Quarterback 'critical' decision for Pace, Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace knows how crucial it is to find his quarterback of the future this off-season.

"In my mind," Pace said, "there is no more important position than the quarterback. It's a critical position.

"And I know and I recognize that the decision that we make on that quarterback is going to be significant for all of us for the direction that this organization is going to head."

In other words, if Pace doesn't get the quarterback decision right, the Bears soon could be looking for their fourth general manager since 2011.

Jay Cutler will not be back at anything close to the $16 million his contract calls for in 2017. After eight years with Cutler, the Bears are ready to move on.

Considering Cutler will be 34 in April and has a career record of 51-51 with the Bears (1-4 in 2016), there's nothing there to excite an apathetic fan base. He's also coming off surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder.

If the Bears draft a quarterback, as expected, Brian Hoyer makes the most sense as a bridge to the future. He's 2½ years younger than Cutler and would be much less expensive.

Hoyer made $2 million last season on a one-year deal and was the Bears' most effective of three starters. Hoyer, who could become an unrestricted free agent in March, also was 1-4 as a starter. But he had an impressive 98.0 passer rating and four consecutive 300-yard outings in games he started and finished.

The fractured left arm that ended his season already is healed.

Unless the Bears trade for an NFL-ready quarterback, they need a bridge, preferably one who can help the team be competitive while the future QB is groomed.

"If you get a young quarterback, is he ready to play right now?" Pace said, discussing his options. "Maybe he isn't. Maybe you need a bridge quarterback to help out that transition."

Matt Barkley isn't that guy. He started the final six games and, after an impressive beginning, he became a turnover machine. Barkley went 1-5 in what were the first six starts of his NFL career. He can't be totally dismissed, but he has "adequate backup" written all over him.

Among quarterbacks already on the roster, the biggest unknown is Connor Shaw, who impressed the Bears in the preseason before suffering a season-ending leg fracture on Aug. 27.

But the undersized restricted free agent is just 6 feet tall and projects as a backup. He started one game for the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie in 2014 and suffered season-ending injuries in each of the next two preseasons.

This draft isn't considered a great one for quarterbacks.

North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Clemson's DeShaun Watson are the consensus top three, in no particular order. One of them has to be there for the Bears at No. 3.

Though none of them may grade out as a top 10 player they'll all be overdrafted as quarterbacks are every year.

A safer approach could be a trade for a young pro with some NFL experience such as the New England Patriots' Jimmy Garoppolo, an Arlington Heights native who played at Rolling Meadows High School and Eastern Illinois.

"I think everything's on the table right now," Pace said. "It's free agency, it's trade, it's draft, it's current players on our team. We've got to analyze all that. The next two months are going to be huge for that. It's critical that we get that right.

"I understand the magnitude of that decision going forward. That's a critical decision for me and this whole building."

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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