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Dissecting the Many Ways to Find a Franchise Quarterback for the Bears

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Bears Rumors

After staying the course with Jay Cutler for two years, GM Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears appear set to turn in a new direction.

As if the team wasn’t already in the market for a fresh face under center, news that the Bears have reportedly started shopping Cutler has made it all but official.

This is what the beginning of the end looks like.

With a new direction being drawn, Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune mapped out four plans the Bears can follow on their search for a franchise quarterback. Even though it might look like there is a shortage of options, there are several avenues the Bears can travel to find a player they can hitch their wagons to moving forward.

In a detailed must-read story, Wiederer points out the quarterbacks available via trade, the No. 3 pick, and on Day 2 of the draft are the most obvious options. And while a divorce from the Cutler experience is coming fast, the Bears could still stand pat with other in-house candidates.

But which plan is the best?

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“With the third pick, the Chicago Bears select…”

History says drafting a quarterback in the first round is the route most often taken to find the guy.

Since 1986, there have been 72 quarterbacks taken in the first round.

  • 28 Pro Bowlers (19 have made at least two Pro Bowls, 5 have made at least three, 10 have made four or more)
  • 22 have been their team’s primary starter for at least seven years (Cam Newton will make 23 in 2017, Ryan Tannehill projects to make 24 after 2018, and Andrew Luck could make it 25 after 2019)
  • 4 first-team All-Pro members (Peyton Manning 7, Aaron Rodgers 2, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton)
  • 7 Super Bowl winners as starters (Troy Aikman 3, Peyton Manning 2, Eli Manning 2, Ben Roethlisberger 2, Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Trent Dilfer)

Of the 24 active quarterbacks who were first-round picks, 17 will be listed on their respective team’s depth chart as QB1 when 2017 begins. This could grow depending on what happens with Cutler, Sam Bradford, Paxton Lynch, and Robert Griffin III. Mark Sanchez, Blaine Gabbert, and E.J. Manuel could still slide into back-up roles, too.

There have been 15 quarterbacks selected third overall in the draft’s history, six have been their team’s primary starter for at least nine years, five have been to multiple Pro Bowls, three have had first-team All-Pro seasons, and only one – Bobby Lane, drafted in 1948 – has made the Hall of Fame.


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So if you’re looking for stability, odds are you’ll find it early in the first round.

Unfortunately, living in the present reveals this particular class as a risky group of underclassmen with skills you can dream on as a fan or an executive, but with much growth still needing to occur. Frankly, none of the top five quarterback prospects in the draft are polished.


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Trade

To write that the trade market is tricky seems like an understatement. For starters, it takes two to tango. Also, teams acquiring quarterbacks must trust the scouts employed by the organization, and they are often with limited film and data during the process.

With that being said, using prosportstransactions.com as our guide, 14 quarterbacks have been traded for first-round picks since 1990. You’ll likely be familiar with some names on the list, others might leave you wondering how such a trade went down – some will even fall into both categories.

  • Chris Chandler from Indianapolis to Tampa Bay (1990)
  • Steve Walsh from Dallas to New Orleans (1990)
  • Brett Favre from Atlanta to Green Bay (1992)
  • Joe Montana from San Francisco to Kansas City (1993)
  • Jeff George from Indianapolis to Atlanta (1994)
  • Craig Erickson from Tampa Bay to Indianapolis (1995)
  • Rick Mirer from Seattle to Bears (1997)
  • Rob Johnson from Jacksonville to Buffalo (1998)
  • Brad Johnson from Minnesota to Washington (1999)
  • Trent Green from St. Louis to Kansas City (2001)
  • Drew Bledsoe from New England to Buffalo (2003)
  • Jay Cutler from Denver to Bears (2009)
  • Carson Palmer from Cincinnati to Oakland (2011)
  • Sam Bradford from Philadelphia to Minnesota (2016)

If the Bears traded the No. 3 pick to acquire a quarterback, it would be the highest draft pick since the Chandler trade (No. 2 overall pick) and only the third top-10 pick (Jeff George, 7th; Rob Johnson, 9th) dealt for a quarterback.

Right now, most trade-related rumors focus on New England back-up Jimmy Garoppolo.


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“With the 36th … 67th … 109th … 115th … 148th … 223rd pick, the Chicago Bears select…”

Sometimes, a draft’s best quarterback isn’t a first-rounder. Drew Brees, Joe Montana, and Tom Brady are among the best to ever play the position – and none were first-round selections.

Since 1986, there have been 87 quarterbacks drafted after the first round who were among their respective draft’s first 100 picks.

  • 3 first-team All-Pro quarterbacks (Brett Favre 3, Rich Gannon 2, Drew Brees)
  • 12 Pro Bowl quarterbacks (8 of whom made multiple Pro Bowl trips)
  • 7 have been their team’s primary starter for at least seven years (Andy Dalton could make 8 in 2017, Russell Wilson could make 9 in 2018)
  • 3 Super Bowl starters who won the big game (Favre, Brees, Wilson)
  • 1 first-team All-Pro punter (Tom Tupa)

And since 1986, 243 quarterbacks have been selected after pick 101.

  • 1 first-team All-Pro (Tom Brady)
  • 18 Pro Bowlers (only 7 have made more than one trip)
  • 9 have been their team’s primary starter for at least seven years (Ryan Fitzpatrick is the third-longest tenured member of this group with nine seasons)
  • 2 Super Bowl-winning starters (Brady, Brad Johnson)

As it turns out, finding a diamond in the rough is as tough as, well, finding a diamond in the rough.

Stand Pat

For the sake of this post, let’s immediately move Cutler out of the picture and note that the rest of the Bears’ quarterbacks (Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, Connor Shaw) have started a combined 37 games – 11 of which came in 2016.

Even still, Hoyer represents a feasible option as a bridge quarterback after throwing 200 passes without a pick in 2016 – and playing turnover free football would be a stark change from the high-risk, high-reward style Cutler played with during his time in Chicago. Perhaps Shaw, who was a preseason injury away from possibly being the Bears’ third-string quarterback, could earn a role as a backup – or eventually a starter if everything bounces his way.

However, holding steady with the quarterback group as currently constructed would be risky and undesirable.


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“The Chicago Bears have signed _______ to a free agent deal.”

The list of free agent quarterbacks gets uninteresting quickly. Kirk Cousins is the headliner (though he may well be franchised by Washington), while the drop-off after him is frighteningly steep. Hoyer and Mike Glennon lead the list of an otherwise uninspiring group, which you can check out here in its entirety via spotrac.

The Combo Plan

In 2012, the Washington Redskins solved their quarterback woes by trading up to acquire the second pick in the draft, which was used to select Robert Griffin III. Later in the draft – exactly 100 picks later – Washington chose Kirk Cousins in the fourth round with selection No. 102. It turned out to be a perfect backup plan as Cousins turned out to be a better long-term solution than the oft-injured Griffin.

The Bears could use this as a blueprint for their offseason quarterback search.

Perhaps drafting DeShaun Watson early and Nathan Peterman late provides the Bears with the kind of insurance policy needed to protect against the downside of its high-pick investment.

Maybe drafting a quarterback early to compete with one of the returning quarterbacks allows the team to create an in-camp competition for the right to start in Week 1. Or maybe an offseason that features signing a bridge quarterback to allow for a late-round developmental type is a better plan.

Perhaps there is some combination that isn’t even on our radar yet.

The Bears have options, but there is no clear-cut winner among the group.

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Luis Medina

Luis is the Lead Writer at The Ten-Yard Line, and you can find him on Twitter at @lcm1986.