overall QB play probably improved from 2015 to 2016. It’s just their defense was not as incredibly dominant, so they didn’t win as many games.
Both Seattle and Denver lost vital depth, saw strengths become less strong, and had more holes emerge on the roster when they had to pay their young talent. They simply couldn’t afford to keep everybody they wanted to, and it cost them contender status for at least a few years. Having too much talent to pay is a good problem to have, but a problem indeed, and the Bears could well be headed for that same harsh reality in just a few short years.
If the Bears sit Trubisky this year, they’re shrinking that initial title window by a season. First year starters basically never win a Super Bowl (I believe the last one was Tom Brady in 2001), as there’s too much they need to learn. If Trubisky doesn’t start this year, the Bears are realistically punting on any chance at a Super Bowl until 2019. That is quite simply a waste of a year for no good reason.
The more Trubisky plays, the sooner he develops. The sooner he develops, the sooner their title window opens. The sooner their title window opens, the more chances they have at a title before they can’t afford to keep everybody on the roster.
And that’s all you can do: maximize your title window to get as many realistic chances as possible. It takes too much going right in a game defined by injuries and lucky bounces in single-elimination playoffs to bank on winning it all in any one year, but the odds improve overall the more consecutive years you give yourself a good chance.
Short and Sweet Summation
I’ve spent too many words talking about this, but the crux of my argument is really quite simple: playing Mitch Trubisky is obviously the best move for the Bears in both the immediate and long term.