Justin Fields needs company and one of the offseason issues facing the team is what to do with the backup quarterback.
The Bears opted to surround the rookie with veterans and not let him practice with starters initially, then ultimately had to go after him when Andy Dalton was injured.
Dalton becomes a free agent and unless the Bears are willing to absorb a $0.66 million cap while letting him serve as a backup again, Nick Foles will be dropped from the roster at some point. At least then they could realize maximum savings of $3 million. One way he might not fall victim to a cap cut would be if the Bears signed Doug Pederson as coach, since the two were forever interconnected due to their Super Bowl win over New England after the 2017 season.
So what can the Bears do to provide a backup for Fields? They’ll need someone who can play because quarterbacks often end up missing games, and Fields found that out by missing the last three games this year and five games overall.
Drafting a rookie later and using him as an immediate replacement rarely works. If he is forced to play, not only will he have no experience, but he will have watched the starter take all the reps from first-team practice.
So a veteran is needed and the only way to successfully ban a trade is a free agent signing. There will be a long list of free agent quarterbacks this year and watching this group might cause some angst because they aren’t exactly illustrious. But this is a reserve position for the Bears to fill and they are not considered full-time starters.
Here are 10 free agent picks aimed at the Bears’ particular position with a concern for the ceiling and a need for experience.
10. AJ McCarron
The Atlanta backup played just 17 games in six seasons with four starts, but the good news is he only worked for $1.5 million last year. It is likely that he would return to Atanta. The Falcons liked his veteran presence behind Matt Ryan and he didn’t cost them much, so unless someone was willing to overpay for what they would get, he’ll stick around.
9. James Winston
The former Tampa Bay starter would rank higher on the list, possibly near the top, barring a real problem. No one will know if he will be available for training camp as he suffered both a torn ACL and MCL and underwent surgery in November. It’s not a big deal for quarterbacks to recover from these injuries, but to do so in eight to 10 months may be overkill and the position is too critical to leave to chance.
8. Mitchell Trubisky
Not really. Matt Nagy is gone, just like Ryan Pace and Trubisky could live the quiet life of a substitute. It would never work, of course. There’s probably too much severity about being kicked out of town for him to come back. But for the $2.5 million he made this year, it would be a bargain for the Bears to have a backup like this. Trubisky is probably having too much fun with a winner to come on as a substitute for someone else when he could do it again for a similar amount at Buffalo. The only way to leave is for a tee shot or much bigger money. The Bears wouldn’t be able to offer either and probably wouldn’t want to anyway.
7. Jacoby Brisset
Brissett is known as the king of quarterbacks due to the success he has had, especially in Indianapolis. He is a solid performer as a substitute. What teams don’t want from saves is the tendency to hand them over. He threw interceptions just 1.4% of the time, an excellent rate.
Bringing Dalton back isn’t all that far-fetched, despite taking home $10 million for playing just eight games and six starts. Dalton was promised the starting spot and really didn’t get what he was promised behind the starts in Games 1 and 2. He played later only due to injury and illness. Dalton could probably find a better chance to start elsewhere and would be more likely to pursue that, although QBs in their thirties who have faded in a few appearances against good teams won’t break the bank.
5. Cam Newton
He enjoyed three seasons like Dalton’s 2021 season, with a below-average passer rating of 77.1, eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Newton was overpriced at $6 million for 2021 but Carolina likes him. The Bears’ interest may be in Fields having a mentor. Fields says he models his game after Russell Wilson, but also says he’s sought advice from Newton in the past. A young starter-mentor situation is healthy for a team.
Like McCarron, he’s a forever save. Except he was called up to play more and played pretty well when he came out. When Kyler Murray injured his ankle in 2021, McCoy started three times and the Cardinals won twice. He had a 101.4 passer rating for those games and 74.7 percent completion at 7.6 yards per attempt. His career numbers aren’t all that impressive, at 80.3 passer rating and 6.6 yards per attempt, but something seems to have clicked with Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
Mobile and with an arm strong enough to be a good answer if the team lost Fields for a while, Taylor once had such good numbers it looked like he should be a starter. They’ve dropped in his last two career stops and now he’s been to Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Houston. His career yards per attempt are a solid 7.0 and an 88.2 passer rating for 11 seasons.
Mariota collected $3.5 million for two pass attempts and 13 rushes in 2021. He can do more and still has great speed as well as passing stats that indicate someone gave him up too soon as a that leaving. He averages an excellent 7.5 yards per attempt with an 89.5 passer rating. A team would get a backup with 61 career starts with Mariota.
1. Bridgewater Teddy
Some teams may want to try and restore him to starter status, but honestly, Dalton deserves it as much as the Broncos QB. Bridgewater has great numbers. What he doesn’t do is put the ball into the end zone from the red zone. He’s still likely to command cash on the edge of what starters get, but if not, the Bears could definitely use a veteran QB who could step in as an occasional starter in the role he had at Nova Scotia. Orleans behind Drew Brees.