When is it right to mull QB change?
The decision on whether Mitch Trubisky will start Sunday against the Giants at Soldier Field will be based primarily on how his right hip feels. Will the hip pointer he suffered last week against the Rams heal fast enough for him to make his throws with the proper mechanics and his decisions with the proper speed and savvy?
By all accounts, Trubisky threw the ball well in practice all week and is expected to play. Coach Matt Nagy on Friday expressed hope that Trubisky was on the right track.
“When he’s in that much pain at the end of the game there last week, you never really know exactly what’s going to happen in the next couple days,” Nagy said. “But it doesn’t surprise me that he’s going to rehab and work hard and do everything he can to try (to) get that pain level down so that he can play. And that’s what we feel good about right now.”
Still, Nagy’s decision to remove Trubisky from last week’s loss in Los Angeles and some of the initial confusion that ensued only stoked the flames of one of Chicago’s hottest sports debates. If Trubisky’s status as the Bears starter were based entirely on performance, would there be anything in it for the team to bench him now?
The most popular line of thinking argues that the Bears have little to gain by making a quarterback change at this point, particularly when the alternative for the final six games is 33-year-old journeyman Chase Daniel, who isn’t a long-term answer.
If that’s the case and there’s obvious incentive for the Bears to use every opportunity to spark a developmental breakthrough in Trubisky, isn’t the decision to stay the course the most prudent? Won’t Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace benefit from having the largest possible sample size of Trubisky’s work to help inform their decisions for 2020 and beyond? Maybe. Yeah. Sure. All of that.
But what if, for the sake of argument, the sample size is already big enough to show who Trubisky is and probably will be, which is an inconsistent, shaky quarterback who misses far more big plays than he makes?
The idea that it would be imprudent to sit Trubisky at this stage of his development might seem logical on the surface. But it’s also not outlandish to suggest that the 25-year-old already has gotten a fair shake.
After all, including the playoffs, Trubisky has made 36 starts as a Bear. He has thrown multiple touchdown passes in only 10 of those games. He has thrown for at least 300 yards only five times. His 7,299 passing yards and 86.3 rating register as mediocre.
Plus, it’s not as if other highly drafted quarterbacks haven’t been benched early in their careers. Even at Halas Hall, the last two quarterbacks drafted in the first round weren’t given an overly long leash.
Rex Grossman? Including the postseason, he made 30 starts before Lovie Smith abandoned the “Rex is our quarterback” mantra and turned to Brian Griese. That was in September 2007, with the Bears off to a 1-2 start less than eight months after playing in the Super Bowl. Still, Grossman’s career turnover total at that point — 42 — had eroded the coaching staff ’s trust in his ability to get over the hump.
Cade McNown? The Bears pulled that plug after 15 starts over two seasons, an early verdict that McNown didn’t have the pocket poise or temperament to last on the big stage.
Of the 17 quarterbacks drafted in the top 15 in the decade before the Bears selected Trubisky at No. 2 in 2017, the only ones who haven’t experienced a performance-related benching or a trade from the team that drafted them are Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
The rest of the list:
■ JaMarcus Russell (drafted No. 1 by the Raiders in 2007) — Benched in his third season after 25 starts, replaced by Bruce Gradkowski.
■ Mark Sanchez (No. 5 by the Jets in 2009) — Benched in his fourth season after 61 starts, replaced by Greg McElroy.
■ Sam Bradford (No. 1 by the Rams in 2010) — Traded before his sixth season after 49 starts, replaced by Nick Foles.
■ Jake Locker (No. 8 by the Titans in 2011) — Benched in his fourth season after 22 starts, replaced by Zach Mettenberger.
■ Blaine Gabbert (No. 10 by the Jaguars in 2011) — Benched in his third season after 27 starts, replaced by Chad Henne.
■ Christian Ponder (drafted No. 12 by the Vikings in 2011) — Benched in his third season after 29 starts, replaced by Matt Cassel. ■ Robert Griffin III (No. 2 by the Redskins in 2012) — Benched in his second season after 28 starts, replaced by Kirk Cousins.
■ Ryan Tannehill (No. 8 by the Dolphins in 2012) — Traded before his eighth season after 88 starts, replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick. ■ Blake Bortles (No. 3 by the Jaguars in 2014) — Benched in his fifth season after 72 starts, replaced by Cody Kessler.
■ Jameis Winston (No. 1 by the Buccaneers in 2015) — Benched in his fourth season after 47 starts, replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick. ■ Marcus Mariota (No. 2 by the Titans in 2015) — Benched in his fifth season after 61 starts, replaced by Ryan Tannehill.
The point is there are many timelines and a lot of breaking points for teams when it comes to losing faith in a franchise quarterback.
The Bears, clearly, aren’t ready to make a concession on Trubisky and have publicly expressed their desire for him to finish the final six games as the starter.
But it’s also up to Trubisky to reward the patience of those above him, to show more signs of growth and to prove that all the time and effort invested in his development mean at least a little something.
At some point, Trubisky has to show he has the ability to lift this Bears offense without everything around him needing to be perfect.
If he can’t?
Just refresh that list of highly drafted quarterbacks from above and understand where these roads often finish.
The Bears may have to consider going to Chase Daniel (4) to replace Mitch Trubisky (10) if the offense continues to struggle.