ORLANDO — That Ryan Pace has, in 2017, hired an offensive-minded coach and splurged on free agents designed to improve the structure around Mitch Trubisky isn’t surprising, given this:
Only six NFL teams are spending less cash on their quarterbacks than the Bears, who by virtue of Trubisky’s rookie contract are only pouring about $9.6 million in money against the cap into that position. Only 6.4 percent of the Bears’ cap spending is allocated to quarterbacks; 20 teams are using at least 10 percent of their cap space on quarterbacks, according to Spotrac.
“We’re in an advantageous position right now with that,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “I think you’re seeing us add weapons around him right now, and that will continue as you go into the draft and even into the preseason. But it starts with him, and we’re in a fortunate situation right now.”
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To say the Bears have a favorable window to win over the next few years, while Trubisky is still on his rookie contract, may seem odd given this franchise is 14-34 in the last three years and hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2010. The Bears haven’t done a lot of winning lately. But there is an opportune window to win from 2018-2020, when Trubisky’s cost will be a fraction of what it will be if his fifth-year option is picked up and/or he’s signed to a long-term extension.
Consider where the Bears rank in positional spending outside of quarterback, all according to Spotrac:
RB: 32nd, $1.960 million (league average: $6.922 million)
WR: 4th, $27.236 million (league average: $20.239 million)
TE: 3rd, $15.449 million (league average: $8.380 million)
OL: 20th, $27.718 million (league average: $30.268 million)
DL: 25th, $17.644 million (league average: $17.644 million)
OLB: 29th, $5.564 million (league average: $13.171 million)
ILB: 11th, $8.628 million (league average: $6.806 million)
CB: 15th, $18.344 million (league average: $16.412 million)
S: 32nd, $4.078 million (league average: $11.429 million)
Special teams: 15th, $5.312 million (LA: $5.087 million)
Cornerback spending will rise with contracts details for Marcus Cooper and Sherrick McManis to be announced; the structures of Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara’s contracts mean the Bears have the fourth-highest total of cap money invested in cornerbacks in 2019. If the Bears have to match an offer sheet for Cameron Meredith, or sign him to an extension, they could jump to second in receiver spending. Drafting Quenton Nelson with their first-round pick would move the Bears into the top half of offensive line spending, too.
But signing Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel was made possible, in part, by Trubisky’s contract (shrewd cap management, which allowed for one-year outs for most of the Bears’ “bust” signings, helped too). And that’s sort of the point: The Bears don’t know for sure if Trubisky is going to be good yet, but they had to spend money to give him weapons in case he is good.
The Los Angeles Rams executed a similar plan last year, surrounding Jared Goff with an offensive-minded, quarterback-driven coaching structure as well as two new wide receivers (Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins), a highly-regarded free agent center (John Sullivan), a second-round tight end (Gerald Everett) and second- and fourth-round receivers (Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds). They did so with Goff coming off a horrendous rookie year, with legitimate questions being asked if he was actually any good.
The Philadelphia Eagles had a better idea about Carson Wentz after a strong rookie year, but spent money to sign running back LeGarrett Blount (albeit to a cheaper deal) and wide receivers Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery. For both the Rams and Eagles, the window to win opened quickly in Year 2 of their highly-drafted quarterbacks.
Consider this: Trubisky was his least effective self when throwing passes traveling 10-19 yards outside the numbers to his left in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. Allen Robinson was at his best when he was catching passes traveling 10-19 yards outside the numbers to his left in 2015 and 2016.
To put it succinctly, Robinson is good in an area in which Trubisky was not. Were Trubisky’s issues throwing that direction last year because of the receivers he had to target? Or was it because of a deeper underlying issue?
Whatever the answer to the question, the Bears had to sign Robinson or an equivalent top-level receiver. Maybe the guys who’ve signed this month will help Trubisky’s career take off, so he’ll be at cruising altitude when he’s due his second contract that’ll take up a lot more of the Bears’ cap space. The Bears’ window to win should still be open beyond the 2020 season so long as it doesn’t shut before then.