Chicago Bears' futility at the QB position defies probability

If Caleb Williams lives up to the hype, he would be Chicago's first great quarterback in the Super Bowl era.

It may be the NFL’s most unshakeable and constant truth, at least of the Super Bowl era: Chicago has simply never had a great quarterback, rarely a good one, and its luck at filling the position seemingly defies probability.

Draft busts. Free-agent misses. Terrible trades. Injuries. Bad schemes. Bad coaching. Bad management. Bad luck. Prolonged mediocrity.

Whatever it is, Chicago is cursed at the most important position in the game. No, the Bears aren’t alone in trotting out mediocre signal-callers, but the sheer length of their futility is breathtaking.

The Bears haven’t had a first team All-Pro at the position since Johnny Lujack in 1950, a seven-plus decade drought. Just three times since 1951 has a Chicago QB even been named to the Pro Bowl — Billy Wade in 1963, Jim McMahon in 1985 and Mitchell Trubisky in 2018 (although technically Trubisky was a replacement selection).

That’s pretty much the extent of the good times.

Chicago will attempt to end this run of positional failure Thursday when the Bears are expected to use the No. 1 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft on Caleb Williams. Maybe the former Heisman Trophy winner out of USC will pan out.

If what’s past is prologue though, well, good luck to Williams and everyone else at Halas Hall.

In 2020, ESPN used a statistical formula to rank which teams had the best quarterback play during the Super Bowl era (post-1966).

New England came in first. Green Bay second. Chicago … 32nd.

It’s unlikely the Bears' ranking has moved much in the ensuing four years of Trubisky and Justin Fields (which are actually pretty strong by Chicago standards). After all, if either had hit, they wouldn’t be drafting Williams.

There have been worse franchises during this timeframe — notably Detroit, but even the Lions occasionally hit on quarterbacks, namely Matthew Stafford for 12 seasons. Cleveland is known as a QB graveyard, especially of late, but the Browns did have Bernie Kosar and the underrated Brian Sipe.

The Bears can only dream.

Chicago is the only team in the NFL to never have a quarterback throw for at least 30 touchdowns in a season. It’s also the only one to never have anyone throw for 4,000 yards in a season. These are not impossible video game numbers. Peyton Manning averaged better (4,231 yards, 31.7 TDs) for his 17-season career.

Ten QBs threw for more than 4,000 yards just last season. That includes Green Bay’s first-year starter Jordan Love (4,159 yards) who also heaved 32 touchdowns. Part of the Bears’ malaise is that while they can’t find anyone, the hated Packers have moved seamlessly onto their third franchise QB (Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers) since 1992.

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 3:  Erik Kramer #12 of the Chicago Bears throws a pass against the Minnesota Vikings during an NFL football game on September 3, 1995 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Kramer played for the Bears from 1994-1998. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
In 1995, Erik Kramer threw for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns — both Bears' franchise records to this day. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

The most “accomplished” Chicago quarterback is, of course, McMahon who in the 1985 season led the Bears to their only Super Bowl title.

Those Bears, however, were known for their run game and defense, powered by six future Pro Football Hall of Famers — including running back Walter Payton and linebacker Mike Singletary. McMahon completed just 56.9 percent of his passes and tossed 15 touchdowns against 11 interceptions that season.

The “best” Bears quarterback is probably Jay Cutler. In 2009, Chicago shipped two first-round draft picks, a third-rounder and quarterback Kyle Orton to get Cutler and a fifth-rounder. He delivered Chicago eight up-and-down, injury-impacted seasons and just a single playoff victory before a disastrous NFC title game loss to the Packers.

Other than that? There’s not a ton.

Erik Kramer (1994-98) had a couple excellent seasons (including a franchise record 29 TDs in 1995) but injuries limited his time. Jim Harbaugh anchored some winning teams in 1990 and 1991, but his best individual play came later for Indianapolis. The aforementioned Orton was OK. Jim Miller was decent for a spell.

Chicago reached the Super Bowl following the 2006 season, but that team was about defense not quarterback Rex Grossman. He threw 20 picks and completed just 54.6 percent of his passes.

Based on historical comparison, the Bears last two high-draft-pick quarterbacks — Trubisky (No. 2 overall in 2017) and Justin Fields (No. 11 in 2021) don’t look too bad, which will tell you how bad it’s been.

More notable is who Chicago chose not to pick through the years.

In 2017, they traded up to get Trubisky rather than sit still and take either Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. They had three picks in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, but ignored Dak Prescott, who went a few spots later to Dallas.

In 1979, their head scout, Bill Tobin, had a first-round grade on Joe Montana but the general manager ignored his pleas and let the future Hall of Famer fall to San Francisco at the end of the third round.

Sometimes it was just bad fortune — in 1970 they lost a coin flip to Pittsburgh for the first overall pick. The Steelers grabbed Terry Bradshaw.

There is no coin flip this time. The Bears have their choice of the 2024 draft class, Chicago’s next shot at its next — or first — great quarterback.