This is the story of an NFL team that traded up to get the second pick in the draft because that one guy, that one quarterback who would make the difference, that franchise player upon whose shoulders championships could be balanced, that guy would be there for the taking.
It isn’t the story of the Eagles and Carson Wentz, however, a story that has had a few twists and turns of its own, and is far from reaching its defining chapter.
This is about the Chicago Bears and Mitchell Trubisky, the opponent and the quarterback who will enter Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday as each team attempts to revive a foundering season, and Trubisky tries to do nothing less than salvage his entire career.
The contrast from the previous time the teams met is remarkable. The Bears were 12-4 last season in head coach Matt Nagy’s rookie year, Trubisky was the team’s first Pro Bowl quarterback since Jim McMahon, and general manager Ryan Pace was The Sporting News Executive of the Year. Half a season later, none of the three has much job security.
The Eagles beat the Bears in the wild-card round at Soldier Field 10 months ago, gaining the 16-15 upset when Cody Parkey’s game-winning field-goal attempt brushed the hand of Treyvon Hester, then double-doinked off an upright and the crossbar before falling harmlessly to the ground.
Chicago (3-4) appears not to have recovered from that simple twist of fate. The Bears have lost three straight games as Trubisky has struggled with his accuracy and his confidence. The most recent loss, incredibly enough, ended on a missed field-goal attempt by Eddy Piñeiro that would have beaten the Chargers in Soldier Field.
Nagy, with 43 seconds and a timeout remaining, didn’t try to advance the ball closer for Pineiro, whose attempt came from 41 yards, and also didn’t choose to move the ball from the left hash to the right in deference to a right-to-left wind.
The kick went wide left, and Nagy spent much of his time in the days after the game defending his decision. Some of his reasoning was sound, but the bottom line was he didn’t trust his quarterback to make that specific situation better than it was. That’s pretty damning for a guy who was drafted to make everything better.
“He’s at a point right now where it’s been a lull,” Nagy said of Trubisky. “It’s been a real lull for him. He understands that. A lot of times in that position, what do we all do? You put pressure on yourself because you want to do as great as you can, and when the success isn’t there, then everything goes to that position. Right or wrong, that’s just what happens.”
Trubisky is viewed, at his best, as a competent game manager, a dink-and-dunker with a wispy career 6.8-yard-per-attempt average. If that doesn’t sound like the sort of quarterback who should be taken with the second pick in the draft, whether moving up to get him or not, then consider the two quarterbacks Pace passed over to select him in 2017: Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Suffice it to say those comparisons aren’t doing any favors right now for Trubisky or Pace.
Entering this weekend’s game, Trubisky is ranked 27th among NFL quarterbacks, and there have been calls for the Bears to replace him with 33-year-old backup Chase Daniel to perhaps save the season. Even if that were a reliable short-term answer — and it most certainly is not — the Bears have to take a longer view.
If Trubisky is benched heading into the final year of his rookie contract, they might as well cut bait and start over at quarterback, even though the clock is ticking on Chicago’s strong, veteran defense.
It’s quite a spot for Trubisky this Sunday, who was advised by Nagy after the Chargers loss to watch the TV broadcast of the game so he could assess his demeanor on the field.
“I think that told me a lot about myself,” Trubisky said. “I watched the game to see my facial expressions, my body language, and what I’m really doing during the game … and how my teammates see me.”
Yeah, Bobby Layne used to do that a lot, too.
That’s where the Bears are, however, worried enough about the emotional fragility of their franchise quarterback to get all Dr. Phil with him about not drooping his shoulders. Yikes.
By comparison, the Eagles are sailing along seamlessly with the quarterback they moved up to take with the second pick of the 2016 draft. Wentz isn’t perfect — he’s ranked 17th among NFL quarterbacks — but there was zero question about extending his contract, and certainly no reason to second-guess the decision to draft him.
The Eagles will rise or fall with Wentz for perhaps another decade. The Bears might not be committed to Trubisky past Sunday.
So, make this week the tale of two draft picks, and the fortune of a team getting one and not the other. These outcomes are more random than anyone in the game likes to admit, as unpredictable sometimes as a kick that flutters toward the goalpost with so much riding on how it might bounce.