Sunday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported something that would have seemed shocking just a month ago: Mitchell Trubisky could be in line for a new contract with the Bears this offseason.
In the eyes of some NFL executives, Mitchell Trubisky has played some of the best football of his career, and has made a case as to why Chicago will need to consider re-signing him — especially if the Bears now advance to the playoffs.https://t.co/EjKFG2yKrq— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 27, 2020
In his report, Schefter writes that “Trubisky’s performance and record now have left some in the Bears organization wondering what might have happened this season if the 2017 no. 2 overall pick hadn’t been benched when the Bears were 3-0.”
Credit where it is due: Trubisky has played well of late. On Sunday, he put in a solid stat line—24-of-35 for 265 yards, two touchdowns, a pick, plus another score on the ground—as the Bears throttled the Jaguars, 41-17. Trubisky regained the starting role in Week 12, following a stretch where Chicago went 2-5 with Nick Foles under center, and since then the QB has totaled 1,243 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions. The Bears are 3-2 in that span and have topped 30 points in four consecutive contests.
The Bears have scored 30+ points in four straight games for the first time since 1965 pic.twitter.com/woIgNHtq66— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 27, 2020
At 8-7, the Bears hold the seventh and final playoff seed in the NFC, and if they beat Green Bay next week they’ll punch their ticket to the postseason. But the members of Chicago’s front office—or whichever mysterious NFL executives Schefter is citing—have to be kidding themselves if they put more stock in a five-game hot streak than a four-season sample size of mediocrity.
Trubisky’s recent success needs some context. Most of it has come against bad or unhealthy pass defenses, and head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator and play-caller Bill Lazor have created an offense that makes Trubisky’s life easy. That system includes a number of well-designed rollouts, bootlegs, and motion looks, and most of the QB’s yardage has come from his receivers making plays after the catch:
LMFAO Trubisky throwing screens into a new contract— Arif Hasan, solstice-liker ❄️ (@ArifHasanNFL) December 27, 2020
Rank over the last three weeks in
• Depth of Target: 32nd of 35
• Pct of yards to come after catch: 3rd of 35
• Broken tackles from receivers per catch: 1st of 32 teams https://t.co/q88ThTRsd0
It’s not Trubisky’s fault if he’s playing well in a solid system—and his success in that offense has been valuable to the Bears. But Chicago should be looking for a quarterback who doesn’t just function in their system, but thrives in it.
Trubisky has been outright bad for the majority of his career. Out of 28 quarterbacks who have at least 1,000 attempts since 2017, Trubisky ranks 24th in adjusted net yards per attempt, after luminaries like near-retirement Eli Manning, Case Keenum, and Carson Wentz. He’s below average at virtually everything, including completion percentage (21st), yards per game (28th, dead last), touchdown percentage (22nd), interception percentage (21st), and sack rate (22nd).
Schefter pointed out in his report that Trubisky’s record as a starter with Nagy as head coach (25-12 in the past three seasons) is better than most other QBs in the league. But it’s pretty clear that the Bears have won most of those games in spite of Trubisky, not because of him. In 2018, the Bears had the best defense in the league by DVOA, but ranked 20th on offense. The team regressed a bit in 2019, but the defense (no. 10) still far outpaced the offense (no. 25). This season has been similar—the Bears came into Sunday with the no. 7 defense, but are no. 26 on offense.
Earlier this year, the Bears believed so little in Trubisky that they declined his fifth-year option and traded a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville for Nick Foles, who had $21 million guaranteed remaining on his deal and had been benched for Gardner Minshew the season prior. Trubisky outplayed Foles in training camp, but then was benched in favor of the veteran in Week 3. The Bears yanked Trubisky from the lineup even as they were on the way to a 3-0 record, showing that they were fully aware that Trubisky wasn’t the reason for the team’s success.
Foles played poorly in relief (1,852 yards, 10 touchdowns, and eight picks on the season), handing the job back to Trubisky by Week 11. But even factoring in Trubisky’s recent performance, this season hasn’t been great for the 26-year-old. Coming into Sunday, he ranked 26th (out of 36 passers) in QBR and 34th (out of 39) in Pro Football Focus’s offensive grades. He’s 29th in yards per game (192.3), tied for 27th in interception rate (2.7 percent), tied for 27th in completion percentage (64.5 percent), and 24th in ANY/A (6.06). The only area he has been good is throwing touchdowns. Before Sunday, he ranked sixth in touchdown rate, throwing scores on 6.4 percent of his passes—just behind Patrick Mahomes.
Because the Bears declined Trubisky’s fifth-year option, the quarterback is in a contract year, meaning the team would need to sign him to a new deal this offseason. The Bears are currently projected to have little cap space next season (approximately $2.5 million), and with a playoff spot in sight, they’ll likely be picking in the back half of the 2021 NFL draft. That could make a quarterback upgrade tricky.
With no better options, the Bears could easily talk themselves into another season of Trubisky. But if the soon-to-be fifth-year pro wants a long-term deal instead of a short one- or two-season contract, the Bears should look beyond the last month and remember what kind of quarterback Trubisky really is.