Former Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made headlines last weekend when he signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots. Newton signing with New England was the controversy, but the amount he signed for was. The former MVP quarterback was one of many free agent quarterbacks back the Chicago Bears passed on this offseason as they chose to trade for Nick Foles to compete with Mitchell Trubisky. The team’s unwillingness to sign more proven quarterbacks, who signed more affordable deals demonstrates a glaring flaw in head coach Matt Nagy’s coaching ability.
Some of the significant quarterbacks that were available in free agency back in March included Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Newton, and Phillip Rivers. Of the names available, Bridgewater was the only quarterback that Chicago heavily pursued, but he later signed with the Carolina Panthers. Just two days after the start of free agency, the Bears traded a fourth-round compensatory pick for Foles and took on 21 million dollars of his remaining contract. The move paired the former Super Bowl quarterback with several coaches he worked with during his time in Philadelphia when he made the Pro Bowl and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2017.
Nagy has filled his offensive staff with coaches that are familiar with his run-pass option offense. The team hired Bill Lazor as their offensive coordinator and John DeFilippo as their quarterbacks’ coach. DeFilippo was Foles’ offensive coordinator in Jacksonville last year as the quarterback passed for three touchdowns and two interceptions in four games. Nagy is trying to win with his system and a quarterback that fits his system, even if it means passing on more talented quarterbacks that are more cost-friendly for a team that already has salary cap concerns.
The two best quarterbacks available in free agency were Dalton and Newton. Both have been named to Pro Bowls and have led their respective teams to the playoffs on several occasions. Dalton was coached Lazor in Cincinnati just two years ago and signed a one-year deal with Dallas worth seven million dollars back in May. Newton, who is returning from several serious injuries that have plagued him the last two seasons, is still a proven dual-threat quarterback that can be a difference-maker. The deal signed by the former Panther quarterback with the Patriots was incentive-laden with the max payout being seven and a half million for just one year.
It is a bad look for Nagy as it demonstrates that he is unwilling to work with quarterbacks that don’t fit his scheme, or that may force him to change his playbook. The stubbornness by the Bears head coach is even more troubling as more accomplished coaches around the league are showing a willingness to adapt and work with quarterbacks that may not fit their system. Sean Payton and Bill Belichick are prime examples, Both coaches have won Super Bowls having long-tenured quarterbacks run their offenses. Payton chose to sign Winston this offseason to back up Drew Brees while Belichick signed Newton to replace Brady. Neither quarterback’s playing style is similar to Brees and Brady, but both coaches will modify their offenses to fit the traits of their quarterback if need be.
Nagy has already shown a failure to do so as part of Trubisky’s regression in 2019 was due to an inability to run the Bears offense playbook. Instead of tailoring a portion of the offense to take advantage of his quarterback’s strengths, the Bears head coach kept with his specific playbook with no modifications. Trubisky, who has demonstrated success when rolling out of the pocket and reading half the field, showed at times that he wasn’t comfortable being a pocket-quarterback and making quick reads. While some of the blame does fall on the quarterback, a good portion of the blame lies with the coach for not changing his playbook for the betterment of the team.
Chicago’s main focus this offseason was to make sure that Nagy had his coaches and his quarterback in place to guard against Trubisky being ineffective again. The team acquired a quarterback in Foles who was more costly, has been inconsistent at times, and that has more of an injury history than other available quarterbacks. If quarterbacks like Dalton and Newton are more successful in 2020 than Nagy’s choice, it will reflect extremely poorly on the coach and likely cost him his job.