Bears defensive end Robert Quinn wasn’t dialed into the team’s busy offseason, but he caught the bullet points.
He knew that hiring general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus would bring change. He knew they offloaded his pass rush partner, Khalil Mack, in a trade to the Chargers.
And he knew he could be next.
“Hopefully my resume or my production from last year gives me a little weight to keep my foot in the building,” Quinn said. “[But] it’s a business. You see Khalil Mack getting traded.
“I didn’t expect to go anywhere, or want to go anywhere, but this is a crazy business.”
Quinn’s had enough craziness throughout his 11-year career and prefers the continuity even if it means riding out a transitional season amid the Bears’ rebuild.
He went through his own transition in 2020, when he struggled to acclimate to the Bears’ defense, battled injuries and became so miserable he didn’t want to go to Halas Hall. But that all cleared up for him last season, and he set the franchise record with 18.5 sacks.
That version of Quinn is worth every penny of his five-year, $70 million contract, and he’s in an advantageous position to keep it up.
While Quinn turns 32 next month, that’s not necessarily a problem at his position. Over the past decade, there were 18 double-digit sack seasons by players 32 and up. Former Bear Julius Peppers put up 11 as a 37-year-old for the Panthers in 2017.
Additionally, Eberflus is implementing a 4-3 defense that will shift Quinn back to his natural position. Quinn was so detached from the Bears’ coaching search that he wasn’t aware Eberflus was a 4-3 guy until someone mentioned it to him several days after his hiring. He made it work at outside linebacker last season, but he has been adamant that he belongs at defensive end.
The Bears are high on Quinn beyond his production, and he could be a vital influence as they lay the groundwork for their future. He bristled at a reporter using the word “rebuild,” presumably because it implies tanking or the team not having any real standards for the upcoming season. He wants to be a pillar of professionalism, and there’s value in that, too.
That attitude was a big reason why his teammates voted for him for the Brian Piccolo Award, which goes to a rookie and veteran who reflect Piccolo’s determination, courage and other qualities. Running back Khalil Herbert won the rookie honor.
The award was particularly meaningful to Quinn, who has long been familiar with Piccolo’s story. Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer in 1969 and died at age 26. Quinn, meanwhile, believed he was facing the end when doctors diagnosed him with a brain tumor at 17.
“When I truly found out who he was… and to hear what he had to overcome and how he approached things — I just try to make the most out of today because tomorrow ain’t promised,” Quinn said. “The way I kind of approach life after hearing from a doctor you’ve got a week to live: There ain’t too much that can bring you down after that.”
Quinn’s tumor eventually was determined to be benign, and he did not have it removed. He survived, but the effect of seeing how quickly he could lose his life shaped him permanently.
“I remember looking at my mom for I don’t know how long, kind of [in] disbelief,” he said. “But after a couple of days, I came to grips with it: I’m about to leave this world.
“So I was trying to go out as happy as possible, and I guess from there on out, I just tried to live that same way because we all go through bad things — it’s just how you approach it and make the most out of your situation. So I’ve been blessed to still be here.”