The Chicago Bears are going to acquire a new quarterback this offseason, whether it’s via trade, the NFL Draft or both. After finishing 8-8 for the second straight year, general manager Ryan Pace admitted last month that the team wasn’t getting enough out of the most important position in sports. Furthermore, Pace revealed “this whole offseason” would be about finding a signal-caller.
Naturally, that has left endless fans and analysts hypothesizing about what the Bears, who have never had a quarterback throw for more than 3,838 yards in a single season, will do at the position.
With a potential $10.3 million dead cap hit at risk, the team is contractually tied to veteran Nick Foles, who clearly showed he’s not the long-term answer. They have refused to commit to former No. 2 overall pick and impending free agent Mitch Trubisky at every turn, so all signs point to a new quarterback — or maybe two — in the mix for Chicago in 2021.
When considering draft capital and the positional needs of all 32 NFL teams, Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus has predicted Chicago will “trade the farm and then some” to the Atlanta Falcons for 2016 MVP Matt Ryan.
Treash on Bears: ‘No Time for Caution’
The Bears defense was again the team’s backbone in 2020, ranking 11th in average yards allowed per game (344.9). However, the number of 30-something-year-old players in starting roles, coupled with the obvious deterioration the unit showed over the season’s final two months, leaves room to be concerned.
Despite being in “win now” mode for the last few years, Chicago hasn’t won anything with its defense-oriented approach. Whether Ryan would make much of an impact on the team’s 26th ranked offense (331.4 YPG) is unknown, but having someone of his caliber under center couldn’t hurt.
Here is why Treash thinks Ryan could be a primary trade target for the Bears:
There’s no time for caution in Chicago. The futures of the entire Bears brass hinges on the quarterback position in 2021, and they have limited options at their disposal due to minimal draft capital. All of PFF’s first-round quarterbacks are likely to be out of Chicago’s reach by the time pick No. 20 rolls around, and it’d take Deshaun Watson himself publicly saying he will play only the Chicago Bears for that pipe dream to become reality. … The soon-to-be 36-year-old is fresh off a season in which he ranked ninth in the NFL in passing grade, at 82.1. That made him a top-10 finisher in that metric in six of the past seven seasons. Ryan showed no signs of Father Time catching up to him in regard to his downfield passing, as he ranked eighth in passing grade on throws of 10 or more yards downfield and sixth in percentage of accurate passes thrown on those same throws. Meanwhile, Trubisky has never cracked a 40% accuracy rate on 10-plus-yard passes in any of his four seasons as a Bear. Ryan isn’t the long-term solution, but he would make Chicago competitive in 2021 and would provide maybe the best quarterback play the franchise has seen in decades. That would at least remove the Bears’ front office and coaching staff from the hot seat for the time being.
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Can the Bears Afford Ryan’s Salary?
According to Over the Cap, the 35-year-old Ryan has a $23 million base salary in 2021, with $5.5 million guaranteed. His salary dips to $16,250,000 million in 2022 and $20,500,000 million in 2023, though none of that money is guaranteed.
As Treash noted, he’s getting older to be sure, but the four-time Pro Bowler is still performing at a high level. Per PFF, Ryan’s 4,581 passing yards were fourth in the league this past season, and his 26 touchdown passes tied for 12th among quarterbacks. If not for a 25-point second-half meltdown in Super Bowl LI in 2016-17, Ryan would also have the Lombardi Trophy the Bears have been chasing since their last title run in 1985.
Ryan played to an 83.1 overall rating from PFF in 2020, the 10th time in his 13 seasons he boasted a rating of 80 or higher. By comparison, Mitch Trubisky has never finished a season with a rating north of 66.4. It’s still early, but after Matthew Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams over the weekend, other moves are sure to follow as the new league year approaches on March 17.
The Bears could do a lot better than Ryan — but they could also do a lot worse. Another wrinkle? The Falcons aren’t expected to move Ryan and his $40 million cap hit this offseason, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero on Tuesday.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 2, 2021
That said, there have been several changes in Atlanta recently, including new general manager Terry Fontenot, head coach Arthur Smith and 19 fresh assistants on staff.
If Chicago really is interested in the 13-year veteran and puts together a bloated trade package centered around its 20th overall first-round pick in April, it’s likely the Falcons would change their tune pretty quickly.