If you spend enough time alone with your thoughts during the holiday season, your mind inevitably wanders towards your own legacy.
Perhaps it is a function of the time spent with family and friends. Perhaps it is due to the passage of another calendar year. In my own case, an early January birthday accelerates this process. But every holiday season I end up at some point wondering about the meaning of it all, and contemplating the bigger picture. Those feelings might be stronger for many as a decade draws to a close this December.
This line of thinking can be applied to the football world as well. As the pages of the calendar flip to the end of the year, and teams begin to realize that next year will have to be “the year,” as it is not happening this season, thoughts of a future roster begin to fill the heads of fans among many fan bases. This is a big reason the “draft industrial complex,” as I like to call it, is such a booming industry. At its core the DIC does not sell prospect evaluations, or scouting insight, or insider knowledge. It sells hope. The hope that next year truly will be the year. That a team is just one player away from contention, and that player can be found on draft weekend.
With the final week of November on the horizon, two teams starting to think heavily about next year will meet as the New York Giants host the Chicago Bears. For the Giants, this was largely expected to be a season of rebuilding. Around a rookie quarterback and a retooled offensive line. So expectations were already in place that the future was the focus.
However, the Bears enter this week in a much different place.
Chicago hoped to build upon their 2018 campaign and take a leap forward this season, but their 2019 season has crumbled under the weight of heavy expectations. There are many causes for their poor play and results this season, as is always the case, but a huge portion of the blame has been laid at the feet of third-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The former second overall selection has struggled mightily, and the mistakes he is making are mistakes that date back to his time at UNC. Failures with processing speed, decision-making, and mechanics. On that third point, a lack of consistency with his lower body has led to Trubisky struggling with ball placement, and often on throws to the left side of the field.
These issues came to a head on Sunday night, with Trubisky being sent to the bench with what the team is calling a “hip injury.” But images of his head coach holding his quarterback closely and talking in his ear have given rise to questions about whether this was truly an injury, or perhaps a long-overdue benching.
Either way, for Bears fans the thought that their team is “one player away” comes down to the quarterback position.
So we can return to the idea of a legacy. A legacy for a player. One who might be on the cusp of the Hall of Fame (or already inside, depending on who you talk to): Eli Manning. Could he close out his career wearing the navy and orange?
With Daniel Jones in place as the team’s starter, it is clear that Manning’s time in New York is likely coming to a close at the end of the season. An unrestricted free agent for the 2020 campaign, Manning would be free to explore options in free agency at the end of the year. Whether he wants to continue playing, with his 39th birthday on the horizon, is a question only he can answer. If he does, however, the Bears would be among the teams exploring their options at the position.
Let’s look at this from Chicago’s point of view. If Trubisky is not the answer — and evidence to this point illustrates that he just might not be — the team needs to address the position this offseason. Otherwise they are wasting what is still a very good defense built around one of the game’s premier edge players, Khalil Mack. Simply adding consistent, competent quarterback play would be a huge boost to the offense. With their window perhaps smaller than most, they cannot really look to build around another rookie quarterback.
Additionally, they probably lack the resources to acquire a rookie QB who is ready to step in and be that competent quarterback on day one. They lack a first round selection in the 2020 draft due to the trade with the Oakland Raiders for Mack, and if the draft were to happen today their first selections are at 45 and 52 in the second round. That might be enough to get into the back of the first round, but even there you are probably betting on a high ceiling player like Jordan Love, or looking at the Jake Fromms or Jalen Hurts of the world. Intriguing prospects all, but probably not the direction Chicago wants to go down again.
The free agency market is intriguing. Two of the top picks of the 2015 draft, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, remain unsigned for next year and are likely on their way out of Nashville and Tampa Bay, respectively. For the Bears Mariota is an intriguing option, as that would reunite him with Mark Helfrich, who was his coach at Oregon.
There are also the “pie in the sky” options for Chicago. Players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees are free agents next season. As is Brees’ current backup, Teddy Bridgewater, who would be a very enticing option next year for a number of teams.
Finally there are some quarterbacks who, for one reason or another, could be in a position similar to Trubisky himself. The Cincinnati Bengals, who currently hold the first overall selection, have turned to Ryan Finley and indications are the organization is moving on from Andy Dalton. Cam Newton has battled injuries and while Kyle Allen might not be the answer, how much longer does Newton have in Carolina? I would hold on to Newton as I remain a believer, but he would account for just $2 million in dead cap money next season if the Panthers go in a different direction.
Put this all together and there is a reason the 2020 quarterback carousel has a chance to be league-defining. But is there a chance that the ride stops with Manning in the Windy City?
It can be argued that any of these passers would be an upgrade over Trubisky, or at least the 2019 version of him. In a variety of metrics Trubisky is either at the bottom or near the bottom, including Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (ANY/A) where he is dead last among 34 qualified passers, or QBR where he is 29th of 32 qualified passers, or Total Expected Points Added where he is 25th of 32 qualified passers (that actually puts him slightly above Dalton and Bridgewater but behind such luminaries as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Gardner Minshew. Oh, and Jones).
So could Manning be the answer for Chicago? Again, the goal for the Bears is just consistent and competent quarterback play, to maximize what is in place right now on both sides of the football. Nagy’s offense can be effective, and that was perhaps illustrated best when Chase Daniel stepped in for an injured Trubisky earlier this season and the Bears’ offense was more efficient. Perhaps the biggest thing holding that offense back is the lack of a passer who will make the right reads and decisions quickly.
Manning can still do that. He would be a huge boost to what the Bears do offensively, and would give them the chance to strike while their window is still open. They could still address a potential quarterback of the future with one of those second-round picks, such as Fromm or Hurts, but have in place a QB who can give them more than what they are getting right now from Trubisky.
From Chicago’s standpoint, the move makes sense.
It might come down to Manning, and how he views his legacy in the league.