Quarterback is such an important position in the NFL that it’s almost impossible to overpay for a good one. But the biggest question facing the Bears heading into the 2017 season is whether they overpaid for two bad ones.
The twin surprising decisions to sign Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million contract and then to trade up to the second overall pick and draft Mitchell Trubisky have led to a great deal of scrutiny on the Bears. If Chicago had just spent the $6 million or so it would have taken to retain Brian Hoyer for another year, and the $2 million or so it would have taken to retain Matt Barkley for another year, and then drafted Trubisky with the third overall pick instead of trading up to second overall, there wouldn’t be nearly as much scrutiny.
But the Bears apparently think that by taking chances on Glennon and Trubisky, they’re likely to find that one of them is the long-term answer at quarterback. That will likely mean Glennon starting at first and Trubisky getting every opportunity to supplant him at some point during the season. If one of the quarterbacks shows promise this season, great. If not, the Bears are in big trouble.
Biggest positive change: The Bears will be healthier this year. How do we know that? Because they had so many injuries last year that they simply have to be healthier this year. FootballOutsiders.com uses a statistic called Adjusted Games Lost that factors in not just how many players missed games but how important those players were (so a starter missing time hurts more than a backup missing time), and how many players were ineffective because they were playing through injuries that had them listed as questionable on the injury report. Football Outsiders injury data goes back to 2000, and in that time no team was hit worse by injuries than the 2016 Bears. Regression toward the mean suggests that the Bears will be much healthier in 2017.
Biggest negative change: The biggest negative change, really, is not much change at all: The Bears were 3-13 last year, and it’s hard to see where they’ve really improved significantly. The players they have should be healthier than last year, but is the talent any better? It doesn’t look that way, which is why it’s easy to envision another last-place finish in the NFC North.
Coaching thermometer: John Fox’s seat isn’t exactly a boiling 212 degrees, but it’s probably around 175: He was brought in to replace Marc Trestman, who was fired after going 13-19 in two seasons, and Fox himself has done even worse, going 9-23 in two seasons. If the Bears aren’t showing signs of improvement at the end of the season, Fox may be sent packing.
We’d like to crack a beer with . . . Jordan Howard. We’d like to get a beer or two in Howard and hear whether he’s envious at all of Ezekiel Elliott for being drafted into a much better situation than Howard was. As a rookie running back in Chicago last year, Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing yards, behind only Elliott. Yet Elliott was doing it on a good team, behind perhaps the league’s best offensive line, while Howard was doing it on a lousy team in Chicago. If Howard thinks he deserves a lot of the credit Elliott is getting (not to mention something more like Elliott’s four-year, $25 million rookie contract, as opposed to Howard’s four-year, $2.6 million contract), it would be hard to blame him.
How they can prove us wrong: If either Glennon or Trubisky emerges as a good starting quarterback, Howard has another strong season and Fox gets his defense shaped up, it’s easy to see a healthier Bears team being a lot better than our No. 30 ranking suggests. But even if the Bears improve significantly, they’re likely to miss the playoffs for the seventh straight season.