The Chicago Bears entered the 2017 NFL draft with a clear need at quarterback, but most doubted general manager Ryan Pace’s willingness to use a top-five pick on the position.
After all, the Bears had just signed veteran Mike Glennon in free agency to a deal worth $16 million guaranteed in 2017. Conventional wisdom suggested the Bears would select a quarterback in the second or third rounds -- not the first.
Trubisky was viewed by many analysts as the best quarterback in the 2017 class, but he had made only 13 collegiate starts. That made Trubisky more of a project than a sure thing.
However, Pace was smitten by Trubisky. The Bears general manager waged a covert operation to keep his true feelings about Trubisky secret -- even from those within his own organization.
Pace staked his career to the young quarterback.
To acquire the No. 2 pick, the Bears sent the Niners the third overall choice in the first round and pick Nos. 67 and 111 in the 2017 draft as well as Chicago’s third-round pick in 2018.
As the Bears (3-8) and Niners (1-10) prepare to meet on Sunday at Soldier Field (1 p.m. ET, CBS), ESPN 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner and ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson take a closer look at the trade.
Wagoner: Only time will tell which team is the definitive winner in this trade, but there’s no doubt 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are still quite pleased with how this worked out both in the short term and long term.
After moving down to No. 3, the Niners still got defensive end Solomon Thomas, the player they intended to take if they had stayed at No. 2.
And using their additional draft capital from the Bears, the 49ers were able to maneuver even more, using the No. 111 pick to move up a few spots and land linebacker Reuben Foster at the end of the first round. And that 2017 third-round choice the Niners got from Chicago turned into the New Orleans Saints' second-round pick in 2018 and a seventh-round pick in 2017 that became promising free safety Adrian Colbert.
All told, the Niners’ haul from this trade turned into Thomas, Foster, the Saints’ 2018 second-round pick, Colbert and Chicago’s 2018 third-round selection. The Bears just got Trubisky.
The three players acquired from the trade have all made an impact already for San Francisco, though to varying degrees.
Foster has the look of a franchise centerpiece, as long as he can avoid the nagging injuries that have plagued him so far. Thomas is still trying to catch up after missing most of the offseason program, but he has bolstered the run defense, and the Niners are still believers in his ability to be a difference-maker. Colbert has been a pleasant surprise, establishing himself as a core special-teams player and flashing upside as a potential future starter at free safety.
And for fans who might have been upset by the 49ers’ decision to pass on the top-rated quarterback, it’s also worth noting that third-round pick C.J. Beathard has similar numbers to Trubisky this season. In seven appearances, Beathard has thrown for 1,430 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions for a passer rating of 69.2 and a 29.4 QBR. He also has rushed for three touchdowns. Trubisky has 1,135 passing yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions for a passer rating of 70.8 and a 22.1 QBR.
The additional picks that the Niners acquired from Chicago and the way they used them in additional trades have set San Francisco up to be power players in the 2018 draft.
Adding New Orleans’ second-round pick by trading the third-rounder from Chicago made it much easier for the Niners to deal their own 2018 second-round pick to the New England Patriots for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, a move that could be franchise-altering if Garoppolo pans out.
“We’re pleased with a lot of what we did this offseason,” Lynch said. “We feel like we will be closer. One of the hard parts for me, because as a player you’re so focused on what can I do right now, you don’t want to think too far ahead. You don’t want to think too far behind. But I have to have a [long-term view]. So, I feel a little awkward.
"But it’s my job to think forward. And yes, I think we’ll be in a much better place, but every decision we make going forward is to affect how we do as an organization. We’re very aware of that. We’ve made some good ones, but we have to continue to do that."
Ultimately, for this trade to be the home run many thought it was at the time, the Niners will have to make the most of those additional picks by landing productive players. For now, it looks like the kind of trade that could at least expedite what figured to be a long rebuilding project.
Dickerson: The Bears will be declared the winner of the trade if and only if Trubisky turns out to be a legitimate franchise quarterback.
No price is too steep for the right NFL quarterback. The Bears have been searching for a long-term answer since Sid Luckman’s career ended in 1950. Enigmatic Jay Cutler held the job for the better part of eight seasons, but Cutler reached the playoffs only once.
The Bears knew they needed someone better. Cutler was released in early March, and the Bears moved swiftly to sign Glennon as a veteran stopgap. However, the need for a young quarterback persisted. Pace believed Trubisky’s potential upside was too impressive to ignore, so despite strong evidence that San Francisco had no intention of drafting Trubisky with the No. 2 selection, Pace made the decision to trade up and part with the additional picks.
“If we want to be great, you just can’t sit on your hands," Pace said on draft night. "There are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands. I just don’t want to be average around here. I want to be great, and these are the moves you have to make.”
Trubisky spent all of training camp as the Bears’ third quarterback, but he opened the regular season as Glennon’s primary backup, ahead of veteran Mark Sanchez, who slipped to third string on the depth chart.
When the Glennon experiment ended after four games, Bears coach John Fox named Trubisky the starter beginning in Week 5.
The results have been mixed.
Trubisky has had bright spots in his seven starts. The rookie made a brilliant 27-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dion Sims in a 27-24 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6. Trubisky also delivered a perfect pass to Josh Bellamy for a 46-yard score against the Green Bay Packers in Week 10. The following week, Trubisky’s 19-yard scramble late in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions had the Bears in position to go into overtime, until Connor Barth missed a field goal.
For the most part, however, Trubisky hasn’t yet learned how to overcome his own inexperience and his lousy supporting cast. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Trubisky has thrown off target on a league-worst 26 percent of pass attempts, contributing to a league-low 52.8 percent completion percentage. Trubisky's Total QBR of 22 ranks last in the NFL in 2017, and only three players have had a lower QBR through seven career starts.
Trubisky also has lost two fumbles, rushed for 178 yards and scored on a two-point conversion.
Trubisky had a particularly tough day against the Philadelphia Eagles’ stingy defense, going 17 of 33 passing for 147 yards and registering two interceptions and two fumbles, though Chicago recovered both fumbles.
"I didn't play the game I set out to play or the game that I'm capable of," Trubisky said after the 31-3 loss to Philadelphia. "So you look yourself in the eyes, you look your team in the eyes ... and yeah, I didn't play well. I'm going to own up to it. But I'm going to get better, and they know that and I know that. You just have that confidence that you can be better going forward, and we're going to work for that and make sure it does get better for next week."
The jury is out on Trubisky, but the Bears still can win the trade if he lives up to expectations. There’s certainly a chance that could happen if Pace upgrades the roster in the offseason and Trubisky makes a giant leap from Year 1 to Year 2.
However, Pace won’t just lose the trade if he didn't evaluate Trubisky correctly; the GM will lose his job.