By Chris Emma–
(CBS) John Fox and his Bears embraced their Senior Bowl opportunity last week in Mobile, understanding it was an opportunity to get better as an organization.
Of course, on multiple occasions, the Bears have stated that they hope never to be in this position again, as coaching in the Senior Bowl means your team had a rough year. The Bears finished 3-13, one of their worst seasons in franchise history.
The Senior Bowl silver lining was a chance to scout some of the best senior prospects entering this draft class. While many of the top players are underclassmen not eligible for the game, the class in Mobile still offered plenty of promise.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they likely weren’t looking at their next franchise quarterback in Mobile.
Pitt’s Nate Peterman was the top quarterback to throw at Ladd-Peebles Stadium last week, while Cal’s Davis Webb took MVP honors for his showing in Saturday’s game. Both seem to be mid-round values with some upside.
Last January in Mobile, the Cowboys found their fit with fourth-round selection Dak Prescott, whom they coached at the Senior Bowl. Prescott would lead them to a 13-3 season as a rookie and appears to be their franchise quarterback. Of course, Prescott benefited from the top offensive line this decade, the likely Rookie of the Year in his backfield and Dez Bryant as his top target.
As for the Bears, they first must make a decision on eight-year starter Jay Cutler, who may be shipped out in the coming weeks. Cutler has been paid in full the $54 million of a seven-year, $126.7-million deal signed in 2014, and the Bears appear ready to move on.
Should they opt to draft a quarterback — and options in the trade market or free agency would come first — the Bears wouldn’t seem likely to be looking beyond the second round. Finding a franchise quarterback is difficult enough in the first two rounds. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes are the top quarterbacks in the field. The Bears should have a choice by the end of Day 2.
Unless the Bears feel strongly about a player like Peterman or Webb — the kind of inkling that comes from a week of close evaluations — they’ll be looking elsewhere.
At this early point in the process, the Bears have nothing more than a grasp on the options available at quarterback, set to confirm convictions on prospects and perhaps even set some targets around the league. They likely haven’t settled who their quarterback will be.
The NFL Combine will offer the next stage for evaluating the position, one that comes a week before the deadline on a Cutler decision. After those dates in early March, the Bears will dispatch scouts across the country to scout Pro Days. Those stops should include Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Texas Tech, the homes of the four top quarterbacks in the field.
The Bears will get a more intimate look at prospective quarterbacks when they host visits at Halas Hall. General manager Ryan Pace, Fox, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone will be among those getting a close-up look at their potential future. From there, a decision could be made.
Before that comes the evaluation of the market for trades and free agency. Tony Romo, who turns 37 in April, doesn’t make much sense for a team focused on its future. Jimmy Garoppolo, 25, does make sense, but the Patriots will ask for the farm in return while creating a bidding war. The 28-year-old Kirk Cousins could become a free agent, offering at least one intriguing option.
Management put its faith behind Pace and Fox to get this right, offering support despite a 9-23 mark in two seasons. Year 3 will be critical, and the expectation is for contention.
Pace and his Bears have plenty to consider as they look to their future. This is a critical offseason, with no decision more important than getting right the quarterback quandary.