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Daily Journal
     April 3, 2020      #76-94 KDJ

SCHWEIZER: Bears falter in wildest NFL offseason

By Mason Schweizer

The NFL offseason has been the most bananas it’s ever been. Tom Brady left the Patriots to enjoy the greener pastures in ... Tampa Bay. The Texans traded Deondre Hopkins, perhaps the best wide receiver in the league, to the Arizona Cardinals in one of the most lopsided trades in sports history.

Add in guys such as Phillip Rivers, Stephon Diggs and Todd Gurley changing teams, and it’s a safe assumption there never has been an offseason in which so many big names changed teams. Aside from almost each of the past 10 NBA offseasons, a sport built just as much on the off-season as the regular season, there probably hasn’t been a sport to see this much chaos in one off-season.

Then, there were the Bears, overpaying for a dusty Jimmy Graham, giving a long-term deal to an almost-30-years-old Robert Quinn and trading a fourth-round draft pick for a backup quarterback, Jacksonville’s Nick Foles.

Now, I must say, I, unlike many others, initially was on board with the Foles move. With the coronavirus outbreak putting a stop to anything and everything, including the ability for teams and free agents to meet in person, check out facilities or schedule team-approved physicals, Foles is a safe choice. He’s worked extensively with the Bears’ coaching staff, something available free agents such as Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and Joe Flacco have not done, which means the lack of current meetings isn’t as big of a deal.

But I since have joined the popular side of the debate. Of course it’s preferred to bring in a player that understands the offense already. Foles won a Super Bowl MVP in this offense, but he also has been completely terrible in it. Casual Bears fans who don’t watch much football outside of the Monsters of the Midway, if you thought our mighty Jay Cutler was inconsistent, wait until you see Foles.

And let’s get back to those other names I just mentioned in Newton, Winston and Flacco. Newton, a former league MVP, was released by Carolina after the Bears declined to trade for him, according to a report from the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. One reasonably could assume the Bears were hesitant to bring in a guy with a rash of injury concerns and no way to give a physical in-house.

But Foles isn’t exactly an ironman himself. He broke his collarbone in last year’s season-opener, the second time in his career he’s suffered that particular injury. That might be more of a fluky deal than Newton’s long-documented issues with his ankle and shoulder, but still, is it worth the downgrade in talent? Even at his worst, Newton is leaps and bounds better than any other quarterback the Bears had a chance to land this spring.

Additionally, before Newton was released and able to be had without surrendering draft capital, the Bears made this move with Winston, a former No. 1 overall pick, and Flacco, a Super Bowl MVP in his own right.

Winston had the most up-and-down season in NFL history, leading the league in passing yards (5,109) and finishing second in touchdown passes (33), but he also had a league-leading 30 interceptions. But again, Cutler is the epitome of a gunslinger, and he’s the best quarterback in franchise history. Nagy’s offense is a powerful one, but Mitch Trubisky’s accuracy issues have forced the Bears to dial back on some more aggressive plays downfield, something that wouldn’t be an issue with Winston and his booming arm.

Flacco showed last year in Denver he’s not the quarterback he was five years ago, especially with arm strength, but neither is Foles, a guy who lost his job for poor play last season after recovering from his broken collarbone. The two rate pretty similarly, but signing Flacco to a one-year deal wouldn’t have cost the 140th overall draft pick as Foles did.

And that’s the biggest issue with the move. The Bears already have stated Trubisky and Foles will be in competition for the job, with Trubisky having the inside track. And after the Bears gave up a king’s ransom in draft picks to move up one spot and take him ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Desean Watson in 2017, management has every right to want him to succeed.

But that 140th overall pick is a lot more valuable in a draft the Bears only have two higher selections in.

The Graham move gives the Bears two of the league’s highest paid tight ends alongside Trey Burton, and neither has been productive for at least a couple of years. Quinn was stellar last season, but signing someone that will turn 30 this season to a long-term deal with $30 million guaranteed, paired with Graham’s guaranteed $9 million, gave them little flexibility to address a secondary that lost starters Prince Amukamara and HaHa Clinton-Dix. And without that pick that was moved for Foles, they have one less opportunity to find great mid-round draft value, the one thing general manager Ryan Pace has proven to be stellar at. The trade with Jacksonville created a ripple effect in that regard.

The bottom line is the Bears can’t really come out as winners with the Foles deal. It’s a hedged bet at best. If Trubisky plays well enough to keep his job, that’s great. It finally would validate his selection to begin with. If he falters and Foles is inserted, there’s no guarantee he even will play well enough to validate the trade. And if he plays better than Trubisky, Pace and the organization will have the egg on their face of officially drafting a bust in the same draft that saw two of the best five signal-callers in today’s game go after him.

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