Mitch Trubisky can be Kevin White or Kyle Fuller.
Now that the Bears have done the expected and declined his fifth-year option for 2021, the 2017 No. 2 overall pick is on the clock.
He has a year to fight for his place with the organization.
That begins with winning the starting job. The Bears say he’ll take the first snap of the first practice — whenever that may be — but their offseason moves showed how little faith they have in him. They traded a fourth-round pick for Nick Foles, giving him at least $21 million over three years, because they think he’ll be needed.
Whether Trubisky wins the job will chart his course toward White or Fuller.
The Bears’ declining of White’s fifth-year option two years ago was their most obvious move of the decade. In three years, the No. 7 pick of the 2015 draft had only 21 catches for 193 yards.
The Bears signed Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel in March 2018. A month later, they traded up to draft Anthony Miller in the second round. They didn’t need White anymore and weren’t going to count on him to produce. White was a healthy scratch in seven games in 2018. He caught four balls for 92 yards — but one was a 54-yard Hail Mary that fell a yard short of the goal line against the Patriots. He left after the 2018 season and hasn’t played a regular-season snap since.
Three years ago, general manager Ryan Pace decided to decline Fuller’s fifth-year option. Former GM Phil Emery’s last first-round pick had missed all of the previous season after having arthroscopic knee surgery in August. Pace signed veteran Marcus Cooper to a three-year, $16 million deal, not willing to rely on Fuller to take the next step.
Fuller began 2017 as the starter because of Prince Amukamara’s injury, then started for Cooper when he hurt his back before Week 5. Fuller never looked back.
“He has helped resurrect his career,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said then.
Fuller was so valuable by the end of 2017 that the Bears issued him the transition tag, which would have paid him $12.97 million in 2018. He wound up making even more when the Packers signed him to a four-year, $56 million offer that the Bears quickly matched.
If Trubisky plays as well in 2020 as Fuller did in 2017, the Bears could use a similar mechanism to keep him in place. The 2021 franchise tag will cost at least $3 million more than the $24.8 million the Bears would have otherwise owed Trubisky — but the team would likely be thrilled to pay it. Presuming, of course, that the Bears don’t need to use it on Robinson, whose contract extension has yet to materialize this offseason.
Only one top-five pick from 2017 — No. 1 overall selection Myles Garrett — had his option picked up. But Trubisky is the only one in the group compared to the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, who will soon negotiate contracts to override their fifth-year options. Still, a world exists — if the Bears have the appetite to run the ball and tight ends to catch it — in which Trubisky could be a competent starter.
In that sense, he’s probably closer to ex-Bear Leonard Floyd, a 2016 first-round pick, than White or Fuller. Trubisky and Floyd have otherworldly athleticism for their positions, but it hasn’t translated on Sundays.
The Bears picked up Floyd’s option last year but cut him before he could play his fifth season after watching him get only three sacks.
The Bears decided Floyd simply wasn’t good enough.
Trubisky’s bosses have pointed him down the same path. He has a year to change their minds.