Was Pace watching the same games as the rest of us? We all wondered. What Trubisky had accomplished most in 41 regular-season NFL starts was raise doubts about his ability to start a 42nd. The second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft finished his third season closer to another first-round miss than a hit, the biggest reason the Bears went from talking Super Bowl to shrugging their shoulders. Pace was as far off the mark with his praise as Trubisky was with his passes.
Trading for Foles addressed the Bears’ most confounding offseason question. One of Foles’ four previous teams was the Chiefs, where in 2016 his position coach was Bears coach Matt Nagy. When Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl LII title after the 2017 season, his position coach was John DeFilippo – who now has the same job with the Bears. Entering a season in which the coronavirus crisis has compressed the NFL calendar and reduced the amount of offseason time that new quarterbacks will have to adapt to their teams, intangibles such as comfort and familiarity will matter more than usual.
Whenever Foles arrives at 1920 Football Drive in Lake Forest, his reputation as a terrific teammate and clutch, accurate passer will precede him. And Chicago, of all places, should remember from the double-doink playoff defeat on Jan. 6, 2019 that Foles can win big games at Soldier Field. It was Foles who calmly carved up the Bears' defense on a late fourth-quarter drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate.
Foles cashed in on his Philly success by signing a massive four-year, $88-million contract with the Jaguars, for whom DeFilippo was the new offensive coordinator. Hopes were high until Foles broke his collarbone in the season opener and lost his starting job in a wave of Minshew Mania when sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew burst onto the scene. As a result, the rebuilding Jaguars deemed Foles expendable and their loss will be the Bears’ gain.
This can work if the Bears let it. This can lead to improved play at the most important position if the Bears stage a true quarterback competition rather than forcing a false narrative that it’s Trubisky’s job to lose. It really shouldn’t be.
Acquiring Foles fits well with two other moves this week that revealed Pace’s plan to win now, and the general manager with three out of four failed high first-round draft picks after outside linebacker Leonard Floyd’s release surely feels the urgency he helped create. If the Bears can’t make an expanded NFL playoff field in 2020, then Pace more than anyone at Halas Hall should be held accountable. His seat is hotter than Nagy’s. For Pace, adding veterans in tight end Jimmy Graham, edge rusher Robert Quinn and Foles to the roster, in reality, turned next season into a playoffs-or-bust scenario.
After a contract restructuring, the Bears essentially made a one-year, $20-million commitment to Foles, who won’t care what the depth chart says when training camp starts. A Super Bowl MVP who stepped aside for Eagles starter Carson Wentz three games into the following season figures to let little faze him. Ideally, the Bears will open competition during camp and Foles will start the season opener. More likely, the Bears will do everything within their power so that Trubisky starts Week 1, knowing Foles is just a few more three-and-outs away from stepping in and taking over. Don’t be surprised if that happens before Week 5.
Eventually, expect the quarterback whom the Bears guaranteed $21 million to factor into the NFC North race next season more than the quarterback who no longer can lean on his status as the second overall pick of the draft. A fourth-round draft pick for Foles seems like a steep price for a player the Jaguars might have cut anyway, but quarterback insurance is expensive and nobody will complain if Foles helps fix a broken Bears offense. NFL handymen aren’t cheap.
Foles’ mastery of the West Coast scheme and rapport with new offensive coaches who happen to be old friends gave him an edge over other quarterback options. The Bears reportedly had trade discussions with the Panthers for Cam Newton, but Newton’s iffy injury history, not to mention his enigmatic ways, made an investment too risky despite his MVP potential when healthy. The idea of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton sounded feasible given Dalton’s 133 NFL starts and his shared Cincinnati past with new Chicago offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, but Foles understandably captured the Bears’ imagination more than Dalton. And if the Raiders weren’t going to trade Derek Carr, Foles was the next-best option for the Bears after free-agent quarterbacks started flying off the shelves like toilet paper at Costco. Please don’t suggest the inconsistent Jameis Winston, Mr. 30-30 -- Winston threw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions last season -- whose wide range of success and failure resembles a younger version of Jay Cutler.
“Mitch is our starter,’’ Pace proclaimed on Dec. 31 at a season-ending press conference.
Wednesday’s bold actions made those words ring hollow. Always remember that what NFL executives do matters more than what they say.
What Pace did in trading for Foles was a step in the right direction for the Bears.