It wasn't a complete surprise, but it has happened. As many had expected, the Chicago Bears have decided not to pick up the fifth-year team option on the contract of embattled quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. This means that Trubisky will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. If the second overall pick from the 2017 NFL Draft wants a new deal, he'll have to earn it on the field. Here are five reasons why the Bears made this decision.
1. Trubisky's up-and-down performances
Trubisky's rookie season in 2017 was about what you'd expect (59.4 completion percentage, 2,193 passing yards, 6.6 ypa, 31 sacks, 77.5 passer rating, 248 rushing yards, 9 total TDs ). But after having a Pro Bowl season in 2018 with significant increases in most of his numbers, including passing yards (3,223), rushing yards (421), passer rating (95.4) and total touchdowns (27), Trubisky regressed in 2019. The biggest declines were in yards per attempt (7.4 to 6.1), passing yards per game (from 230.2 to 209.2), and passer rating (83.0), and also accounted for 19 total touchdowns (17 passing).
Pass protection was more of an issue (38 sacks in 2019 vs. 24), but Trubisky never seemed fully comfortable in the pocket. He struggled with his decision-making, knowing when to throw the ball away, was hesitant to make the deep throws, and for whatever reason didn't use his legs as much (193 rushing yards) compared to the previous season. That mixed bag of results forced the Bears' hand in this situation.
2. Nick Foles
When the league year began in March, the Bears sent a fourth-round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for the more proven Foles. If anything, the Super Bowl LII MVP is an insurance policy in case Trubisky falters again. But as soon as the team acquired Foles, you could see the writing on the wall when it came to Trubisky's option. In fact, there are many in the media who are already saying that Foles will be the starter come Week 1.
3. Salary cap management
If the Bears picked up Trubisky's option, it would have cost them $24.8 million. To put that another way: Tom Brady and Drew Brees are each slated to make $25 million this year. Additionally, Chicago re-structured Foles' contract, making it a three-year, $24 million deal with $21 million guaranteed, which is less than Trubisky's one-year option. Quarterbacks don't come cheap but there was no reason to commit that much money to Trubisky, especially after a disappointing 2019 campaign. Instead, the team can apply that money towards other needs on the roster or to re-sign (or tag) Trubisky if they chose to go that route after the season. Either way, the Bears will welcome the extra cap space.
4. Remember Kyle Fuller
Fuller found himself in the same situation back in 2017. His career to that point had been marked by injuries and inconsistency, so the Bears declined the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Fuller responded by posting 69 tackles, 22 pass deflections, and two interceptions, and received a brand-new $56 million contract as a result. Fuller has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons. So just because Chicago declined Trubisky's option, it doesn't mean the team won't try and re-sign him. And all Trubisky has to do is look across his locker room to find an example of someone who maximized his earning potential after having his option declined.
5. Early free agency
With the option declined, Trubisky could be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season. Exercising the option would have kept him in a Bears uniform through 2021. So depending on how Trubisky performs this year, he can either find a happy medium with the Bears as Fuller did with a new contract (the team can apply the franchise or transition tag to him), or he can try and land big money elsewhere.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of chicagobears.com)