Chicago Bears

How Bears Tried to Trade for Russell Wilson, But Ended Up With Andy Dalton

Hoge: How Bears went from Russell Wilson to Andy Dalton originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bears made a serious run at Russell Wilson. They ended up with Andy Dalton.

Given the 101-year history of quarterback play in Chicago, Bears fans are taking that news hard and weren't afraid to voice their displeasure Tuesday as news of the Dalton signing spread across the always positive interwebs.

But what exactly transpired over the last month? What does the Dalton signing mean? What’s next for the Bears, who can’t possibly be done at the quarterback position?

Here’s what is known after consulting multiple sources for this story as the new league year officially begins at 3 p.m. Wednesday:

What happened with Russell Wilson…

The focus of the Chicago Bears’ offseason changed with an Adam Schefter tweet at 12:36 p.m. CT on Feb. 25.

The move by Wilson's agent was somewhat unprecedented. Quarterbacks as good as Russell Wilson don’t suddenly become available via trade. And if they do, their agents don’t publicly supply a wish list of teams. Not only were the Bears mentioned on a very public list of teams, they were very clearly the favorites among the four teams listed. The Cowboys were about to lock up Dak Prescott. The Saints were/are in salary cap prison. Raiders GM Mike Mayock very publicly backed starting quarterback Derek Carr.

What transpired over the next 2.5 weeks was a legitimate effort to figure out how to turn Wilson into a Chicago Bear. It was serious and real. The two sides did exchange offers. One source said it wasn't a complete coincidence that Seahawks general manager John Schneider and Bears general manager Ryan Pace were both in Fargo, N.D. for Trey Lance's pro day last week. The NFL Network went as far as to say Schneider and Pace met while they were there. 

But the clock was ticking. Monday at 11 a.m. CT, when the NFL’s unrestricted free agency negotiating window opened, the Bears needed answers from Seattle. In the end, the Seahawks decided they weren’t trading Wilson – at least not right now – and the Bears had to move on.

How it led to Andy Dalton…

All parties involved – including Bears fans – knew that the drop off after dreamy trades for Wilson or Deshaun Watson was significant. But the Bears were preparing for such a scenario. That led to the signing of Dalton for $10 million, plus incentives, on a one-year deal. It’s not sexy, but it also doesn’t eliminate them from being players in what might continue to be a volatile, unpredictable quarterback market. In the meantime, Dalton appears to be the Bears' starter.

There’s a few things to consider here. Perhaps signing Jameis Winston would have provided more upside, but it also would have been a bigger risk when it comes to turnovers. A significant reason why the Bears are moving on from Mitchell Trubisky is trust – or lack thereof -- and they feel like Dalton won’t lose them games. He’s a very safe option, which is why he’s likely penciled in as the Bears’ starting quarterback over Nick Foles, who’s ideally suited as a good backup.

But did Dalton do enough in Dallas last year to warrant this kind of signing? It’s a fair question. Two other teams were in heavy pursuit of Dalton, sources told NBC Sports Chicago, including one team considered to be a Super Bowl contender. The demand for signing Dalton as a free agent in March of 2021 was apparently larger than the demand for trading him in March of 2020. It’s important to remember that the Bengals failed to trade Dalton last year before eventually releasing him on April 30. He eventually signed with the Cowboys for $3 million on the secondary market.

That timeline is important to remember because, yes, the Bears could have traded for Dalton last year instead of Foles, but no, they couldn’t have signed him for less at the time they gave up a fourth-round pick for Foles. 

Regardless, Dalton has a notable history with Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and the Bears liked what they saw on tape in Dallas last season. Dalton threw for 2,170 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine starts. He went 4-5 in those starts, but the Cowboys had no chance in the two games Dalton missed with a concussion, going 0-2 with Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert. Yes, Dalton had a good group of offensive weapons, but his offensive line was banged up and did not give him a lot of help. The Bears hope to put a better offensive line in front of Dalton this fall.

So what does this mean for Foles?

There isn’t an obvious way out of Foles’ contract -- which currently runs through the 2022 season -- in a non-trade scenario and it’s hard to believe there will be a line of teams waiting to trade for Foles. As it stands now, he’s probably backing up Dalton in Week 1.

It’s important to remember -- and this was something that was known when they traded for him last year -- that Foles’ contract was renegotiated in a way that left him as a reasonably paid backup in 2021 and 2022. That is still the case. Dalton might not be the most inspiring starter, but Foles continuing to be on the roster as a backup making $4 million in 2021 is not a bad thing.

Why not Mitch Trubisky?

It’s not hard to make an argument that Trubisky is better than Dalton, especially when you consider his mobility. But that ignores Trubisky’s history and continued fit in Chicago. It was simply time for both sides to move on. He wasn’t going to improve as a Chicago Bear and anyone who watched the 2020 season knows that the play calling didn’t exactly inspire trust in the quarterback.

Some coaches would rather coach aggressiveness out of players rather than coach down to mistakes and that appears to be a reason why the Bears preferred Dalton over Trubisky and even Winston.

What’s next…

The Bears will continue to monitor the free agent market and scout quarterbacks in the NFL Draft. They aren’t done, even if they feel like they have a capable quarterback to start Week 1.

It’s unlikely they trade for a veteran quarterback like Marcus Mariota, but if the Raiders were to release him, they could still sign him to compete with Dalton (if Mariota is willing to sign up for that, of course).

In the meantime, the attention turns to the NFL Draft, where the Bears own the 20th overall pick. Even while making a serious pitch for Russell Wilson, the Bears have been doing their due diligence on rookie quarterbacks, which included that trip to Fargo last week to watch Trey Lance.

If the Bears were willing to give up a ransom for Wilson, they’re willing to do what it takes to draft a quarterback they believe in. Pace has a reputation for trading up in the draft, but don’t forget that Nagy was part of the team the scouted and committed to moving up 17 spots in 2017 to land Patrick Mahomes.

And, hey, if anything suddenly changes in Seattle, the Bears will probably be on Line 1.

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