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Quarterback Scarcity is Over: The Bears are the exception that proves the rule

Most teams actually have either good quarterbacks or are in the process of evaluating prospects. And then we have the Bears.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday evening, the Chicago Bears agreed to a contract with free agent quarterback Andy Dalton. That decision prompted a few tweets like this:

That argument goes against the point of this recent series of articles at Acme Packing Company. However, I want to point out that one really should not use the Bears to prove this point or any other point about quarterbacks. The Bears are horrifically bad at this, and we all know it. It’s not a surprise. But you might be thinking well, maybe Frank here is right! After all, there are plenty of teams with bad quarterbacks! But...are there? The answer, is no. Let’s break this down.

Part 1: These 17 teams are set

The NFL has 32 teams. 17 of them are “set” at quarterback for next season. That’s not to say everything is great, and some of these players are uncertain, mediocre, or past their prime, but all of them give their team a chance to win and none of them are on the team due to an incompetent process. If anyone wants to quibble with Ben Roethlisberger that’s fine as he looks washed up, but the Steelers’ defense has them drafting 24th, the defense is still good, and Old Man Ben probably has a puncher’s chance at pulling off a decent run along the lines of Peyton Manning’s last hurrah.

The Set Teams

Team QB Status Notes
Team QB Status Notes
Buffalo Allen Set
Pittsburgh Ben Set
Baltimore Jackson Set
Cleveland Mayfield Set
Tennessee Tanny Set
Houston Watson Set
Dallas Prescott Set
Green Bay Rodgers Set
Minnesota Cousins Set
Tampa Brady Set
Atlanta Ryan Set
Seattle Wilson Set
Los Angeles Rams Stafford Set
Arizona Murray Set
San Francisco Garp Set
Kansas City Mahomes Set
Las Vegas Carr Set

Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr, and Kyler Murray are probably not going to win any MVP awards any time soon, but with competent team building and the right scheme, they’re good enough. Cousins has finished as a top-10 DVOA quarterback in four of his six seasons as a starter. Stafford has finished 15th or better eight times, and in the top 10 three times. He is, at least consistently above average. The 49ers are looking to improve on Garoppolo, but he’s good enough in Shanny’s scheme to get to a Super Bowl, as we saw two years ago. Murray is unproven, but he’s exciting to watch, and appears to be pretty good. Derek Carr has put together some very nice seasons recently and consistently finished in the top 10 in DVOA, peaking at 6th in 2016.

Everyone else on this list is at least very good. Basically, half the teams in the league have had no issue finding a serviceable quarterback. A non-embarrassing quarterback. A quarterback who, if surrounded by decent talent, will be fine. So really, how hard can “finding a quarterback really be? Especially when you consider...

Part 2: These 7 teams are evaluating young quarterbacks

Evaluating

Team QB Status Notes
Team QB Status Notes
Miami Tua Evaluating Pick 3rd overall
New York Jets Darnold Evaluating Pick 2nd overall
Los Angeles Chargers Herbert Evaluating Likely set
Broncos Lock Evaluating Pick 9th overall
Philadelphia Hurts Evaluating Pick 6th overall
Cincinatti Burrow Evaulating Likely set
New York Giants Jones Evaluating Pick 11th overall

Based on the early returns for Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, I suspect the Bengals and Chargers are close to set at the position, especially if Burrow can fully recover from his injury. Herbert was very good as a rookie in San Diego, and unless he hits a huge sophomore slump, they should be fine.

Tua, Darnold, Lock, Jones, and Hurts are also still in the evaluation period, and while they may turn out to be bad (and indeed, I think they mostly will be bad), these teams spent high picks, and may have franchise quarterbacks. That said, even if the non-Herbert/Burrow crowd doesn’t pan out, none of their teams pick later than 11th in the 2021 draft, and every one of these teams should have at least one decent prospect fall their way. That’s not a bad spot to be in. And then we have…

Part 3: These 8 teams are not set

Not Set

Team QB Status Notes
Team QB Status Notes
New England Newton Not Set
Indianapolis Wentz Not Set
Jacksonville Minshew Not Set Draft #1 overall, will have Lawrence
Washington Fitzmagic Not Set But competent
Chicago Dalton Not Set
Detroit Goff Not Set But competent
New Orleans Winston/Hill Not Set
Carolina Bridgewater Not Set Pick 8th overall

Subcategory 1: Teams in transition after recently losing Hall of Fame quarterbacks (3)

The Patriots are still trying to find their way after moving on from Tom Brady. This has, so far, involved Cam Newton as a stopgap, which is a decent enough plan. Newton is a former MVP himself, though it’s clear upon watching him that he’s declined significantly. This is a team that could really benefit from a tank-and-rebuild, and it’s worth noting that Bill Belichick may have lost a step, as the New England offseason has been strange to say the least. But, at least the Pats had a few decades of one of the greatest franchises of all time before this unusual transition period.

Likewise, the Saints face their first offseason of the post-Drew Brees era. They’re coming off of an excellent season and have an atrocious cap situation, so it’s not a great time to go after a Brees replacement, but they have Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston, which should be fun if nothing else. And again, multiple decades of hall of fame caliber play just now came to an end.

The Colts are a bit different in that their former quarterback, Phillip Rivers, was only there as a one-season rental, and although he should make the Hall of Fame, he might not due to voters’ biases towards rings. In any case, the Colts have had sustained quarterback success from Peyton Manning, through Andrew Luck, and now Rivers. They traded for Carson Wentz recently, who has had success with Frank Reich in the past, and if it fails, they can go back to the drawing board. In short, they have successfully found many very good quarterbacks, and while they may need to find another, they seem like they have a solid plan.

After that, we have:

Subcategory 2: Stopgaps With A Plan (3)

Washington will go into this season with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm, having concluded that Alex Smith, as great a story as he was, isn’t going to get it done. They also correctly concluded that Dwayne Haskins is terrible, and are moving on from his evaluation period. You may think that this process was dysfunctional, but Haskins was a well-regarded prospect, and it’s not like they crippled the franchise for half a decade waiting for him to figure it out. He played two years, and they vetted guys like Alex Smith in tandem. That’s a good process, and it would have been an even better process had the NFC East not been so horrendous last season as they couldn’t even tank. and draft. The defense is good enough to make a stopgap palatable, and if Fitzmagic crashes and burns, they can draft a quarterback highly next season. It’s not a great plan, but it makes sense, and Fitz plus Terry McLaurin could be fun.

The Jaguars have successfully tanked and will have Trevor Lawrence. Mission accomplished.

Carolina will go into battle with Teddy Bridgewater, but they also draft 8th, and they may be able to shop for a new starter as soon as this season. Teddy B isn’t great, but he’s fine for rebuilding purposes. If I were Carolina I might tank a bit more proactively, but Teddy B isn’t a bad plan in a vacuum.

Subcategory 3: Actively Tanking (1)

Detroit has no good players and traded away one of their best quarterbacks ever in order to start over. It was time. But note that they did have a pretty good quarterback up until now, and have an active plan to find a new one and rebuild.

Subcategory 4: What...what’s the plan here? (1)

What is there to say about the Bears? Any of the quarterbacks from the 17 teams in Part One would make them instant contenders. Will there be some busts in Part Two? Absolutely, but there’s also hope with those players. Would I have ridiculed the Bears for trading for Sam Darnold? You bet! But at least there’s some upside with Darnold, and getting a talented player out of Jets purgatory is a defensible idea, even if I think Darnold is bad. If the Bears were in tier two, they would have hope at least.

Are the Bears moving on from an all-time great? No. They are moving on from Mitchell Trubisky, yet managed to remain just “good” enough and to trade away enough draft capital to not be able to replace him with a high draft pick. Unlike Washington with Alex Smith, they held onto Trubisky too long, with no real plan to improve if he didn’t work out.

Could you consider the Bears as part of the “stopgap with a plan” group? Well, Mike Glennon was the stopgap with a plan until Mitch Trubisky spontaneously became the plan, at which point Nick Foles became the stopgap with a plan, until Mitch Trubisky became the plan again, and now Andy Dalton is the stopgap. It’s pretty obvious there’s no plan. Dalton is just good enough to keep a solid defense right around 8-8 and out of contention for a high draft pick. He’s also not good enough to drag anything other than a historically great, 2000 Ravens-with-Trent-Dilfer level defense to the promised land, and you can’t plan on such things.

So the Bears are, once again, struggling to find a good quarterback, but let’s not take that fact as evidence that it’s really hard to find a good quarterback. Most of the league has a good quarterback. Most teams that don’t have a good quarterback have young quarterbacks AND high draft picks. Of the others who aren’t set at the position, they’re either tanking, have recently finished tanking, or just lost all-time greats.

Now, will the Jets screw up picking a new quarterback because they’re historically incompetent? Probably yes, but at least they’re in position to give themselves good options with the 2nd overall pick. What are the Bears in position to do? How will one year of Andy Dalton get them any closer to having an actual good quarterback? What is the end game?

The Bears already had Nick Foles on the team, they have no high pick, and no prospects to attain one. They have proven themselves incompetent in finding quarterbacks in free agency after overpaying three times now for below average options in short order. Most of the league is much better at this. The Bears don’t have a good quarterback because they have a bad front office. It’s not any more complicated than that.