The next generational signal caller like Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson isn’t walking through the doors of Halas Hall any time soon, but what about the next Ryan Tannehill?
That should be the question on Bears fans minds following a divisional weekend that of course brought us Round 2 of the “Ryan Pace Bowl” — Chiefs 51, Texans 31 — an absolutely bananas ballgame in which Mahomes’ Chiefs responded to a 24-0 second-quarter deficit with a cool four touchdowns from the reigning MVP in the subsequent 9-plus minutes en route to 41 unanswered and their second consecutive AFC title game appearance.
We were also “treated” to Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson dueling in the nightcap, which ended with the Green Bay Packers punching their return ticket to Santa Clara to reacquaint in the NFC title game with a San Francisco 49ers team that humiliated them less than two months ago.
Strange as it may sound, neither game should mean as much to Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy in plotting their plans for the Bears’ biggest offseason in recent memory as the Titans taking down the top-seeded Ravens Saturday evening. What matters is the tale of Tannehill, whom the Titans acquired via trade last spring, days after failed former No. 2 overall pick Marcus Mariota’s fifth-year option for nearly $21 million became guaranteed for injury.
What matters is how Mike Vrabel, with his Titans’ season circling the drain behind Mariota at 2-4, boldly benched the supposed franchise signal caller he inherited in favor of Tannehill, who merely led the NFL in regular-season passer rating and yards per attempt, guiding Tennessee to a 7-3 finish and wild-card berth.
Has Tannehill been the Titans’ playoff catalyst? Of course not. Derrick Henry just became the only player in NFL history with three consecutive demolitions of at least 180 rushing yards — all of them in sudden death scenarios! Still, Tannehill has accounted for four touchdowns despite attempting only 29 combined passes in the first two games, throwing as many first-quarter touchdowns (2) as the Bears produced on offense this season.
And there’s no way the Titans would’ve made the playoffs without a young and aggressive head coach in Vrabel pulling the Mariota plug; GM Jon Robinson making the shrewdest acquisition of the offseason to insure his maddeningly inconsistent hand-picked first-round quarterback, actually persuading Miami to pick up the majority of Tannehill's 2019 check for a late-round pick swap (!); and, obviously, Tannehill — mind you, formerly the No. 8 overall pick who was making steady progress with the Dolphins prior to a series of knee injuries — blossoming in front of our eyes.
Lightning in a bottle, right?
Perhaps, but now consider that, two years earlier, the NFC title game was quarterbacked by Case Keenum and Nick Foles, The former signed a one-year, $2 million with the Vikings to insure china doll Sam Bradford; the latter signed a two-year deal including $7 million guaranteed to back up Carson Wentz, coming off an up-and-down rookie campaign.
Say what you will about the Bears’ continued support of Mitch Trubisky, whose Year 3 regression was the single biggest factor in Chicago going from a contender following a 12-win season to an 8-8 pretender in 2019. It matters far more how they find their own version of Tannehill, or Keenum, or Foles, this offseason, when Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray will depart as free agents, leaving only Trubisky under contract in their QB corps.
Tannehill flourished with good coaching and defense, and a great run game, not elite weaponry, like Mahomes.
Sure, the Bears only have one of those elements currently, but the other two may be right under their nose and are certainly interconnected. The toughest part is finding the next Tannehill, but in a robust offseason veteran QB market, he could be out there. It’s up to Pace and Nagy to have the humility, the foresight and the flexibility to go find him. And if they do, who’s to say they can’t be spending this same week next year preparing for a conference championship?