Robert Quinn has gone from looking like one of the Bears’ worst signings in recent history to the cusp of breaking one of the franchise’s most prestigious records.
After all the turmoil, and there was tons of it for Quinn his first season, he needs two sacks Sunday against the Seahawks to break the Bears legend Richard Dent’s single-season mark of 17 1/2 set in 1984. Quinn goes into the game with 16.
Quinn had two sacks in all of 2020 — the worst output of his 11-year career. Now, the idea of him getting two in a game is nothing. He did it each of the last two weeks and has four multi-sack games this season.
And he has done all of that without the help of Khalil Mack drawing two or three blockers at a time.
Quinn has been one of the brightest stories of an otherwise bleak Bears season, though he hasn’t basked in that success much. Quinn keeps the lowest of low profiles and seems to have zero interest in the spotlight. He’s not on Twitter, usually wears sweats to press conferences and often seems completely unaware of the accolades he receives.
“Robert’s a very modest guy,” defensive tackle Akiem Hicks said. “He has swag, just a different type of swag. He’s going for the casual, relaxed type of thing.”
Quinn, for example, learned Monday he’d been picked to start in the Pro Bowl by happenstance and barely reacted. That seems like it’d be a big deal to him coming off such an underwhelming season in 2020, but Quinn didn’t hear about it until he passed coach Matt Nagy coming out of an elevator.
“Have you heard?” Nagy said, probably grinning.
“What are you talking about?” Quinn asked, noting that he’d been watching old episodes of Forensic Files as he passed the time leading up to kickoff.
Nagy told him the big news.
“OK, cool,” Quinn said. “See you at the game.”
It’s not an act with Quinn. There’s no fake humility. He has acknowledged he’s having a good season — his best since earning all-pro honors with 19 sacks in 2013 — but he typically frames it as “just trying to redeem myself” after last season.
He was a perplexing signing last year, and the Bears gave him the second-biggest contract of any free agent in his class: $70 million over five years.
It was a stunning commitment to a player whose production had been up and down over the previous five seasons, plus Quinn has been vocal throughout his career about wanting to play defensive end rather than the outside linebacker role he’d have to fill in the Bears’ scheme.
Everyone’s fears bubbled to the surface last season as Quinn struggled through injuries and offered little help to Mack as a pass rusher. Quinn had a strip-sack in Week 2 on his first snap of the season, then didn’t take down another quarterback until Week 14. Two sacks in 548 snaps left the Bears wondering how much they’d regret the contract.
Now it’s the opposite. He’s one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing values. By comparison, Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt just signed an extension worth $28 million per season and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett got an average of $25 million on his deal.
Whether the Bears keep Quinn, 31, depends on how long they expect their rebuild to take. At 4-10, that might be a while, and perhaps Quinn’s $17.1 million salary-cap hit in 2022 won’t fit those plans. They can move on from him this offseason for a total dead-cap hit of $12.7 million.
But if they do, it’ll only be because of Quinn’s age and salary. His production certainly merits keeping him around. And the Bears have flipped from focusing on how quickly they could escape his contract to seeing if there’s any way they can justify hanging on to it.