Former $118 Million QB Floated as Bears Backup for Caleb Williams

Ryan Tannehill Bears Quarterbacks Caleb Williams Chicago Bears News

Getty Former USC quarterback Caleb Williams.

The Chicago Bears are likely to draft USC’s Caleb Williams as their new franchise quarterback later this month. If they do, they might also decide that they want more experience behind him at the position than second-year Tyson Bagent.

Could that impulse lead the Bears to the still-unsigned Ryan Tannehill?

Bleacher Report’s Matt Holder recently floated the possibility of the Bears enlisting Tannehill’s services for the 2024 season. To be clear, his argument had nothing to do with suggesting the Bears bring in true competition for Williams — or whichever rookie they pick — but more so focused on how Tannehill could act as a “veteran mentor.”

“Poles could add a veteran mentor for the incoming rookie,” Holder wrote on April 7. “Tannehill could serve as the Bears’ backup quarterback as that role is currently occupied by second-year pro Tyson Bagent.”

The suggestion that Chicago could be looking to add more experience to its quarterback room is not unfounded. They have Bagent returning after making four spot starts as an undrafted rookie in 2023. They did also sign veteran Brett Rypien in free agency, but he has thrown just 25 more career passes than Bagent in five seasons in the NFL.

The Bears have also made it clear through their other offseason moves that they are trying to be a contender during the 2024 season. While the expectation is their No. 1 rookie will come in and be the guy who helps take them to the playoffs, things can go wrong and injuries can happen. They need to be prepared for the worst case and ask themselves: Can they win more games with Bagnet or a Pro Bowler like Tannehill?

Does Ryan Tannehill Have Enough Gas Left in Tank?

Tannehill would be the most experienced quarterback on the Bears’ roster in several years if they signed him. The 35-year-old has made 151 career starts and thrown for more than 34,000 yards since coming into the league in 2012 and had a string of impressive seasons with the Tennessee Titans earlier this decade. He won the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award and reached his first Pro Bowl in 2019.

The biggest question with Tannehill is: Does his asking price in free agency align with where he is now, on the decline, heading into the final seasons of his NFL career?

Tannehill struggled over the past two seasons with the Titans, especially in 2023. He completed only around 62% of his passes (98 of 158) and threw two touchdowns to six interceptions in the first six games of last season before the Titans benched him in favor of rookie Will Levis. Tennessee also made that call despite paying him $27 million in the final year of his $118 million contract.

While Tannehill’s chances of getting anywhere close to that type of money in 2024 went out the window with the first wave of free agency, it is unclear how much money he is seeking from his next team. Pro Football Focus projected he could make as much as $15 million over two years on his next deal, which is likely too rich for Chicago’s tastes, but the sports analytics site made that prediction before seeing how free agency played out.

If he brings his price down — and way down — the Bears could reasonably consider it.

Are Bears Willing to Bet Everything on Rookie QB?

The Bears have not formalized their decision to draft Williams with the No. 1 pick, but it would be a massive surprise at this point if they went in any other direction. He is the only quarterback whom the Bears have brought in for an official Top 30 visit, and they are the only team that is scheduled to host him for a visit during the pre-draft process.

So, instead of upgrading their backup plan with someone like Tannehill, could the Bears simply place all of their chips on Williams’ success heading into the 2024 season?

Getting Williams practice reps is going to be one of the most important endeavors of the post-draft offseason for the Bears. They know the prospect, they like the talent, but they need to see him consistently executing their offense with their players to know what is working and what still needs work. He won’t be the only one learning new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron’s system, so there will be bumps, but more time together can help them smooth out any issues.

Would a veteran in the mix hurt or help that process? Hard to say for certain.

One could also argue that if the Bears wanted a more experienced backup, they would have signed one already. The Bears have been all-in on drafting a new quarterback since they officially traded former starter Justin Fields to Pittsburgh on March 16, and there is no doubt they knew before then that they would be moving on from him. Perhaps, though, they wanted to see how the market played out and wait to find a veteran after the draft who might be willing to settle for a less expensive one-year deal in 2024.

The Bears still have time to decide, but the market is drying up.

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