LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace made a stunning and bold move to trade up for the quarterback he wanted.
He caught just about everyone off guard, including Mitchell Trubisky.
The Chicago Bears drafted their latest quarterback of the future in a shocker Thursday night, grabbing North Carolina’s Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick after trading up a spot with the San Francisco 49ers and surrendering three draft choices to do it.
“I think it shows that they believe in me,” he said. “And I believe in what Ryan Pace and Coach Fox are doing in Chicago, and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
There was some thought the Bears might wait a round or two before taking a quarterback after signing Mike Glennon last month to replace the departed Jay Cutler. That couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Cleveland Browns decided to grab Texas A&M defensive standout Myles Garrett rather than address their biggest need for a long-term quarterback. Pace decided he couldn’t pass up the chance.
The price for Trubisky was high, with San Francisco getting the Bears’ No. 3 pick, a third- and fourth-round choice this year plus a third-rounder next year. It was a surprising move, particularly since San Francisco general manager John Lynch was ready to take Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas at No. 2 anyway.
“Kudos to the Bears,” Lynch said. “I give Ryan Pace and John Fox credit for making a courageous move and we’re thrilled with what we got out of it.
Pace said he couldn’t afford to wait even one pick. Teams looking for a quarterback were calling him about the third overall choice so he knew they were also looking to move into the No. 2 spot. Lynch confirmed the 49ers had other offers.
“I didn’t want to sit on our hands and have some team jump us or have it not work out,” Pace said. “When we were this close, within reach of a player that was all really valued, I didn’t want to sit on our hands and risk not getting that player.”
The 6-foot-2, 222-pound Trubisky said had little contact with the Bears leading up to the draft. The Bears did see him at the combine and at his pro day.
Pace, coach John Fox and several assistants also had a private workout with him in North Carolina last month. They put Trubisky through individual drills and had him drop back from under center to pass to receivers, a different skill for a shotgun quarterback.
Trubisky made just 13 college starts, all in a breakout junior season last year. He set the single-season the school’s single-season record for yards passing (3,748), touchdowns (30) and total offense (4,056) in 2016. He ranked fifth in the country with a 68.0 completion percentage while throwing just six interceptions. He also ran for five touchdowns last season, after backing up quarterback Marquise Williams as a freshman and sophomore.
Even so, it was a surprising move for the Bears. And it showed just how serious they are about solidifying a traditionally weak position for the team over the years.
“When Ryan Pace in Chicago went up into 2 and took the quarterback, that surprised a lot of people, I think. … There were other positions that we thought they might be drafting,” said Saints coach Sean Payton, who knows Pace from his time in New Orleans’ front office.
The Bears finished last in the NFC North at 3-13 in their second season under Pace and coach John Fox. Years of shoddy drafting combined with a long list of injuries exposed a glaring lack of depth. It all added up to Chicago’s lowest win total since the 1973 team went 3-11, the most losses since a 1-13 finish in 1969 and a busy offseason for a rebuilding team.
The Bears dumped Cutler after eight seasons and signed Glennon, giving them some leeway to wait on a QB. But Pace jumped at the opportunity to take Trubisky, though he did say Glennon is the starter.
For how long?
“No timelines on that,” Pace said.
Whether Trubisky is starting in Week 1 or in 2018, his development will go a long way toward defining Pace’s tenure. The Bears are counting on him, with his arm strength and quickness, to lock down a position that has historically troubled the franchise.
“Going to come in and learn as much as I can from Mike and the other veterans on the team. I mean I’m always going to compete and do my thing and push the guy in front of me and my teammates as well. When given my opportunity, I’m looking forward to take full advantage of it. It’s all about helping the Chicago Bears win and that’s what I’m looking forward to most.”
Trubisky ranks fifth at North Carolina in career passing touchdowns (41), sixth in yards passing (4,762) and seventh in total offense (5,201). He is the first quarterback drafted in the first round by Chicago since Rex Grossman was selected 22nd overall in in 2003.
There’s no doubt the Bears need to hit in a big way with Trubisky, given the mixed results with Pace’s first two first-rounders — oft-injured receiver Kevin White and promising linebacker Leonard Floyd.
“I hope everybody’s excited about it,” Pace said. “The most important position in all of sports is quarterback, and I don’t think you’re ever a great team until you address the position and you address it right. I think everybody should respect that. We’re addressing the quarterback position, we’re being aggressive with that position because it’s the most important position in sports.”