The only thing scarier than the Bears’ quarterback hunt not going to plan this offseason is the notion that it did.
That, of course, would be ludicrous. General manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy surely haven’t decided to stake their careers on the right arm of Andy Dalton, a quarterback who’s won 24 of his last 65 games, right? Pace surely won’t let his tenure end having drafted Mitch Trubisky and not a single other quarterback, right?
By that rationale, it’s likely — if not certain — the Bears will add a quarterback this week. There’s room for one, too, with just Dalton and Nick Foles under contract.
Pace could trawl the depths of the trade market for someone like Gardner Minshew, who will be made irrelevant the minute the Jaguars draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall Thursday night. He could take Stanford’s Davis Mills in Round 2 or Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond in Round 3. Both are perfectly defensible developmental projects.
Pace’s reputation, though, suggests he’ll think bigger and will at least explore a trade up from pick No. 20 to grab a quarterback.
After the Jaguars take Lawrence, the Jets are expected to draft BYU’s Zach Wilson. The 49ers traded three years’ worth of first-round picks to move up to No. 3, where they’ll take either Alabama’s Mac Jones, Ohio State’s Justin Fields or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
Pace could trade up to draft either of the remaining two quarterbacks — if he’s willing to pay a steep price. The Falcons’ No. 4 pick will cost more than the 49ers paid. If a quarterback slides, though, the cost would move from crippling to merely painful.
Drafting outside the top 10 for the first time, Pace is at the mercy of other teams.
“Some of it’s in our control, some of it’s not in our control,” he said Tuesday during his annual tight-lipped pre-draft press conferences. “It’s just exploring all the different options at the quarterback position and the positions throughout our team.”
A general manager who’s crowed about having a “a no-regrets mindset,” Pace takes home run swings, for better or — as it pertains to the first round — worse. He won’t shorten up his swing just because his career is facing a two-strike count.
Desperation is a great motivator. Not that Pace needs it –in his six drafts, he’s traded his first-round pick four times: twice to move up to draft Leonard Floyd and Trubisky, and twice more for Khalil Mack.
Beyond the top two quarterbacks, this year’s draft gets murky fast. Coronavirus concerns canceled the NFL Scouting Combine. Some players opted out of their seasons, while other conferences played shortened slates. Lance played one game last year, Mills five.
Tuesday, Pace ticked off what the Bears look for when they move up to take a player: a consensus among team scouts and coaches; physical skills; mental makeup; a clean medical grade; intelligence; and football IQ.
“As you’re putting this puzzle together, this pie chart together for each player,” he said, “it kind of gives you confidence when to go up.”
Pace said the Bears’ quarterbacks room could be a good incubator for a young passer. He praised the involvement of Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo in draft prep. None of the three were on staff when Pace took Trubisky.
Pace said he meets frequently with chairman George McCaskey and president/CEO Ted Phillips, too, to keep them updated on the team’s draft plans.
“Every offseason there’s a storyline, right?” Pace said. “And every day there’s a different turn. And I just think bringing our staff and our ownership along on this storyline is a big part of my job …”
Pace has one more week to change the storyline. To do anything less would be admitting Dalton was the team’s storybook ending all along.