LAKE FOREST – As it was for many people across the country and the world, 2020 was a rough pandemic year for Robert Quinn.
Quinn moved to a new city during the pandemic and had few opportunities to interact with his teammates outside of practices at Halas Hall. It must’ve been a little bit maddening.
The outside linebacker signed a five-year contract with the Bears, worth a guaranteed $30 million and potentially worth up to $70 million. Those are big, flashy dollar amounts, which made it all the more disappointing for Bears fans when Quinn finished the 2020 season with two sacks and no tackles for loss. For a guy who was paid to disrupt the quarterback, it was a letdown.
But a year later, Quinn has looked solid in training camp. The 31-year-old spent his practices blowing past Bears offensive linemen.
“You put on the tape and watch him, he’s rolling right now,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said earlier in training camp. “And I’ve got to actually tell him to pull the heck back a little bit because he’s getting in that throwing lane with the quarterback.”
Watching the tape from last season, Quinn was a lot better than his statistics indicated. He disrupted the pocket more than his two sacks suggest. But the NFL is a results business. Coming close doesn’t cut it.
Quinn believes a better head space is making all the difference now.
“I realized, don’t let the ticky-tack stuff bother you,” Quinn said. “Don’t let my disappointments – or whoever’s disappointments – just dwell on you, because once something happens, it has happened. Again, you can’t change it.”
Quinn’s teammates and coaches see a difference in him. Bill Shuey spent the past two seasons as the Bears’ pass rush analyst and assistant outside linebackers coach. He was promoted over the offseason to outside linebackers coach. He works with Quinn and Khalil Mack daily.
The focus Shuey sees in Quinn this season is totally different from a year ago.
“For some people, that COVID year [was tough], when you weren’t around people and maybe he didn’t have the same network of people around him,” Shuey said. “Just talking to him the other day, I know that he’s been in touch with more of his friends, just talking through things, as opposed to being more isolated. That was just helpful for him now that things have opened up a little bit, and hopefully it stays that way.”
Quinn watched his sister, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last month, which must’ve been inspiring. He invited his good friend Alec Ogletree to stay with him for a few days. Little did either of them know that Ogletree would be signed by the Bears for some veteran depth at inside linebacker before he left the Chicago area.
Ogletree made the 53-man roster last week and still is living at the Quinn house.
“I’m lucky enough to have a friend like him to help me out during these times,” Ogletree said. “I appreciate him and his wife and his family for allowing me and my family to kind of have a place to stay here while we’re here.”
In interviews, Quinn is soft-spoken. But he’s a vocal person in practice, and he clearly is a social animal by nature.
Quinn himself called his current mental space a “heavenly peace.” Nobody was tougher on Quinn than himself last season. He knows – and has been vocal about the fact – that his 2020 season wasn’t good enough.
Although the contract Quinn signed with the Bears last year is up to five years in length, it becomes much easier, financially, to cut Quinn after the 2021 season. The Bears could save $6.7 million against the 2022 salary cap if they cut him after the season, according to OverTheCap.com. That number rises to $12.9 million if he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut.
The writing is on the wall. With another season like last year, the Bears might have no choice but to part ways with Quinn. With a bounce-back season, Bears fans will forget all about 2020 real quickly.
This is a pass rusher who totaled 11.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. He probably never will come close to his career-high 19 sacks in 2013 with the Rams, but he doesn’t have to. The Bears just need him to be a threat opposite Mack.
The Bears are hoping his outlook translates to results on the field.
“When you have more positive energy through you, it shows up when you’re out on the field,” Shuey said. “He’s engaged when he’s not on the field, and when you see him go on the field, his energy level spikes.”