The Bears and Panthers sit near each other on the NFL’s most miserable merry-go-round — quarterback-starved and poring through other franchises’ trash cans to try to solve the most elusive riddle in sports.
The Bears traded for Nick Foles last year — a backup whose contract is now a liability — and signed Andy Dalton to a one-year, $10 million deal last month.
One year and two weeks ago, the Panthers handed free agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a three-year, $63 million contract. Monday, the Panthers gave up on him after 15 starts, trading three draft picks — a sixth-rounder this year and second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 — for Jets passer Sam Darnold.
Darnold is the most tempting of the four. He won’t turn 24 until June, making him seven months younger than Joe Burrow, last year’s top selection. The former No. 3 draft pick from USC has the pedigree, but a price tag that comes with it. The Panthers will certainly pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option for 2022, a fully guaranteed $18.9 million.
It would have been fascinating had the Bears tried the same tack, giving coach Matt Nagy a chance to revive Darnold’s career. But trading picks — even those a year into the future — runs counter to the Bears’ current approach of trying to support a middling quarterback with draft help. For all the criticisms of Dalton, he merely cost them money.
Removing Darnold from the Jets circus — former Bears coordinator Adam Gase oversaw what might be the two-year nadir of the franchise — will make Darnold better. Of the four starting quarterbacks traded this offseason, Darnold was the most polarizing; a sampling of league sources earlier this offseason produced more non-believers than intrigued parties.
Monday’s trade, though, can still impact the Bears’ quarterback picture.
The Panthers are set to draft eighth later this month; they likely determined their preferred college quarterback wasn’t going to last until then. If one of the five likely first-rounders does, the Panthers could trade the pick to a quarterback-needy team. To get from the Pick 20 to 8, though, might prove too costly for the Bears.
Unless the Seahawks change their minds about Russell Wilson or the Deshaun Watson’s legal problems are settled quickly. Bridgewater could be be the last significant quarterback traded this offseason. The Bears checked in on him last offseason, and he’s now eminently available.
“We’re going to find the right place [for him,]” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer told reporters Monday, “whether it’s here or somewhere else.”
The Bears certainly wouldn’t consider trading for Bridgewater unless they reworked his contract to lower his $17 million base salary. They did something similar with Foles last year. Remember him? Foles would have to be traded if the Bears wanted Bridgewater. Even if the cap-strapped Bears could afford Bridgewater, that’s a lot of financial gymnastics to acquire a player who won as many games in 15 starts last year as Dalton did in nine.
The Jets, meanwhile, will jump back on the same merry-go-round; only three years after taking Darnold third, they’re certain to pick a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick.