By Robert Zeglinski
When the Bears traded up to draft Mitchell Trubisky at No. 2 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, they made a definitive statement about their future. In eliminating any uncertainty regarding the mere idea of letting Trubisky slip through their grasp, the Bears told onlookers they believed they finally had The Man under center. Their future, one of promise and glory, was secure. One way or another, Trubisky was going to take the Bears to the promised land. He was going to drive them to a place of consistency they haven’t enjoyed since Axel Foley was hunting down drug smuggler Victor Maitland to uplifting, synchronized 1980s tunes. The only other option on the table was catastrophe in the face of what the then 22-year-old could fail to become. Failure was not a consideration that ever entered the Bears’ minds.
“Once you have conviction on a guy, you have to do it,” said Ryan Pace in an illuminating post-draft press conference. “You have to be aggressive and do it.”
You don’t trade up for unproven players without passionately believing in their potential. They have the “it” factor. No questions asked. If there are questions to be asked, they gleam with reverence. They are an accurate portrayal of fantasy. A soon-to-be realized placid dream of wonder where you travel to your happy place and realize the best version of yourself.
How long will it take them to realize their ability? What holds them back from playing up to their maximum talent, and when, not can, it be polished? Do they want their full birth name engraved on their multiple Super Bowl rings? What are the dimensions of the head and shoulders for a typical Hall of Fame bust?
The Bears’ worst-case scenario has become their harsh reality. They have neither the answers nor the tools to be blessed with such clairvoyant insight. The quarterback they gambled on, Trubisky, has veered off the rails. He’s regressed past the point of meaningful salvation. His listless performances filed in after another have sent Chicago into dire straits. Now, thanks to his glaring faults, Halas Hall is in danger of being sent into a collective tailspin.
Three years in, the jury is out on Trubisky: he’s not The Man.
The Bears came off a needed bye week ostensibly re-energized and refocused. A pummeling at the hands of the Raiders in London not withstanding, this was a team that had its preseason goals still firmly in mind. The contending Saints would be without the great Drew Brees and the explosive Alvin Kamara, and everything would be hunky dory. If this was a slam dunk, it was an alley-oop where you had enough time and space to both throw the ball up off the backboard to yourself and follow through with a tomahawk jam.
Their quarterback in Trubisky, the man most responsible for whether they’d meet or exceed expectations, hadn’t played in three weeks. He was going to figure it out after an extended absence. He had to. He was the X-Factor. The ace in the hole the Bears thought they had in their possession. As it turns out, they instead have a 2 and 7 off-suit; the least flexible position you can find yourself in poker, or in football.
Through three quarters of play on Sunday, the Bears had less than 100 yards of offense. In as must-win of a game as physiologically conceivable in mid-October, the Trubisky-led Bears laid a rotten egg. A 36-25 eventual blowout at the hands of the Saints told the tale of a team already grasping at straws. Utter ineptitude on the most rote of play execution and reads. No discernible rhythm or harmony to speak of. And a quarterback essentially begging to be run over and put out of his misery by the car with its brights on.
Normally it would be foolish to insinuate any season is over with 10 games remaining on the schedule. But the Saints took that noble idea for the Bears and shredded it without mercy. Small bits of orange and blue paper remain scattered over the floor. Oh, of course the shredder is jammed at the intake of obliviousness and confusion. Sunday wasn’t a “bad game, forget it and move on” situation. This was who the Bears really are: outclassed, over-matched, and at their wit’s end when facing any modicum of a challenge. If Cody Parkey’s agonizing double-doink left a poor aftertaste on the best Bears season in a decade, by comparison this was a dish never worth stomaching
It starts and ends with Trubisky. He’s a quarterback incapable of conducting a composed offense for a quarter, let alone the requisite 60 minutes. When the quarterback struggles, the receivers, save for Allen Robinson, make no plays. When the skill position players aren’t making plays, the offense doesn’t stay on the field. When the offense doesn’t stay on the field, the elite defense is forced to pick up the slack. Eventually the extra weight they carry breaks their backs. A debilitating sciatica of nerves and stress sets in, and the Bears must come to terms with their new limitations. They can never run five miles a day again. Their back won’t hold up. It needs rest.
Nagy insists he has the answers as to what plagues Trubisky from even reaching a moderate level of competence.
Something has to be easily correctable. Something has to give. A quarterback cannot regress this much, this fast when everything’s in their favor.
“I thought his footwork was just okay,” said Nagy on Monday, venting truthfully on Monday morning.
If it was as basic as footwork, Trubisky would already be fixed. Confidence is a different story. If a quarterback doesn’t believe in himself, establishing a quick passing game or ground attack would be ideal. Give him a boost if he needs it. Seven rushing attempts, an all-time franchise low for the Bears is not the answer in this equation. The league’s fifth-worst rushing offense hasn’t helped.
“I know we need to run the ball more,” Nagy elaborated. “I’m not an idiot.”
Even if the Bears were successful at rushing the ball, it would be akin to putting a lipstick on a pig. You can’t hide bad quarterbacks. They either rise to the occasion or wilt at first blush. The Bears have tried hiding bad quarterbacks for decades and it’s never panned out.
Admitting a miss on a player as highly touted as a top-two selection takes courage. It asserts that most previous evaluations and scouting efforts missed a hidden element somewhere. Confidence in what can be done to improve is inherently shaken. The more exasperated Nagy and the Bears sound by the week, they may soon have no other choice but to wave the white flag.
No, Trubisky won’t be benched this season. Barring a cataclysmic turn of events where he somehow lowers the bar of being the NFL’s worst starting quarterback, he’ll finish out 2019; his head held low and aimed at the next sidewalk crack in pensive thought. But if the Bears are to find any promise under Nagy and Pace—the two men inexorably tied to Trubisky’s laurels, or lack thereof—the groundwork for the next passer in line must be laid down with haste. They have to confess they had it wrong with Trubisky or risk losing a locker room and roster that was otherwise prepared to win. There won’t be any basking in confetti as long as Trubisky is taking shotgun snaps. The Bears’ two figureheads are the only people capable of shifting the dynamic back toward a more constructive perspective.
Like a 35-year-old bachelor still living with his parents, Trubisky has yet to launch and move out. Speculation over his rationality in the comfort of such a decision, be it fear or a general lack of moxie, are irrelevant. The Bears’ two-and-half-year-old statement that he would eventually leave the nest didn’t come to fruition. Their belief in him getting his quarterbacking life together was misplaced. If there’s a degree of candor in the hearts of the people in charge of “fixing” him, they’ll realize he never planned on leaving in the first place.
Robert is a writer and editor. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.