Emma: QB Market Shaping Up With Options For Bears

(670 The Score) Ryan Pace spent his first five years as Bears general manager establishing the building blocks of a contending team. He took calculated risks to bring in talent at key positions, with the plan formed around his belief that he would get the quarterback position right.

He hasn't solved the latter part of that equation yet. The Bears entered this 2020 offseason with their roster mostly set but pressing questions about quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's future.

Pace began the Bears' offseason by stating the 24-year-old Trubisky would be the team's starting quarterback entering his fourth season in the league. That declaration came after a 2019 campaign in which Trubisky's inconsistent play proved costly for the Bears. Pace's vote of confidence for Trubisky could perhaps carry some meaning, but it also could've been wishful thinking more than anything else.

"The dividends can pay off if it comes to fruition," Pace said at a season-ending press conference on Dec. 31.

The Bears are now facing a pivotal offseason. Pace and coach Matt Nagy must sort through Chicago's regression from being a 12-win NFC North champion team in 2018 to being 8-8 and mired in mediocrity in 2019. The key part of that self-evaluation will be determining whether the Bears can win with Trubisky as their quarterback.

When NFL free agency begins with the new league year March 18, the quarterback class will include highly accomplished veterans and intriguing younger players available to suitors.

Six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady will become a free agent for the first time in his 20-year career. Due to a void in his contract, the 42-year-old Brady must hit the open market before the Patriots or any other team can sign him. Eight-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers, 38, will also become a free agent, the Chargers announced Monday. That means two of the game's greats from this era will be on the open market.

Drew Brees, a 13-time Pro Bowler, could be yet another future Hall of Famer to hit free agency, though the 41-year-old may prefer staying with the Saints or retiring before signing elsewhere.

Dak Prescott is fully expected to remain with the Cowboys, be it on the franchise tag or a long-term extension. The same goes for Ryan Tannehill with the Titans. He could demand more than $30 million annually after his breakout season.

If the Bears were to add Brady, Rivers or Brees, they would be signing him as their surefire starter -- meaning Trubisky would be immediately bumped to a backup role. While the Photoshopped photos of Brady in a Bears uniform are good fodder for social media, that doesn't seem like a realistic possibility.

What's more likely for the Bears is a pursuit of a backup quarterback who has upside as a starter. This type of player would be capable of pushing Trubisky and creating a competition.

Teddy Bridgewater proved himself during his five games as the Saints' starter last season -- including a 36-25 win against the Bears at Soldier Field -- and would be an interesting option for Chicago. Bridgewater is 27 and showcased continued growth in Saints coach Sean Payton's structure. Bridgewater could command more than $20 million annually and will likely be coveted by several teams.

Case Keenum, who turns 32 on Feb. 17, could be another viable option for the Bears. He has been an effective backup over eight NFL seasons and could take over the starting job if Trubisky loses out. Keenum would be a low-cost addition for a Bears team with salary cap concerns.

While Marcus Mariota could be a good fit for Nagy's offense, he shares the same agency as Trubisky, Rep1 Sports, which seems unlikely to create a competition between two clients. Meanwhile, the turnover-prone Jameis Winston would be a worse fit than the more conservative Trubisky for a Bears team with such a strong defense.

An enticing option could be for the Bears to acquire veteran Andy Dalton in a trade with the Bengals, who are likely to select Heisman Trophy-winning LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with No. 1 overall draft pick. Dalton is due $17.7 million in the the final year of his contract in 2020. That would be a bargain figure compared to the options in free agency.

The Bears have $13.4 million in cap space after the recent retirement of offensive lineman Kyle Long, according to Spotrac. Cornerback Prince Amukamara is a candidate to be released, which would open $9 million more in cap space. Receiver Taylor Gabriel could also be cut if the Bears want to give their youngsters more opportunity. His potential release would open up $4.5 million more.

The Bears have been creative with their cap management under the watch of Pace and lead negotiator Joey Laine. While there are other needs to address this offseason -- tight end, inside linebacker and safety, to name a few -- the quarterback question looms over everything.

Pace and his brass have built a Bears roster capable of contending, but they haven't enjoyed the type of quarterback play that elevates a team. Trubisky's inconsistency has put the Bears' competitive window in jeopardy.

Soon, crucial decisions will need to be made. There will be plenty of options for the Bears to upgrade at quarterback if they're ready to pursue it.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.