As the fate of the Bears franchise rests on their ability to find a franchise quarterback, it is easy to question a general manager who has missed at the position so often. But history suggests Ryan Pace has as good a shot at finding the team’s first franchise quarterback in more than 50 years as anyone else does. Because if there is one thing that can be gleaned from studying how some of the best franchises in the NFL have obtained their leading signal callers, it’s simply that finding quarterbacks is an inexact science that can have many misses before a big hit.
The gold standard team in the NFL is the New England Patriots. They built their dynasty on the back of a sixth-round quarterback from Michigan named Tom Brady. But, before we give them too much credit for some secret they knew but the rest of the world didn’t, we should probably ask why they didn’t take Brady earlier.
The Patriots have more hits than Brady. They took Matt Cassel in the seventh, Jimmy Garoppolo in the second and Jacoby Brissett in the third. All three eventually became valuable trade pieces. But there’s also Zac Robinson in the seventh in 2010, Ryan Mallett in the third in 2011 and, if they really had that much faith in 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, they wouldn’t have signed Cam Newton on Sunday. Because they hit on Brady, they have had the benefit of letting other players develop and play in a consistent offensive scheme while they have continued to win games. It’s easy to develop talent at a position when those players never have to contribute.
And, of course, we can look at Green Bay.
Can you imagine the outrage we’d see today if a team traded a current first round pick for a player who was drafted in the second round and barely made the roster the year before? That’s how Ron Wolf grabbed Brett Favre. And he deserves credit for finds like Mark Brunell in the fifth, Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth and Aaron Brooks in the fourth — although that one is debatable. Wolf also drafted guys you’ve never heard of like Jay Barker and Kyle Wachholtz.
Ted Thompson deserves credit for taking Aaron Rodgers in 2005 and Matt Flynn in 2008, but he also drafted Brian Brohm with the 56th pick in 2008 and Brett Hundley in 2015.
With New England and Green Bay, they benefited from hitting early. They no longer had to take big shots at the position and were able to be more calculated in their approach.
The Baltimore Ravens have won two Super Bowls in recent years and are among the favorites in 2020 because they drafted league MVP Lamar Jackson.
Like with the Patriots and Brady, if the Ravens were really that convinced Jackson would be a star, they would’ve taken him with the 25th pick they used on Hayden Hurst. As it was, Jackson was the first first-round quarterback the team selected since Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco in 2008. They also stole Tyrod Taylor in the sixth in 2011.
But Ozzie Newsome had plenty of misses before he had any hits. Who can forget the early-Ravens days with the likes of Vinny Testeverde, Jim Harbaugh, Scott Mitchell and Tony Banks. At least three of the four picked to be starters for the team were complete fails. They lucked out with a historically good defense and Trent Dilfer not blowing games, but quickly struck out again when they let Dilfer leave and paid big bucks to Elvis Grbac, who retired at the age of 31 after just one year with Baltimore.
After Grbac came the drafting of Kyle Boller in the first round. Boller and Anthony Wright quarterbacked the team for a couple of years until they brought in Steve McNair.
McNair is largely seen as a good signing because they went 13-3 his first season there, but he averaged less than 200 yards passing per game with a passer rating of 82.5. After a regular season in which he threw 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, he managed just two touchdowns and six interceptions in his final seven games with the Ravens.
The team then seemed to figure it out, drafting Flacco and Taylor before eventually adding Jackson. But if they knew some great secret, would they have struggled for years after the Super Bowl trying to get consistent play out of Flacco? Probably not.
Russell Wilson was a brilliant pick for Seattle, but don’t forget about the misses.
Wilson was never in the plans for Pete Carroll and John Schneider after they paid big bucks to Matt Flynn that same off-season. Flynn proved to be the latest in a line of misses that included a second-round pick that was traded for Charlie Whitehurst and the free-agent addition of Tarvaris Jackson.
There can be lessons learned from Baltimore and Seattle. Both teams knew to cut their losses early and take other swings until they got it right and we can safely say that Pace has done just that, moving on from Mike Glennon after four games and making Mitch Trubisky battle for his job after his third season.
Perhaps more importantly, both GMs were able to capably build the rest of their rosters well enough to win games and buy time to find a franchise quarterback. The same can be said for Green Bay, which won despite the struggles of a young Brett Favre.
If Trubisky proves to be as bad a miss as he looked last year and the latest addition to the room, Nick Foles, isn’t any better, we won’t have to worry about if Pace is capable of finding the next quarterback.
If whoever the Bears quarterback is in 2020 is good enough to get the team in the playoffs, Pace will likely get another shot at finding his franchise quarterback. While it’s easy to cry for a GM’s job, replacing him isn’t easy. There’s no guarantee that whoever the Bears could hire would be more capable of finding a franchise quarterback and it’s likely they wouldn’t do as well with the rest of the roster.
Like it or not, if the Bears win in 2020, Pace should get another shot at it.