Bears Insider

C.J. Stroud, Texans give Bears lessons for future, reason for regret

In dismantling the Browns, C.J. Stroud and the Texans showed the Bears the path forward and the path that could have been

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General manager Ryan Poles said he did what he felt was in the Bears' best long-term interest when he traded the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft to the Carolina Panthers for wide receiver DJ Moore and a host of draft picks.

In trading the pick, Poles elected to stick with quarterback Justin Fields for at least one more season instead of turning over the keys to Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud, who just led the Houston Texans to an AFC South title and a blowout win over the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Wild Card Round.

As Stroud and the Texans make their way to the AFC Divisional Round with the quarterback's star clearly on the rise, the Bears should look at what Houston has done as something to learn from while feeling some regret about what could have been.

Hindsight is always 20/20

Poles said he didn't feel like he "misevaluated" Stroud last offseason and that he's happy with a trade haul that included DJ Moore, offensive tackle Darnell Wright, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, and the Panthers second-round pick next year.

You could argue that the Bears are better off with all those pieces than they would be if they had Stroud. You can assume Stroud wouldn't look this good had he spent his rookie season under offensive coordinator Luke Getsy instead of Bobby Slowik. Perhaps the Bears' bad QB juju would have rubbed off on him, and his career would have never been cleared for take-off.

You can make all those arguments, or you can say that a franchise that has been searching for their quarterback answer for more than three decades missed on the chance to draft a guy who will enter next season as a top-six/seven quarterback in the NFL at minimum.

Meanwhile, the Bears now have to try to get their quarterback question right this offseason. If Poles elects to move on from Fields, he must make the correct choice between Caleb Williams and Drake Maye.

Evaluating quarterbacks is incredibly difficult. There's no undefeated formula to separate the future gold jackets from those destined for the dustbin of NFL history.

Since 2008, there have been 48 quarterbacks taken in the first round. Of those 48, only 12 would be placed in the clear "franchise quarterback" category.

  • Matt Ryan
  • Joe Flacco
  • Matthew Stafford
  • Cam Newton
  • Andrew Luck
  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Josh Allen
  • Lamar Jackson
  • Joe Burrow
  • Justin Herbert
  • Trevor Lawrence
  • C.J. Stroud

This list is obviously subject to change. Lawrence's star might be falling while the jury remains out on Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson, and, to a lesser extent, Fields. All first-round picks are also not created equal. The Pittsburgh Steelers missing on Kenny Pickett isn't the same as the Bears whiffing on Mitchell Trubisky.

But the point remains that this is a brutally hard decision to ace.

While few can say they knew Stroud would be this good right away, his performance against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl (348 yards, four touchdowns) hinted at the possibility.

Saturday's torching of the NFL's best defense removed all doubt about what's on the horizon. Stroud is an elite processor -- despite what a random test most of us have never heard of says -- with tremendous accuracy and arm talent.

On Saturday, Stroud surpassed Michael Vick as the youngest quarterback to win a playoff game and became the highest-drafted rookie to win a playoff game.

He'll enter next season behind only Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert on a list of quarterbacks you'd want for the next 10 years. He might even be ahead of Herbert.

If the Bears don't get their quarterback question right this offseason, the decision to pass on Stroud will sting for a decade. Yes, the Bears have a young, ascending roster. Yes, Poles has made several smart moves that have set them up for success. But all of that only matters if they get the quarterback right.

This brings us back to Saturday in Houston and what the Bears can learn from a Texans team that has completely flipped the script in one season.

Getting the three core pieces right -- head coach, quarterback, offensive coordinator -- and perfectly aligned is paramount.

The decisions Houston made last offseason in hiring head coach DeMeco Ryans and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik while drafting Stroud and Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson have taken the Texans from a moribund AFC cellar dweller to the Divisional Round in less than a year.

Ryans is a defensive mastermind whose relentlessness and will created the foundation for the Texans' quick turnaround.

In Slowik, the Texans found a bright offensive mind that delivered blow after blow to the NFL's best defense Saturday.

Slowik weaponized the Browns' defensive identity (hyper-aggressiveness) against them. Houston was able to set up its shot plays without leaving the door open for Myles Garrett to wreck them. Slowik used misdirection and pre-snap motion to get the Browns' defense attacking in one direction before hitting them in the area they vacated.

The Texans got fully aligned in one offseason and hit on all three pieces.

Houston's quick rise illustrates how fast things can change if your coach, quarterback, and offensive coordinator are blue-chip-caliber.

The Bears opened the offseason by electing to retain head coach Matt Eberflus but fire offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. Getsy's offenses struggled to find an identity in his two seasons in Chicago. If you turn on the Bears' Week 15 game against the same Browns defense Houston torched, you'll see the gap between Slowik and Getsy, as well as Stroud and Fields.

Keeping Eberflus is a decision that deserves scrutiny. It's unlikely all three tenets will be fully aligned now. It also highlights the importance of the Bears' offensive coordinator search. Regardless of who the Bears choose to be their quarterback, they need an innovative offensive coordinator who can create explosives in various ways and adapt to his personnel.

One year ago, the Texans were in NFL hell with no coach, no quarterback, and a dim future. Ryan, Stroud, and Slowik changed their fortunes, and the future is unquestionably bright in Houston.

The Bears are in a much better spot than last offseason's Texans, but they still need to ace those three vital boxes to ensure Poles' strong roster-building work leads to prolonged success.

Keeping Eberflus is a warning sign, but one that can be nullified if the Bears get the quarterback and offensive coordinator correct. Do that, and they can follow the same path to quick playoff success that the Texans have.

Fail it, and they'll be back here in a few years, wondering how it all went wrong.

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