Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)
FEELING THE DRAFT
Pace’s decision to draft Trubisky in 2017 is Bears’ most significant moment since Super Bowl XX — and its impact will last longer
I’ve been accused of obsessing on the Bears’ failure in the 2017 draft. Their awful, unforgivable failure. Their colossal, calamitous, borderline-criminal . . . I’m sorry, where was I? Yes. Right. My unhealthy preoccupation.
In my defense, it’s not as if the ’17 draft regularly bubbles up from my subconscious. It arrives externally, again and again. If you follow the NFL, you can’t escape it. Let’s peruse current events, shall we?
The Chiefs will be playing in the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. Their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the league. That would be the Patrick Mahomes whom the Bears passed on in the 2017 draft to take another quarterback, Mitch Trubisky. Did I mention this will be Mahomes’ second straight Super Bowl appearance, the Chiefs having won last year and Mahomes having won the game’s Most Valuable Player award?
Meanwhile, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, upset about not being included in discussions about whom the team’s next general manager and coach would be, has asked to be traded. That would be the Deshaun Watson the Bears also passed on in the 2017 draft to take Trubisky with the second pick overall.
Both Mahomes and Watson are 25 and really, really good. Trubisky is 26 and not.
So you can see the problem. Every time Mahomes or Watson sneezes, Chicago catches a cold reality.
The other day, Sun-Times colleague Mark Potash tweeted that it was the 35th anniversary of the Bears’ Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. Given that we’ve chronicled everything about the ’85 team approximately 1,475 times over, I tweeted sarcastically, “I just wish we knew more about that team.”
To which Potash retorted, “We know more about the 2017 draft than we do about the ’85 Bears.”
An excellent touché.
But the more I pondered it, the more I thought: As it should be. General manager Ryan Pace’s decision to draft Trubisky, not Mahomes or Watson, is the most momentous thing that has happened to the franchise since the 1985 season. Is that hyperbole? An infatuation with the “now” in a social media age? I don’t think so. That terrible miss by Pace figures to cast a dark shadow over the Bears for the next decade. Trubisky has been mediocre, and Mahomes (108.7) and Watson (104.5) are 1-2 in career passer rating in league history.
But let’s look at some of the events since Jan. 26, 1986, when the Bears won their only Super Bowl. You tell me if any of them had the lasting impact on the franchise that the 2017 draft almost surely will.
Mike Ditka gets fired, 1993
The Bears finished 5-11 in 1992 and decided that their popular, headline-grabbing coach was the problem. In the 28 seasons since, they have made the playoffs just six times.
“I’ll try to do this with class,” Ditka said at his farewell news conference, with then-team president Michael McCaskey, the man doing the firing, standing 10 feet away. “Scripture tells you that all things shall pass. This, too, shall pass.”
It did — at least for Ditka. He went on to coach the Saints and had a long, successful career in broadcasting and as a product hawker. As for the Bears, they’ve had a very long run of struggles. But it’s hard to make the argument that they fell apart because of the decision to can Ditka. The common thread through all the ups (few) and downs (many) is the McCaskey family. You get the feeling that even a modern-day Vince Lombardi would have to peel himself off the wall that is Bears ownership if he were the coach.
The Colts beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI, 2007
The more distance we get from that game, the more it feels like “meh.” The Bears had an excellent defense, but they also had Rex “Is Our Quarterback” Grossman, which means they were a flawed team. What seemed so promising petered out, with the team making the playoffs just once in the next six seasons under coach Lovie Smith.
The Bears acquire Jay Cutler, 2009
This was a huge trade, with the Bears exchanging two first-round picks, a thirdround pick and quarterback Kyle Orton for a 25-year-old quarterback who had racked up 4,526 yards for the Broncos the previous season. It was the kind of bold move not associated with the Bears. There was talk that they finally had their franchise quarterback.
They didn’t. Cutler turned out to be churlish and, as a quarterback, mercurial. He ended up being the Bears’ all-time leading passer but couldn’t get out of his own way.
But compared to the drafting of Trubisky, the Cutler trade seems almost amateur hour in terms of a lasting negative effect.
The Bears acquire Khalil Mack, 2018
Another massive trade, with the Bears sending two first-round picks to the Raiders in exchange for a terrific pass rusher. It started out so well, with Mack getting a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pick-six all in one half against the Packers in his Bears debut. He was a first-team All-Pro that season, but his production has dropped off. No matter how good you think he is, he hasn’t had the impact that Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP, has had in Kansas City.
Who knows? Maybe the Bears will find their answer in what figures to be a quarterbackalooza of an offseason. Half the league could be changing QBs. Maybe a miracle will occur and Watson will agree to a trade to the Bears, who infamously ignored him leading up to the 2017 draft. Or maybe the Lions, against all odds, will trade Matthew Stafford to their division rival.
Until then, however, that 2017 draft isn’t going anywhere. Sorry. Hey, at least I didn’t mention the Double Doink game.