On Sept. 1, 2018, Bears general manager Ryan Pace made a move that announced Chicago was ready to compete for a Super Bowl.
The Bears sent their 2019 and 2020 first-round picks, a 2020 third-round pick and a 2019 sixth-round pick in exchange for Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack, a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 fifth-round pick that turned into a seventh-rounder.
Pace supplied first-year coach Matt Nagy with arguably the most disruptive defensive player in the game, and under the guidance of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the Bears defense dominated, leading Chicago to a 12-4 record and an NFC North title.
Fast forward to 2021 and the Bears seem decades removed from that magical 2018 season that ended with a loss in the wild-card round to the Eagles. After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, Pace and Nagy find themselves in a must-win situation to save their jobs.
There is only one way Pace can undo all of his wrongdoings: he must pull off another blockbuster trade but this time for the player he should have selected in 2017’s NFL Draft — Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
It’s apparent the 25-year-old QB is unhappy with how the Texans handled their GM and coaching search, tweeting several times on Friday to illustrate his frustration. And according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, his sources believe that “Deshaun Watson has played his last snap with the team.”
Watson does have a no-trade clause in his five-year, $156 million deal, so he will have a say as to where he could potentially go. And with how the Bears have looked offensively the past two seasons combined with a defense that is far removed from the formidable unit in 2018, Chicago doesn’t appear to be a coveted landing spot for the franchise quarterback.
Even if that may be the case, Pace and the rest of the Bears organization need to go all in and put “everything on the table” to create a trade package that Texans GM Nick Caserio can’t refuse.
What could help is that Pace has a history with Caserio that dates back to Caserio’s time as the Patriots director of player personnel. The two have worked on several trades, with the most recent ones involving trading picks to move up in the draft to acquire running back David Montgomery in 2019 and wide receiver Anthony Miller in 2018.
For the Bears fans worrying about what it would take to acquire a player like Watson who hasn’t even reached his prime, it doesn’t matter. Honestly, it would make the Mack trade look like a typical stroll in the park.
Just ask yourself, would you give up all of Pace’s first-round picks, Roquan Smith, Mitch Trubisky, Leonard Floyd, Kevin White and the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft and his better second-round picks, Jaylon Johnson, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair and Eddie Goldman, to finally have a franchise quarterback?
The answer is yes. And you don’t think twice about it.
Will there still be plenty of holes other than quarterback still on this Bears roster?
Would there be ramifications down the road if the Bears sell out and go all in for the 2021 NFL season?
What about cap issues that can inhibit further moves from being done?
But it’s all worth it because the Bears wouldn’t have the one problem that has plagued them for the last 70 years since Sid Luckman last played. The rest of their problems can be addressed later. Plus, guys like Watson mitigate the weaknesses on a roster — something Chicago has never experienced from that position.
And even though Nagy has had his issues with play-calling the past two years, forcing him to give up that duty this season, there is no question Watson would be a monumental upgrade over Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles, and adding him should open up the offensive playbook to its full capacity.
The Bears attempted to get their franchise QB when they traded for Jay Cutler in 2009, but even at his best, Cutler is no Watson. In Cutler’s best statistical season as a Bear in 2014, he threw for 3,812 yards and 28 touchdowns.
The Bears are the only team in NFL history to not have a 4,000-yard passer and haven’t had a quarterback throw for 30 or more touchdowns, ever. Erik Kramer was the closest in 1995 with his 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Watson, on the other hand, in his first four years in the league, has eclipsed Kramer’s career-high passing mark the last three seasons. And he has thrown for over 4,000 yards twice, including his 4,823-yard 2020 campaign that also featured 33 touchdown passes.
Pace emphasized in the end of the year press conference that the “whole offseason” is about addressing the quarterback position. Acquiring Watson solves that problem and it also means Pace and Nagy won’t have to collaborate on a young rookie in this upcoming draft or a veteran free agent, which should give Bears fans ease considering the “body of work” Pace has shown when selecting QBs in his six years as GM.
But it’s not every day a franchise-changing player becomes available. So if the Texans are truly listening to offers, the Bears need to be the first one in line, begging that Watson and Houston are willing to make a trade.
Watson may not have been on Pace’s mind back in 2017, but he absolutely should be now.