By Chris Emma–
(CBS) When Ryan Pace first arrived at Halas Hall two years ago and earned the title of Bears general manager, his task was clear.
Pace, the young scout, realized his job would be difficult. His best way to maneuver would be ridding the Bears’ roster of its older veterans and rebuilding it younger to sustain for years. Two years later, the Bears are 9-23, but it’s not for a lack of effort in rebuilding.
This critical offseason will bring the Bears continued change — none more important than at the quarterback position. Keep in mind Pace’s mission statement as they evaluate what’s next under center. It’s the same as when he first arrived.
“The goal is to look for long-term solutions that lead to long-term success,” Pace said in early January. “It’s not a quick fix building a team the right way to get us on the right track long term. That means drafting well and developing those players. Our goal is to keep adding young talented players to this team our fan base can grow with and eventual win Super Bowl championships.”
Nearly everything is on the table at the quarterback position, a message cleanly stated by Pace. What isn’t likely to be on the table is a trade for Tony Romo, the Cowboys’ quarterback on the way out of Dallas.
Romo, who turns 37 in April, was forced out of his starting role this season by rookie Dak Prescott, who led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record before exiting in the divisional round with a 34-31 loss to the Packers this past weekend.
While Romo is an accomplished quarterback, he simply doesn’t make sense for the Bears by route of trade. Consider Pace’s words first in evaluating this possibility.
The Bears haven’t taken shortcuts these past two seasons. Pace and his front office have looked to sustain success with their core, meaning they’re searching for young players who can remain in Chicago for years. Romo missed 12 games in 2015 and wasn’t active for the Cowboys in 2016 until late November after he suffered a serious back injury in August. Who knows if he’ll be healthy in 2017. And if so, how will he perform?
Ever since the start of the 2016 campaign, the Bears have dispatched scouts all across the nation to scout quarterback prospects entering the draft. They’ve done extensive work on Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and more. The Bears have been looking to build the right way, and that starts at quarterback.
Jay Cutler, who turns 34 in April, is likely to be released, having been paid the $54 million guaranteed from his seven-year, $126.7-million deal signed in 2014. Romo is due $54 million in base salary over the next three seasons, and he’s three years older with a worse injury history.
Nevermind what kind of return the Cowboys would demand for Romo, who seems more likely to land with the Broncos, Texans or Chiefs — three AFC contenders. It simply doesn’t make sense for the Bears to inherit a major contract for an aging player when they can go draft a player this April.
It’s more likely that the Bears will go ahead and re-sign 31-year-old Brian Hoyer to be their bridge quarterback while a young prospect develops. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,445 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions this season. Hoyer became the first quarterback in Bears history to throw for at least 300 yards and no interceptions in four straight games.
“For me at this point in my career, any chance I get is something I would cherish,” Hoyer said. “I’m realistic. I know what those opportunities present, but I also believe in myself. So if I do have an opportunity, whether that’s here or somewhere else, I know that I’m capable of being a quarterback in this league.”
Should Romo be released from Dallas, his contract won’t be a concern. He will become a free agent for 31 other teams, but trading for a 37-year-old isn’t wise given his medical history.
Other options will present themselves to the Bears before the draft arrives. Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo could demand a high price in a trade, but he’s just 25 and has great upside. A product of the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, Kirk Cousins could be available as a free agent at just 28. Then there’s a draft class was plenty of intrigue, one in which the Bears have done detailed work already.
Romo could have some good football ahead these next few years, but he doesn’t seem to be the best fit for the Bears.
Keep in mind what Pace is seeking — long-term solutions for long-term success. That starts at the quarterback position, which the Bears must get right this offseason.