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Biggest questions facing the Chicago Bears: Quarterback still leads the list

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Move over Dave Wannstedt and Marc Trestman, you have company.

From the NFL charter franchise whose greatest hits include Wannstedt’s “all the pieces are in place” (they were not) in the mid-90's and Trestman’s hilarious misspeak “we’re going to be a team that is selfish and undisciplined” (they most certainly were) comes the latest addition to the catalog, courtesy of Chicago Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips.

On Wednesday, Phillips uttered 19 words that are sure to live in Chicago sports infamy. Nineteen words that illustrate the gap between how the Bears see the current state of their organization and the reality their paying customers witnessed this season.

“Have we gotten the quarterback situation completely right? No,” Phillips said. “Have we won enough games? No. Everything else is there…”

No, everything else is not there. The Bears do have a cluster of promising young players (Roquan Smith, David Montgomery, Jaylon Johnson, Darnell Mooney, Bilal Nichols, Cole Kmet) coupled with a handful of Pro Bowl caliber guys (Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Fuller) but the team is at another crossroads after losing eight of 11 to end the year and going 1-7 versus playoff teams.

The family named Phillips president and CEO in 1999. Let that sink in. Phillips has been second-in-command for more than 20 years. Except for the McCaskeys, no one bears (excuse the pun) more responsibility, yet dodges more accountability than Phillips.

They have qualified for the postseason seven times since the McCaskey family fired Hall of Famer Mike Ditka after the 1992 season. Of those seven playoff appearances, the Bears have four victories to show for it.

There are more questions than answers as the Bears embark on yet another make-it-or-break-it offseason for general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.

Who plays quarterback?

Indeed, as Phillips said, quarterback continues to be the team's Achilles' heel. To be frank, it has been a disaster. The Bears have not only lacked vision at quarterback, they have appeared bereft of the fundamental understanding of the position itself.

The cast of quarterbacks who have paraded through Halas Hall since the 1985 Super Bowl has been dizzying. The best and most talented of the bunch, Jay Cutler, led the Bears to one playoff victory in eight seasons.

The current front office’s fixes for the quarterback dilemma have been:

  1. Paying Mike Glennon $18.5 million for four starts

  2. Drafting Mitchell Trubisky over Super Bowl LIV MVP Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson

Trubisky likely took his last snap as a Bear in the playoff loss to New Orleans if Nagy and Pace are truly committed to working together. Nagy’s actions made it clear Trubisky is not his guy and vice versa. And that’s OK. They tried to make it work. Neither bashed each other in public. It’s just not meant to be. The best thing for Trubisky’s career is to leave Chicago. The best thing for Nagy’s career is for Trubisky to leave Chicago.

“As far as the plan at quarterback, to get to where we want to go, we definitely need more out of that position,” Pace said on Wednesday.

He’s right. Nagy doesn’t trust Trubisky to open up the offense. The Bears will not win Super Bowls by calling mostly shallow crossing routes and bootlegs. At the same time, Trubisky probably feels he’s being underutilized. Both have valid arguments. Let the breakup happen and be done with it. Nick Foles is the emergency backup plan since he counts just $6.6 million against the salary cap in 2021. Now it’s up to Pace and Nagy to explore every possible avenue to add one or two more quarterbacks. Use Foles as the baseline. It shouldn’t be hard to rise above that, but the Bears will never move forward with Trubisky on the roster.

Can the Bears bring back Allen Robinson?

The Bears had all season to negotiate an extension with Robinson and didn't. This is a classic example of the Bears preferring to have a player test the market as opposed to setting the market. Robinson's numbers (200 catches) over the past two years -- in spite of the highly dysfunctional nature of the Bears offense -- are beyond commendable. However, the Bears clearly do not think Robinson is worth top-five wide receiver money ($18 million-$19 million per year). Plain and simple.

“You know how we feel about Allen, how respected he is in the building,” Pace said.

Translation: The Bears are content to see what other teams are willing to offer. Maybe the receiver market is flooded with cap casualties and the Bears can re-sign Robinson at a better price. You never know. As for the franchise tag, the cap is expected to go down in 2021. Do the Bears really want to carry that number (projected to be around $16 million for a wide receiver)? The transition tag might make a little more sense, but tagging a player carries with it a degree of risk.

Will there be an overhaul at wide receiver?

Unless your name is Darnell Mooney, the next couple months could be nerve-racking for Bears wide receivers. Anthony Miller self-destructed in New Orleans. The trust factor is seriously damaged between Miller and the Bears, and there is no telling whether the organization is prepared to give him another chance. Same with Javon Wims, who followed up his embarrassing behavior versus the Saints in the regular season by dropping a sure touchdown pass in the playoffs. And Riley Ridley is mostly inactive on game day. The Bears cannot ignore the issues at receiver, especially if Robinson departs.

Can the Bears get a mulligan on Robert Quinn?

No. Quinn’s $11.5 million salary for next year is fully guaranteed. Quinn (two sacks) pocketed $18.5 million in total cash last season. The Bears aren’t about to cut bait. How can they? The team has to hope for the best.

“We expect him to rebound,” Pace said. “I think having an offseason being with us, I think that will bode well for him. Together with him and with us and our plan, we have to find a way to help him get more production and I believe that he will.”

What’s up with Khalil Mack?

Pace revealed on Wednesday Mack’s shoulder injury hindered the former All-Pro’s play. According to Pace, “his shoulder injury was real and we appreciate the way he fought through that.”

Mack led the Bears with nine sacks, but he rarely dominated games like in past years. The unfortunate truth is Mack counts $26.646 million against the salary cap in 2021. Mack has earned over $70 million since he joined the Bears in 2018. That is superstar money. He has to play better if the Bears have a chance to recover.

Can the Bears upgrade the offensive line?

The interior of the line appears in decent shape with Cody Whitehair, Sam Mustipher, Alex Bars and former second-round pick James Daniels (returning from injury) to choose from. Where the Bears need to focus is offensive tackle. The Bears would open up cap space if they move on from tackles Charles Leno ($9 million) and Bobby Massie ($6.7 million). Of course, the Bears would have to replace those players, and no one currently on the roster is screaming out that they are the second-coming of Orlando Pace. The Bears expect to have approximately eight overall picks, including the 20th overall selection. It would make sense for the Bears to invest early draft capital at the offensive tackle position.