Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press
Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky squared off against each other in the playoffs at the end of the 2018 season. You probably remember the game: The Eagles beat the Bears 16-15 thanks to the legendary, partially blocked Cody Parkey “double-doink” missed field goal.
As the final score indicates, this was no epic quarterback shootout. Trubisky threw for 303 yards and one touchdown. Foles, the guy who supposedly has playoff magic, went 25-of-40 for 266 yards, two touchdowns and two first-half interceptions. It was a battle between an inconsistent second-year quarterback and a solid backup, and that’s precisely how it looked.
Fourteen months later, Trubisky and Foles are competitors in a different way. Per multiple reports, the Bears traded a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for Foles. The two teams will share the burden of Foles’ cumbersome 2019 contract: The Jaguars must swallow the rest of his signing bonus, while the Bears take on $21 million guaranteed over the next three years, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
There’s going to be a quarterback competition in Chicago, and it will be as ugly as a missed field goal bouncing off a defender’s fingertips, the left upright and the crossbar.
Foles’ career has been on a downward trajectory since that playoff victory. The Eagles bowed out in the second round of the postseason that year. A brief nationwide attempt to ignite a Foles vs. Carson Wentz quarterback controversy sizzled when common sense prevailed; the Eagles allowed Foles, the MVP of Super Bowl LII but a journeyman spot starter on his best day, to test the free-agent market. The Jaguars snapped him up for four years and $88 million, because common sense never prevails in Jacksonville.
Foles was supposed to be the game-managing quarterback who helped the Jaguars win with running and defense. But he suffered a collarbone injury in the season opener and was upstaged by rookie Gardner Minshew II. He returned to play miserably in three more starts before getting benched for the remainder of the season in favor of Minshew. The Jaguars were eager to dump his salary in a trade but appeared unlikely to find a partner in a market saturated with pricey third-tier journeymen (Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton on the trade market, Case Keenum in free agency, etc.).
Enter Bears general manager Ryan Pace, a man with two offseason agendas: 1. Justify his decision to trade up to select Trubisky (instead of Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson) in the 2017 draft; 2. Make the Bears a playoff team again. In that order.
After signing an $88 million deal with the Jaguars last year, Nick Foles struggled to stay healthy and keep his job.Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
Trubisky still had some “quarterback of the future” luster after leading the Bears to an 11-3 record as a starter in 2018, though he always looked his best when the Bears defense had its foot on the opponent’s throat and all he was asked to do was punch the ball in after turnovers. Reality set in last year when the Bears defense stopped producing more than two takeaways per game and opponents weren’t as fooled by Matt Nagy’s Chiefs-lite game plans. Trubisky was a human blooper reel when pressured and went through streaks in which it looked like he was spraying passes through a lawn sprinkler. He still has his supporters in Chicago, however: folks who believe that he just needs more experience, more weapons or better coaching.
Pace is the most important of those supporters, and he’s the guy in charge. So the Bears hired a think tank of assistant offensive coaches (Bill Lazor, John DeFilippo) to help Nagy nurture Trubisky and then signed Jimmy Graham to solve a perennial problem at tight end. Foles is the final piece of the puzzle: part big brother with an Eagle Scout personality; part coach-in-the-quarterback-room familiar with Nagy, Lazor, Flip and their various schemes from past stops; part much-decorated challenger who is not, in fact, very challenging.
Foles would have been useful as a mentor for a rookie quarterback. He could help a contender the way he helped the Eagles: as a reliever with a strong arm and experience who won’t wilt in the spotlight. But he’s also an immobile oak tree with minimal upside, making him the worst type of challenger for Trubisky. If he wins a training camp battle, it means that the Bears invested the second overall pick in the draft and three full seasons of development on a quarterback incapable of beating Nick Foles in a training camp battle. Given the coaching staff’s relationship with Foles and Pace’s need to justify his Trubisky decision, it would probably open up an organizational rift for good measure.
The Bears are making the same mistake the Jaguars made in signing Foles. They believe that their defense is so dominant that they can win with a caretaker quarterback, whether Trubisky or Foles is that caretaker. They are hoping DeFilippo can bring back the Super Bowl version of Foles, which is exactly what the Jaguars hoped. Foles was the Jaguars’ overreaction to Blake Bortles, who was like Trubisky in many ways: an erratic first-round reach who fooled the organization (and some fans) with a few highlights during a defense-dominated playoff run.
At least the Jaguars gave up on Bortles before Foles arrived. The Bears refuse to give up on Trubisky, even though this was the year to do it, with options from Tom Brady to Teddy Bridgewater to Cam Newton to Justin Herbert among the realm of possibilities. But starting over is scary, and for general managers, admitting a mistake is even scarier. So the Bears did what unsuccessful organizations do all too often: overpaid for ordinary-at-best quarterback play.
Mitchell Trubisky was 8-7 as the Bears’ starter last season while throwing 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Trubisky vs. Foles is the worst kind of quarterback competition: fast-fading former prospect against overpriced journeyman. The Bears are throwing time, money and resources at two players, hoping one of them turns his career around. The most likely result will be a season of flip-flopping, Foles fumbles, Trubisky blunders and another missed opportunity to make a Super Bowl run while the defense still has a few championship-caliber pieces.
Fourteen months ago, the Bears and Eagles battled down to the final seconds in a playoff duel of unimpressive quarterbacks. Today, for some reason, the Bears employ both of those quarterbacks.
They better hope their defense holds a lot of opponents to 16 points next year.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.
Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press