Bears in search of a backup QB

QB Jason Campbell (Dennis Wierzbicki/USP)

Jason Campbell has signed with the Browns, leaving the Bears without a QB to back up Jay Cutler. We consider Chicago's options in the draft and free agency, as well as the practice squad.

Last season, the Chicago Bears signed Jason Campbell to a $3.5 million deal to be the primary backup to Jay Cutler. He was an expensive No. 2 signal caller who in his one start in 2012 completed 14 of 22 passes for 107 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. For the year, Cambpell went 31 for 52 (62.7 percent) for 265 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs.

The Bears wanted to bring him back this season but were only willing to offer him the league minimum, with no chance of starting, other than as a result of a Cutler injury. For that reason, the Cleveland Browns - who rolled out rookie Brandon Weeden last year, with middling results - have signed Campbell to a two-year deal with the intention of letting him compete for the starting gig.

With Campbell gone, the Bears are currently without a backup quarterback. The team could turn to Josh McCown, who has spent portions of the last two seasons in Chicago, yet he'll be 34 in July and isn't a long-term option. McCown seems even more unlikely when you consider the team's lack of room under the salary cap, which currently stands at roughly $4 million. For a 10-year player like McCown, the veteran minimum is just shy of $1 million ($955,000), which is not cost effective.


Jay Cutler
Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports

Also of consideration is Cutler's contract, which ends after the 2013 season. On multiple occasions, GM Phil Emery has called Cutler a franchise quarterback, yet new head coach Marc Trestman has yet to refer to his signal caller in such terms, despite being asked about it more than once. Considering Cutler's regression as a signal caller, Trestman may want to work with his new quarterback for a year before deciding if he's worth a hefty, cap-eating, multi-year, franchise contract.

With that in mind, Trestman may have his eye on an early round QB or two, one he feels can develop into a starter given time, in case Cutler doesn't work out. By selecting a passer in the fourth round or higher, Trestman and Emery would also be sending Cutler a signal, as in "we've given you all the pieces; get your act together or else."

That's an unlikely tactic considering Cutler's touchy temperament but it's hard to put anything past the relatively unknown Trestman, who has never been a head coach in the NFL.

Even so, a more likely scenario would be to grab a developmental player with upside in the later rounds of the draft. Bear Report broke down the quarterbacks in this year's draft with the Bears' needs in mind. You can view our analysis here.

The player that stands out to us, a later-round selection with high upside, is Arizona's Matt Scott (6-2, 213). He's an extreme athlete who was a top performer in nearly every drill and test at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's quick to leave the pocket and too often throws into coverage but Scott's speed and ability to throw on the run would add an extra dimension to Chicago's offense. Trestman has experience working with mobile quarterbacks such as Steve Young and Rich Gannon, so it's safe to assume he'd welcome a player with Scott's talents.

In free agency, the cupboard is pretty bare. The top backup signal callers still on the market are guys like Byron Leftwich (33), Matt Leinart (30), Kellen Clemens (30), Tyler Thigpen (29) and, dare I say it, Rex Grossman (33). There has also been discussion of Chicago trading for Tim Tebow, whom Bears new QB coach Matt Cavanaugh coached in New York last season. Tebow is a great backup quarterback in the NFL - as he brings a much different skill set than every other QB than the league - yet the Bears just don't have the resources, namely draft picks, to make any type of trade for a backup signal caller.


QB Matt Blanchard
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

If Emery goes the route of free agency, the Bears will end up with nothing more than a one-year "body" as the backup QB, making it more likely they'll select a developmental player in the draft.

Yet that quarterback may already be in the organization. Matt Blanchard (6-3, 255) was signed to the practice squad last year as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He showed uncanny poise and good accuracy in training camp and the preseason. For a player who never lost a single start in college, the NFL game did not appear too big or too fast.

Blanchard spent most of the year on the practice squad. Roughly a month after McCown was signed, the Bears couldn't afford to keep four quarterbacks on the roster and were forced to cut Blanchard. Yet he was one of the first players the team signed to a reserve/futures contract following the end of the season.

Blanchard has a lot of upside. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm but he's intelligent and makes good decisions. Those are traits a supposed "QB guru" like Trestman can work with. And Blanchard's cost, as a second-year player on a minimum salary, will be $480,000, which would allow him to fit nice and snug under the salary cap.

The Bears will very likely bring in a veteran "body" at some point this offseason but don't be surprised if Blanchard not only makes the roster but develops into the backup at some point in 2013.


Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.

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